19 January 2022

10 Mins Read



The Mind of an Outsider; Exploring Oselu’s Process


Let’s meet you.

My name is Oseluonamen Irabor, I’m Nigerian. I like to think that I just enjoy dreaming. For now, I’m an Illustrator; that’s what I do to eat. And I’m currently doing everything I can do so I don’t die of poverty.

I studied Industrial Design at the Federal University of Technology Akure. I didn’t pick the course because I knew what it was actually; I chose it because it had a fancy name and I liked it. I majored in Textiles so I was in fashion for a while. I was a female fashion designer and illustrator. I left that fashion scene after a while because it started to feel like a job and I no longer saw a future in it so, I just quit and decided to try my hands on anything that interested me. I have dabbled into social media management, content writing, UX writing, and of recent, illustrating digitally. 

Why did you choose to specialize in Illustration?

I chose illustration because I was broke and this was the only monetizable skill I had at that time. When I was at a crossroads after quitting fashion and in between jobs, I needed to do something (that I had control over my outcome and I could also build expertise with time. Illustrations were it because they just came naturally to me. I already had a bit of experience from my days in Fashion so I just picked up books and resources to improve myself in that line.

Oselu Fashion Sketches

What’s your design style?

What I connect with is stories, and I study a lot of editorial illustrations because editorial illustrators know how to tell stories and compress a lot of information into one flyer. I try to tell deep and meaningful stories in short illustrations.

I also try to have fun. This is tricky especially when dealing with clients because they have an idea of what they want. But I try to have fun by going to the left of what’s expected; deviating from what’s normal. 

Recently, I’ve also been learning how to use textures and patterns in my work to differentiate myself from other flat illustrators. I try to differentiate myself because I see myself as an outsider.

Oselu Groundnut.

Why do you consider yourself an outsider?

Growing up, I was good at school. I knew how to navigate through school and all that. I would get a lot of positive reinforcements about how good you are. You’d start to internalize those positive words and while it’s good for self-esteem, it’s not exactly how life pans out. So, the same thing happened to me after school. I imagined life working out well for me because I was good in school and all that. But then life doesn’t work that way. Life is amoral, life isn’t straight. So, I took a lot of L’s because I didn’t have all the tools that I needed to navigate life. And another thing is I’m slow at learning things that people learn very fast. 

All these things shape how I view myself when I’m learning things or working on projects with people. I have to consciously remind myself that I have to do double the work. And to be honest, I’m not complaining because it keeps me on my toes. So, these things give me a different perspective on life and growth. 

I read a lot of Malcolm Gladwell growing up and one thing I learned reading him is that ‘there are no special people. Coming to terms with this reality influences how I  move. I’m not moving with the mentality of some special person who has a lot of advantages. It’s just me and the grind, doing what’s necessary per time. All these factors combine with my self-view; as an Outsider.

How do you gather inspiration before going on any project?

Since I started learning Product Design, I realized the importance of organization in doing anything. I try to stay as organized as I can because it helps my workflow better.

Then I consume a lot of information. I’m always on my headphones listening to so much and I subconsciously store all this info in like a data bank. So before starting any project I always go back to this bank and get this information. I always try to write down things; even when I get a brief from clients, I write down keywords from the brief and look for the synonyms of these words and their meaning.

Then I do the usuals; Pinterest, Behance, and so on, get images that revolve around that concept and use them to try and inspire what it is I need to do. It’s not always as straightforward as that but that’s the framework most times.

Oselu Football Illustration

Has this process ever failed you? What steps did you take?

The truth is that design for me is very vulnerable. It’s almost like you’re losing yourself in that work.

If a client comes with a request to do something, and I haven’t explored that aspect of illustrating yet, I have to accept that vulnerability and be humble enough to accept that I’m limited, then read up or learn more about that aspect. Learning in itself is not fun, it’s not a fun thing to do. So all of these make the work much more complicated.

Also, it depends on the complexity of the client’s work. Sometimes you’re faced with imposter syndrome. I deal with it by coming to terms with the fact that it’s all in my head.

But honestly, when I remember that I have a deadline to turn in a client’s work, I’ll find my way around it. When you realize they can arrest you for missing out on the deadline or that you’ve been given down payment which you’ve spent out of, you’ll find your way around it

How do you deal with imposter syndrome?

I don’t know if I deal with it, I just dance with it. Dealing with it means I’ve handled it or I’ve solved it, I took a drug to cure it. When it comes, I just tell it “Oh, you’re welcome. We have a deadline and we need to work. Do what you need to do and go.” I also listen to a lot of podcasts and interviews by creatives, musicians, comedians, all that. I draw inspiration from their experiences to move ahead. Because people have gone through life and have handled this thing, I draw parallels from their life to mine. I think eventually you need to deal with it rather than romanticize it. I mean, it’s always going to come so why do I need to spend energy romanticizing it?

Oselu Petrol Illustration

Who are your biggest influences?

For me, I’d pick people based on the things they do that I admire. One person I admire is Justin Irabor “Vunderkind”, maybe it’s because we have the same surname. I like him because regardless of all the things he has done, he doesn’t sound the way you’d expect — that vibe of wearing suits up and down, dropping advice like Dr. Phil, pontificating on everything. But Vunderkind is just different and his career trajectory is enough inspiration. 

I also like Fuad a lot. Then Mudia Imasuen. I’m lucky because I get to see him every day. I’d also say Victor Fatanmi from FourthCanvas. Watching their growth is an inspiration for me. Other guys like and listen to are Andrew Schulz, a comedian. Tobe Nwigwe, Jordan Peterson, Bobby Lee, Nipsey Hussle, Russ , Charlamagne tha God. Then yes, I’d also say Niyi Okeowo. I don’t know what he does specifically, I just know he does so many things. But I like him because he comes off like a learner and a doer.

I can say I’m influenced by people who are still human despite the expectation to perform for an audience. People that are comfortable being walking contradictions are my type of people.

Oselu Messi Illustration

Do you see yourself doing anything apart from design? What would that be?

Of course. But I honestly don’t know what it will be at the moment. I just understand that life is fleeting and in a year, something else will resonate and be more interesting and I can find myself doing it. For example, I’m learning Product Design now because I saw Mudia in a meeting and I asked myself “Why I never start dey do this thing?”

Another thing I’ll probably love to do would be stand-up comedy, at least at one point in my life. When I’m able to do anything because I’m comfortable enough, I’ll love to do stand-up comedy. I think I’m funny and I have a lot of funny things to say.

What three major pieces of advice will you give to an up-and-coming illustrator?

There’s nothing special about you first and foremost. So forget about the razzle and dazzle, put in the work. Always focus on the work.

Stop working for validation. Yes, you’d have people you learn from but you don’t have to wait for them to co-sign your work before you create. You grow by doing. So keep doing.

Differentiate the clouds and the dirt; The clouds are future projections while the dirt is your current reality. You have to separate both and manage both well.

If I could add a fourth one, I’d say reading helps a lot. Read a lot, figure out yourself, how your mind works, and learn about who you are. Be a student of yourself. I’m giving the fourth piece of advice because I’m that generous.

Oselu Sketches

If you’d love to know more about Oselu and probably connect with this talented illustrator, his Twitter page is your best plug. Check it out.

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