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Kelvin Okafor: The Nigerian Artist Whose Stunning Portraits Have Captured the World’s Attention

Kelvin Okafor’s hand-drawn portraits are stunning. You could be forgiven for thinking that his pencil-etched works are actually monochrome photographs but they’re not. They are simply the breathtaking products of an artist so dedicated to form and detail as nature lends it to his senses, that he takes great pains to reproduce them with amazing precision.

If there’s any secret to coming up with the kind of art Okafor manages to produce, then it’s his almost religious devotion to his portraits. He takes his time to plot the outline, diligently sees to the construction of shades and patterns to deliver an incredible visual effect. The process could take him up to four days, but the output, when completed, is usually worth the time and effort. The portraits he draws are based on photographs, or of people who pose as life models.

“Before I start to draw, I usually spend a few days analyzing the person or structure (I want to draw)”, he explained in an interview with CNN. “It’s important that they feel comfortable so you can get their natural expressions”.  Okafor says that he sometimes gets so engrossed in an artwork that he actually dreams of it.

Although Okafor had nurtured a love for drawing from his early childhood days, it was not always certain that he would go on to pursue a career in art. His parents believed that he was better off walking a “more lucrative” career path, perhaps in law or the academia. He had been born in London to Nigerian parents who thought that it was more advisable, given their background as immigrants who came to the UK to build a comfortable future. But after he graduated from university, he began to post his drawings on social media and a number of websites. Soon, he had a following of more than 100,000 followers on Instagram, comprising of people from across the world that are drawn to his culture-transcending art.

Okafor’s breathtaking depiction of the human facial form has won him international recognition. His works have been showcased in art exhibitions, and in 2013, his portrait of late King Hussein of Jordan was presented to the Middle Eastern monarch’s widow, Queen Noor. Today, his works are highly valued. Some of his portraits can sell for as much as $25,000.

Art, for Okafor, is inspirational, and he has decided to help children find joy in expressing themselves through it. He does this by visiting schools and giving school children lessons on how to draw. But his pursuit of passion has made him into an inspiration, one to whom young people can refer as an example of a dream etched to life by passionate and persistent hands.

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Ikenna Nwachukwu

Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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