Who is Vanessa Kaliwo?
I honestly see myself as a mosaic because I just feel like I am pieces of so many different things. I am a person who likes to try different things, so when I find something that I like, I like to incorporate that into bits and pieces of who I am. Growing up I was very fortunate to have very hard working parents who wanted the best for me and my sister ( we are Irish twins, which means we are 10 months apart), and so we went to really good schools, and I was exposed to different things from a young age. In all honesty, I just remember liking everything, I liked to dance, I was in plays so art was just something that was thrown into there.
I wasn’t born into a strictly Christian family, my parents are Catholic but when I went to KA is where I met the Lord, I believe I was 13 years old. And then from there I just had different kind of experiences which have all shaped me into who I am now. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study because I am just multi-passionate, there is a lady called Elizabeth Gilbert, she says there are two types of people; Jackhammers and hummingbirds. Jackhammers are those who know from the beginning what they want to know, my sister is a total Jackhammer while hummingbirds are people who are multi-passionate they have an interest in different things. It can be frustrating but also a wonderful thing because hummingbirds are the ones who cross-pollinate the world, they take from this and take from that, that’s why I say I see myself more as a mosaic.
How did your journey to drawing and illustration start?
Growing up I was interested in so many things, so art was one of the many things I was interested in. It wasn’t the one thing that gave me life or I run to because I loved to dance, act and sing.
But I dropped it from lower 6 and that’s when I stopped doing art and I didn’t pick up a pencil till like 5 years later. And then from there, I had to choose between architect and law because my father is a lawyer, but when I was applying for school I felt God tell me to do law. But I was very resistant to it because I didn’t want to do it, but I decided to do it because it’s what God was leading me towards. But the whole time I was doing it I was very miserable because I am a very purpose driven person and so not knowing why I am doing something was killing me.
I usually make friends with people that are older than me, so they were leaving and I still had 2 years of varsity to go. And I prayed that God would give me friends, and I felt God tell me to start drawing again. So I went to the art store picked up some tools and started drawing again.
What inspires your art? How do you know what you will draw next?
My experiences really inspire the subject matter of my drawings, I really try to draw from life and create images that people can relate to and possibly see themselves in. And one of the comments I get a lot is “is that me?!”, and most of the images that get that reaction are the ones with girls that have Afro hair. Although I don’t consider myself Afrocentric, my experiences of being surrounded by Africans, and afro textured which is very beautiful, inspiring and very difficult to draw lol! But I have fun and enjoy it, and I can see people relate to it, and I want to create images that resonate with people. But it’s been tough figuring out who I am as an artist, but if I could say one thing where I draw my inspiration is just look around and translate that into my images.
One of the things I really like about looking at your illustrations is that it looks like thing straight outta Pinterest. It’s really polished and well done, I really like it. What’s the process from getting from your brain to a Pinterest-worthy illustration?
It’s very interesting that you say that because I get that quite a lot. And from me, it’s very interesting because people don’t associate something made in Malawi with quality. I scour the internet for good design and study it, my sister who is a designer taught me to look at a good image and see what I like. So I take the elements of good design that I like and incorporate them into that I like.
So normally in my head I would have an Idea of what good doing looks like, but from that step of getting it from paper to the finished product is a messy process. I’ve found that the more time I invest in something the more polished it will be. But it really starts with exposing yourself to high-quality work you will know how that looks like and means for you and if you can break that down and apply it your work. But I don’t really try to produce ‘Pinterest worthy work’, I am just looking to achieve quality.
Why the name Krystalis Illustrations?
How that came about is, my name is Vanessa and my name means butterfly. And you generally think of a butterfly as something interesting and beautiful, but the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly is really messy. When the caterpillar wraps itself in a Chrysalis it literally digests itself, so if you were to open the chrysalis halfway through the process you would literally find goo. So it breaks itself down and reforms into a butterfly, there is a difference between a cocoon and a butterfly because Chrysalis’ are for butterflies.
And I feel like my life is one giant Chrysalis of a process, getting to know the Lord and having myself literally broken down and becoming someone else. And I can only hope that person is more encouraging and inspiring no matter what’s before. But even in my art, it goes through a process that is very messy and all that happens in a Chrysalis. But because I’m so extra I was like if I was in a Chrysalis it would be made out of crystals, so that’s how Krystalis came about.
