Within the first two days of arriving in Tanzania, I was fascinated and in awe of the Tinga Tinga style painting. As an artist myself, I was desperate to see the processes, materials and technique used to create such incredible pieces of Art. The use of repetition, pattern and sequencing made the artwork alluring, highlighting the dedication and passion residing within the artist. It was from that point onwards that I chose to explore the art markets, watch the artists in action and learn to paint in the Tinga Tinga style myself.
The Tinga Tinga art form was named after Edward Saidi TingaTinga; the founder and creator of the style. Born and raised in the capital of Dar Es Salaam, Edward created, sold and taught his unique painting methods up until his death in 1972. Leaving behind a legacy of painters, the early 1990’s saw the establishment of The Tinga Tinga Arts Co-operative Society fusing together his family and students who continue to produce paintings all over East Africa. The remarkable paintings truly depict what East Africa has to offer; Free standing mountains, Maasai land, the Savannah, Serengeti and of course the wildlife that inhabit these exquisite places. The unconventional use of enamel paint makes the paintings even more unusual. Coupled with the turpentine odour and glossy finish, the industrial paint sets aside Tinga Tinga from any other African Art form.
My Tinga Tinga Lesson
I was lucky enough to have been introduced to Mr Kimumbo, one of the remaining original Tinga Tinga Artists who knew the TingaTinga family well. I was to be taught for two consecutive days, building up the multiple layers that the painting style embodies and to allow drying time. To begin, a canvas is constructed using cotton tacked into a wooden frame and further coated in a primer base. Once dry, the background colour can be applied. This application is crucial and needs many layers in order to create a solid and sturdy base to work upon. This has to be left to dry overnight to ensure that it is bone dry in order to paint upon 24 hours later.
The second layer began with black paint to outline the guinea fowl’s body. My teacher painted whilst I watched and henceforth I reciprocated onto my own canvas. The shape of the guinea fowl’s body is extremely precise and unique to the Tinga Tinga style due to the head facing the opposite way to the body and so on. The branches in which the birds are perching upon were added, using curling and flicking of the brush to add expression. The black paint had to be left to dry in the bright sunlight for an hour or so before continuing. After a quick beverage or two, we continued with the next layer: the grey outline. A steady hand is key to complete this section error free and requires deep concentration. The yellow feet, beak and eyes were applied next, a key feature to the style as the beaks are thin and curved and toes extremely long.
After the yellow layers, using a cotton bud, black dots were applied to the branches to create foliage. Following the black, white is applied in circular patterns and further a yellow colour to highlight certain areas of the flowering. A red comb was added to each bird as well as wattles underneath the chin. To finish the painting, white dots were added to the guinea fowls’ plumage varying in sizes dependent on where upon the body it was placed. After the final touches on the eyes were completed, the painting was left to dry overnight in time for collecting the following day. I was extremely excited to collect my painting and am still exceptionally pleased with the outcome. Mr Kimumbo asked me how much I would pay for my own painting if it was on sale in a shop and I settled with 30,000 TZ shillings. With signature encrusted upon the painting, I have returned home with a beautiful piece of African Culture that is framed and hung in my UK residence. Mr Kimumbo was a great teacher who offered his time to teach me with patience and kindness as well as encouragement. This was truly an experience I will never choose to forget.