Death to a Sunset

While some came to showcase their artistry, others came to coach the amateur artists. I was one of the anxious first-timers. The last time I played around with paint must have been in school in one of those creative arts lessons.


The set-up was simple yet aesthetically pleasing—a bunch of round tables with blank canvases mounted on top. Around the tables were white plastic seats. The circular sitting arrangement gave off a sense of teamwork. Attendees would easily interact in the process.


“Today’s theme will be a sunset with a Nairobi skyline view,” A lady with the mic instructed as people started taking their seats, ready for action.


I had already sat down and was staring at the blank canvas in front. As I waited for the instructors to hand out brushes, I felt tense—a feeling I’m too familiar with and one which I’m learning to embrace. It’s a feeling of uncertainty, kind of like what goes inside my head on the days when I do not feel creative. I call them ‘staring contest days’ where I get to stare at blank google docs until one of us taps out. And because mama raised no quitter, on such days, I go with the flow. Better run your fingers through the keyboard first and then make sense of the words later.


“You should not overthink this,” another instructor without a mic said, approaching our table. Her eyes glued on me, she added, “ The goal is to have fun.”


She looked like she had seen this before. The anxious first-timers, the ones that have difficulties figuring out where to start. Those who would very much appreciate a formula or a cheat code. I bet amateur artists give her so much shit that she can mind-read now. An acquired skill. A gift. She takes one glance at you and knows that you can’t paint, not even to save your life. She can smell the fear of expression in you. It’s evident by the way you dress, the way you choose your words carefully, the way you style your hair. The way you walk. The way you hold your paintbrush. But instead of crushing your little artistic dreams, she lures you in just to smoke the fear out.


Don’t put too much thought into it, is what she encourages you with, although she knows that you’d be better off trying some other form of art like pottery or street dancing, or photography or pole dancing. But it dawns on her, as it has on many occasions, that every form of art needs courage and confidence. Fear is just an inhibitory factor. And because she is a kickass coach who is passionate about art, she makes you her protégé. Before you know it, you are walking around with an aura of artistic confidence, just like her.


She had a floral top, tight jeans, and long braided hair that draped on her shoulders when she leaned on the table to demonstrate. Like this, she said as she carefully dipped the tiny brush into a mass of red paint and smeared it over the canvas. You could tell she knew her way around paint and blank canvases.


An art instructor at work at the 4th Edition of #strokesandsips, an event organized unboxedafrica.


“Smear that shit all over,” the lady instructed, “It is literally asking for it.” she went on, getting us all less nervous. She was getting mild peals of laughter from the table, a good sign when you are coaching. Her sense of humor did match her beauty!


And that is precisely what I did. As instructed, I had fun with it. I embraced a carefree spirit, one that is alien to me. I have always been one bound by rules. Self-imposed rules that keep me in check. The only time I get to ditch them is when I’m unassertive of how I feel. A feeling that often comes with the inability to express myself in writing. But if there is something I’ve learnt, those should be the days when you squash all the silly rules writers set for themselves. Neither the story nor the length should matter on such occasions. The aim should be to scribble down words until they tell you what it is that you feel.


I started with the red acrylic paint. Not an original idea, but I was mimicking what others were doing. However, the whole idea of plagiarised work dwindled quite fast. A sign that I was catching up with the carefree and have fun with it attitude that echoed from the mic. Once I got the hang of it, I felt unstoppable—an African Picasso in my own making. Mixing the colors gave birth to new shades, and my sunset suffered in consequence. It was changing colors from red to yellow to green to orange and back to green faster than Nairobians change partners. The more I got in my element, the further I drifted from the instructions. My masterpiece gradually turned from a glowing sunset to a gloomy one. A murky sunset. A Nairobi full of darkness. The kind that Wakadinali talks about where your phone isn’t entirely yours, and the alleged owner can collect it anytime.


“Nairobi after dark scares me,” an instructor would comment when he saw my gloomy sunset. We laughed it off. He sounded like he had a story to tell. One that ended up with his phone, laptop or backpack having a new owner in downtown Nairobi. I was busy doing the final touches.

“You have decided to kill your sunset,” Wanja, a remarkable artist, the host, and the Khaleesi of the event would comment after a minute or two of soaking it in.


“But I love the birds.”




Here are a few attendees who understood the assignment.






Event: Strokes and Sips

The event was organized by unboxedafrica

Host/Main Art Instructor: Wanja Githua – feel free to check out her work on Instagram she is quite genius!



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