So you’ve mentioned God quite a lot, and one of the most controversial things in the world of art is art and religion. So how does the fact that you are a Christian affect your art?
First of all, I don’t like labels, when I think about God he doesn’t fit in well into boxes and categorise. I think labels are for our convenience, the problem comes in when you try to force things on to other people hen that person has a unique path.
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My identity first is a daughter and a child of God, so everything else comes from that. So for me, when I create I never think about ‘let me create something that’s Christian’. But I always try to communicate my heart, and I always gather that if my heart is with the LORD, everything that I do will be influenced from that place. If people want to label my art as Christian for their convenience then that fine, but for me, I am just a girl who loves God and I want to create something that is beautiful and put out what I think is beautiful into the world and people won’t always agree with that.
Where this becomes tricky is when you have a topic that you want to express that an issue of controversy. There is a piece called skater girls (You can actually premiere it when this article comes out), where I wanted to create an image of best friends on skateboards with LED lights shoes, so I had this image where they would be these really cool girls. And there is this funny thing that happens as artists where the piece is speaking to you, where the artwork is telling you where you want to go. So with these particular girls I just feel that they needed to look a certain way, so one is wearing shorts and the other has a crop top but it was so contentious for me because it’s like ‘would I wear this or is this modest’. And it’s places like these where there is conflict, but I think for me it’s about understanding where the barriers are coming from. Is it coming from barriers coming from a man or the Holy Spirit telling me that you are different? But I felt peace about it, and I had fun drawing it, it’s out of my comfort zone but I really enjoyed doing it.
And I think in this area I would plead with the body to understand that we have been called to different gifts. There are principles which we stand for and if you producing something that will cause other to stumble, you refrain out of love. But honestly that we would be more understanding with people, and let God use people as he sees them fit without placing these rules around them that God didn’t.
And I know you worked on a book. Tell me about this book and other works you have done.
We are working on a second one now lol!
But the book really is a testimony, when I felt that I needed to art more seriously, I invested in it and I got myself the note 5 because it had a pen. I took a year off after school to do what I want to do because I didn’t want to get a legal job, it was great but I was broke. So I began praying to God about a job, and two days later this lady finds me on Instagram and messaged me that she had been looking for an illustrator and she hadn’t found the perfect fit and she thought I was the one.
And I flipped out the other day because I saw a picture of the author in Barnes and Noble, and I flipped out because my name is in bookshelves in America. She contacted me again, because she working on another one so we are in the process for that, and I am now working with another lady from the US as well, and we are working on a décor line together.
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On the work side of things what kind of direction do you want to take, do you want to do more books or something else?
That’s something I am still figuring out. Doing children’s books has been enjoyable and fun for me, by my ultimate goal is to make money off of my own work. Working with people is great but ultimately I would want to do by own art book, because art books are things that have inspired me.
My end goal is to be able to make money off of my own work, do merch, T-shirt, mugs and the like.
Are there any Malawian artists that you would love to work with?
I haven’t really thought about it, but maybe album art for an artists or book covers and the like. But I haven’t really thought about it.
What should we expect from you in the next year?
I want to launch my own website with a portfolio, and a blog maybe as well as a YouTube channel to talk about what I am learning and my processes. As well as my own children’s book for here, but that’s long term since I am going back to work.
Who are some Malawian creatives people should know?
Elita Chamtimba (writer), Aurelie Khofi (poetry, rapper), my sister Watipaso Kaliwo (Graphic designer, web designer, copywriter), Denzel and Daniel Gondwe (Comic book illustration and writing). But these guys are my friends and I feel they are amazing but are just sitting on their talent, so this is to inspire them to put more work out.
Do what God has placed on your heart to do, don’t hide your talent we need it.
Thank you so much for reading this article, remember to leave a comment, subscribe and Like and Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @iamnotagoddess. You can Find Vanessa as @VanessaKaliwo or Krystalis Illustrations. And now without further ado, I present to you the “controversial” artwork, for the first time to ever be seen online, here it is: