Years after completing her secondary education, Eva Wachiuri approached a jua kali painter in her Juja neighbourhood; she needed to stay busy and make her first shillings.
The soft-spoken painter in her late 30s got an opportunity that took her passion away from fine arts and plunged her into painting houses, a domain that is largely perceived as a reserve for men. However, for Ms Wachiuri, this was an area she had set her mind on.
There was also another challenge; her parents were against her decision to pursue fine arts as they perceived the field as not well paying.
Ms Wachiuri’s ambition was however too strong to be curtailed. She started by painting backgrounds and sketching pictures to be used on surfaces.
“I did not start off as a painter. My inclination was in fine arts but when I cleared high school, I thought of polishing the arts skills. However, my parents would hear none of it because art was not paying,” Ms Wachiuri says.
Like many other women venturing into a male-dominated field, Ms Wachiuri had to be tough as she learnt the ropes. She had to withstand public glare, as people took keen eye on the young lady confidently holding a painter’s brush!
The first days were tough, she admits, and it took her a day to paint a ten-square metre wall, which is a pretty long time. However, over the years she has mastered the art and can now complete the same task in under an hour, depending on the paint type.
“When I started, a ten-square metre wall took me the whole day which now I do in an hour, even in 20 minutes depending on the pain we use,” she says. “People stared at me and I was kind of jittery. I was not that confident because there was no lady painter in the neighborhood.”
In March 2002, one of her lady neighbours in Juja came knocking —she needed the front side of a kiosk painted. This earned her about Sh200 per day, which did not amount to big money but to her, it was a clear indication of the immense potential of her business.
And indeed from then on the business kept growing, and overtime her startup began to take firm roots.
In 2004, she got a job to re-paint halls and classes at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) ahead of the varsity’s graduation ceremony.
This was one of the biggest projects she had ever bagged. She contracted employees numbering between 30 and 50 workers and to-date this remains the largest group she has ever handled on a single project.
She would later on land another job at the Kenyatta University.
Today, she is working on a project that she says is earning her at least Sh1 million at Ong’ata Rongai.
With such big contracts, she says, the sky is not even the limit.
In the midst of booming prospects, Ms Wachiuri says she had to sharpen her skills to produce quality work at all times. She went to Christian Institute of Technical Training College at Makongeni in Thika between 2005 and 2008.
Despite numerous challenges, she says painting is a source of joy and income.
She says changing rough walls into brightly-coloured surfaces and seeing her clients smile is one of the biggest motivators that pushes her every day.
“When you get a project it is mostly plain walls so when you pull it through and see the satisfaction in the client, it is good enough and makes me look forward to the next project. There is the joy of delivering and growing everyday as a painter,” she says.
The highest she has earned so far from a single project is Sh1.2 million and it involved painting, renovating tiles, ceiling, fixing door locks and furnishing as well as post-construction cleaning.