David Tshabalala Illustrates his path to success

Main Photo by: Chris Preyser
Words by: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti

I believe that all young creatives across the world need to discover one thing in order to attain everlasting success. This thing is called authentic power. Famous spiritual teacher, Gary Zukav, defines authentic power as: “When the personality comes fully to serve the energy of its soul.”

David (28) is for me one of those artists who have been fortunate enough to discover their authentic power at an early age. As a result he has immaculately designed his career around his passion, which is illustration. By being authentic he has attained success and accumulated accolades, his highlight being included in the “Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans” list in 2015.

David is the co-founder of Suketchi, a creative and design agency that offers graphic design, product & lifestyle ranges, media, arts and events. He has also created an inspiring annual social media exhibition called Run the World, where he illustrates women who inspire him, every August. The exhibition is garnering quite a following and shows that he is not just a creative entrepreneur but a young a mind that uses his work to inspire.

I caught up with David in Maboneng to talk about his inspiring journey in Johannesburg.

So when did you truly fall in love with illustrating?
I started in crèche. Like everyone else in crèche we used to get crayons and paper to learn about colour. But I took it further than most kids because I really enjoyed it more. While to them it was more of an activity, to me it was something that I truly looked forward to.

Being raised in a small town like Harrismith, what inspired you to pursue illustration as a career?
I think that is the beauty about media, television to be specific because there wasn’t much social media back then, it was quite an inspiration. I used to watch cartoons and I knew that is what I wanted to do. I didn’t know exactly what that career was called, it was just amapopeye to me, but I knew I wanted to do that. I realised that such stuff happen in Jo’burg and so in high school I started working towards making it happen.

I then enrolled for graphic designing at Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein. Drawing was offered as one of the subjects in the course. The curriculum was quite a challenge for me, especially the technical aspects of it.  I was not the best in class but I think I had the most passion and that allowed me to grow and go further.

Now that you are pursuing the career, do you feel like there is room for growth as an illustrator in South Africa?
Definitely. I think illustration is a nice alternative to photography. Illustration adds quite an interesting flavour to images and it will be quite a big medium as time goes by.

Was it challenging turning your passion into a career?
I would say it was quite natural for me because graphic designing was my main thing. Graphic design is kind of better in terms of jobs because it’s your logos, letter heads, billboards etc.  What I used to do was to incorporate illustration into that and that sort of set me apart. In our industry once you do something great for one brand, it becomes easier for other brands to approach you or trust you.

What would you say was the early defining moment of your career?
I would definitely say being included in the Mail & Guardian 200 young people in 2015.  That really boosted my confidence because you get nominated by the public. To know that there are people even outside of design that get inspired by my work was quite a big accolade.

I think there are still many young creatives coming to Jo’burg to chase success but very few attain the latter. What would you say one needs to do differently in order to “Make It”?
I think you must treat yourself as a brand. You need to be able to recognise opportunities no matter how small they may seem and use them to get to the next step. It’s also quite crucial to approach the right people and not just affiliate with anyone. Lastly, package yourself properly so that people can be able to take you and your brand seriously.

Please tell me what inspired you to create your own company, Suketchi?
Firstly, the name Suketchi means sketching in Japanese. I used to work at Soul Providers, which is a marketing agency. There was such a strong demand for design work that it made sense for me and my boss to create a new platform, so we created a creative and design company.

What would you say inspires you as a creative entrepreneur?
I am inspired by young black creatives because I think this industry is still traditionally white. I would love to work with more black creatives. As the co-owner of Suketchi I love the idea of inspiring other black creatives in the industry.

I think I have had quite a few conversations with other creatives and collaborating is one of the main things they advise other creatives to embrace. In your view, do you think young black creative’s are embracing the concept?
I can say they are starting to embrace the concept because I have seen it happen. I love that you also see people with different skills or from different sectors collaborate. I would say they are collaborating more because everyone seems to have respect for their craft. For instance, I am not a photographer and I respect photographers so I am not going to wake up one morning and say ‘I’m a photographer’. If I need a great photographer then I always find a photographer from my network pool and that’s collaboration. I believe you work your ass off to be able to earn any title and it shouldn’t be different in the creative field.

What is the bigger plan for Suketchi?
We are working towards acquiring our own office space and also the business to have its own infrastructure, our own little team of designers so that we can have some sort of independence. Those are just some of the little things but I think like any company I would like to see it reach its full potential.

Do you recall a time when you had the most fun working on a project?
David: I would say it’s the movie Wonderboy for President by Kagiso Lediga. I was doing the art work for social media as part of the promotion of the movie. I think as a creative, projects like that can be very interesting. You also get to see how people interact with the work in a public space and it can be quite rewarding to witness the response.

You have this amazing campaign you started called “Run the World”. Can you please tell me more about that?
Every year in August I draw women who inspire me and who are doing amazing things. I post one illustration per day, share it on social media along with the story of that woman.  That for me is a project that I do because I am inspired to do and it also connects me to the people, and that’s why I love it.

Can you recall a conversation with a fellow creative that moved you or changed how you looked at something?
It was one I had with one of my ex mentors, Wandile Zondo, who owns a store called Thesis in Soweto. I bumped into him and we had a great chat. I was celebrating because my company had just reached our first financial target. One of the things he advised me was that I should still stay focused and keep my feet on the ground. As someone who has been quite successful, he was trying to highlight that as much that was a great achievement, there was still so much more that I needed to do. It made me realise that we must always stay focused on the work and not be lost in the money.

What sort of person do you hope to be as you move forward in your life?
I would truly love to be used as some sort of inspiration. Even if I am not the best illustrator but I would love for my journey to serve as some sort of inspiration to anyone trying to pursue anything. Having some sort of influence on some kid from anywhere is something you can’t put a price on man.

To see more of David’s work you can go to Suketchi.

You can also follow david on instagram: slaying.goliath.

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