UK: Rumbidzai Savanhu on becoming an illustrator and how her Zimbabwean heritage influences her use of color
Birmingham-based illustrator Rumbidzai Savanhu wasted no time in kick-starting her career. Having only decided to pursue illustration during the pandemic, she has previously worked for companies such as Royal Brompton Hospitals NHS Trust, Little White Lies and London Wildlife Trust.
For some artists, pursuing a creative career is not a conscious decision. That’s certainly the case for Rumbidzai, who says she feels like she’s an artist in her blood. As a child, she spent her time drawing her favorite cartoons and comics and sketching people whenever she left home.
“I always had a sketchbook with me, even drawing during some of my classes,” she told Creative Boom. “I loved to draw, so I think it made sense for me to be an artist. It wasn’t until two years ago, when I couldn’t find work during the pandemic, that I decided to make a career out of it, and I loved every opportunity that was given to me.
Inspired by Sachin Teng’s dynamic portrait compositions – “that’s why I wanted to learn how to draw people” – and Jake Wyatt’s vibrant use of color, Rumbidzai has incorporated these influences into her own work, which seems burst from the screen with its dynamic use of hues and layout.
She adds: “I always try to develop my style by playing with it, and I try to be versatile according to the commissions I receive, whether it’s with magazines, children’s illustration or comics. I want to be able to work on a variety of different projects, and I think it’s important to be versatile to do that.
“Portraiting and drawing people is a huge part of my work, and I love playing around with different digital brushes to see what effect they will have. My style has definitely changed since picking up an iPad and using Procreate. J I have a lot more freedom in choosing colors than I used to when I drew traditionally. I get bright, bold and colorful. I think most people can tell it’s my job by my use of color.
Another key part of its development was the mentorship provided by Damian Graham of St. Lea Creative. Apart from being able to understand Rumbidzai’s struggles to pursue an artistic career, it also gave her a much-needed boost of confidence that helped her achieve goals she had only dreamed of.
“Sometimes I have doubts and worries about the path I’m taking or my place in the industry, and Damian has been there to help me navigate this industry and offer me resources and examples that can guide me in the best direction for me,” she explains. “It’s great to have someone by your side in an industry that can sometimes feel lonely.”
One of the dream commissions Damian helped her achieve was working for Little White Lies magazine. “During college, we were set up with a module on our future plans after graduation, and I remember I wrote that I wanted my work published in Little White Lies magazine,” explains Rumbidzai. “It was a distant hope that I didn’t know would be achievable or that it would take time, when it was my very first professional commission, it was amazing.
“Everyone there has been super nice and they’re passionate about film. I love playing with magazine memoirs and experimenting with different ways to draw everything from portraits to cards to intricate pattern work. Every piece I’ve done for them, I’ve loved. Friends send me pictures of a magazine they buy and take pictures of my work, and I’m so excited.
What sets Rumbidzai’s work most apart, however, is her use of color, which she herself says is the first thing she notices in an artwork: “It attracts me or grows back, and it’s usually like a job or not.
For Rumbidzai, color is personal and subjective. “I’ve always loved using color in my work, and I think my use of bright colors comes from my Zimbabwean heritage with the bright colors used in fabrics. Also, cinema has a huge influence on me. I’m obsessed with movies that use color and light in interesting ways, like Hero, directed by Yimou Zhang and Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, and all of Guillermo del Toro’s films.
“My love of comics is another influence in my use of color. I remember going to a talk that Mike Mignola gave at Thought Bubble a few years ago and was amazed at how point his use of color was helpful, and I tried to implement that in my work. I think a lot of people may be afraid to use color, but I like to capture the vastness and potential and challenge yourself to find out. It’s almost like a game to me, trying to find the right color.