Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Studio Visit: Detroit artist Ndubisi Okoye gives us a peek inside his sketchbooks

Drawn together

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Ndubisi Okoye never thought he'd be an artist. When he graduated from Cass Technical High School, he thought he'd try to go to school for athletics. Now a senior at the College for Creative Studies, things seem to be coming together for Okoye.

Okoye applied to CCS without a major in mind, with just some illustrations, creative writing, and poems in his portfolio. "Someone said, 'Why don't you try advertising?'" says Okoye, now 22. "I said, 'I don't even know what that means. I don't want to make pop-up ads!'" But Okoye's love for telling stories through both visual means as well as writing made advertising a good choice for him, he says.

Originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, Okoye moved to Detroit when he was 10. He's lived on Detroit's northwest side ever since. Okoye says before he arrived at CCS, he didn't really draw much, but thinks the creative bug might be genetic. "My family, we're all creatives in different means," he says. "My granddad was a master carpenter; he built houses and churches and stuff. My grandma was a master seamstress. So it came natural."

Now Okoye views drawing as a sort of daily mandala. "You draw what you feel, at that moment," he says. "It's therapeutic. It helps me think."

Okoye flips through several sketchbooks, each filled with drawings, logo designs, and other ideas. Many of the pages of his sketchbook are dedicated to his "Drawn" series, which has gained him a considerable following on the social media app Instagram. "I just started taking people with the most followers and the most likes and drawing them, and posting it without them even knowing," he says. "People went crazy over it. Now I'm at like 800, 900 followers."

And then there's the Our/Detroit Vodka distillery mural, which Okoye recently completed. It was another social media contest, where the design that earned the most Facebook likes won. Okoye's designs got hundreds of likes, but there was just one problem — he had never actually made a mural before.

Okoye enlisted the help of a friend, fellow student Ryan Wright, and worked on it after work for four nights. In addition to being a student, Okoye landed a gig as a junior art director at Chevrolet's advertising firm, Commonwealth/McCann. "I just thought I'd be getting coffee, doing busy work," he says. He wound up getting put on a project to create branding for General Motors' international office in Singapore. "I didn't even know it was as big of a project as it was," he says. "That was pretty awesome."

Okoye says he wants to stay in Detroit after he graduates, and give back to the organizations that helped him — such as the InsideOut Literary Arts Project. "They helped me learn how to write creatively," he says. "I thought it was just writing papers all the time — I hated writing. I got to understand that you can express yourself creatively through writing."

Check out more of Okoye's art at ndubisiokoye.com. — mt

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