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The art of being a woman in a male-dominated field

By David Mwitari | February 6th 2019
Tinted Color Creations founder Eva Wachiuri at work with some of her 'fundis' [David Mwitari, Standard]

There aren’t many women brandishing a paintbrush and carrying out industrial-scale paintwork.

Eva Wachiuri, founder of Tinted Color Creations, however, is determined to prove that women can thrive in a sector that’s largely male-dominated.

She’s doing her part to change misconceptions about female painters, and spoke to Hustle about what it’s like pursuing her profession and why she wants more women to join her.

From your experience, is painting really a male-dominated field?

The profession is dominated by men, yes, but that doesn’t affect growth. In this industry, merit is given on results, not by virtue of your gender. A client will appreciate your work based on the quality you produce, which makes it a promising profession for anyone.

What inspired you to pursue painting as a profession?

I truly believe it was a divine calling. My passion for painting began way back in high school at Kerugoya Girls, and on the encouragement of my friends, I worked on ‘‘copycatting’ pictures. After school, I approached painters and sign-writers, and they trained me on flat painting.

In 2004, someone noticed my work and helped me get a casual job at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKuat) to help with preparations for their graduation ceremony. They liked what I did, and I kept getting more jobs from the campus.

I always knew I wouldn’t hold an office job. If I hadn’t become a painter, I’d probably be a mechanic. But here I am; I’ve been a painter for 16 years now.

How well does the job pay?

It depends on the project. As a general guide, however, you can expect between Sh1,000 and Sh2,000 a day.

How many employees do you have at Tinted Color Creations?

I employ between two and 20 casuals, depending on the project. I also train people who have a passion for painting. There’s no better exercise for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.

I train unskilled persons whenever I’m working on a project. At first, I teach them the main aspects of my job, which includes surface preparation and sanding, and then gradually, they learn about the application of primers and undercoats.

What project have you executed for a major client, and what were the challenges you faced?

JKuat’s Technology House is the biggest single project I ever risked taking on on a contractual basis. I didn’t have much experience in painting at that time. The main challenge I faced then was a fear of not delivering the project on time.

I remember working through the night a lot and really pushing my employees so we wouldn’t miss the timelines set. I gained a lot of experience on that job, as well as the confidence I needed to battle it out in the industry.

I currently have other big projects across estates in Nairobi, and I have contracts to paint residential homes and offices across the country.

You were part of the Team Kubwa project run by Crown Paints. Did this help you advance in your profession?

Oh, yes. Through their training, I learnt about alternative products and proper application when it comes to various shades of paint. I also gained a lot of experience from the creative arts training on special effects application in providing personalised designs in areas where I’d otherwise use wallpaper to create an impression.

My advice to professionals in any industry is to take advantage of whatever training you can get. Trust me, it will help you stand out.

Do clients treat you differently from your male colleagues?

Yes, I get both positively different and negatively different treatment. Some clients will come curious to see if a woman can do the job, while others will never accept that we got the job fairly. They believe women use their sex appeal to seal deals.

What are the downsides to your job?

Since painting is considered easy and doable by anyone regardless of their training, it’s the most underpaid job in the construction industry.

Also, setting up scaffolds is not an easy task. And then there are some men who find it difficult to accept authority from a woman.

Would you advise women to become painters?

By all means, yes. Growth is brought about by building talents and gifts – but women should come ready to get their hands dirty. #NoSlaying!

To succeed, you need to be diligent and consistent to satisfy your clients. Also, attend expos and trainings to remain relevant in the field. I cannot overstate the importance of having a healthy relationship with a team of fundis. It has brought me a long way.

What are your future plans? 

I want to establish an interior decor consultancy firm, while offering construction finishing services.

I also hope to integrate vulnerable persons – such as recovering drug addicts, hardworking single mums and orphans – into my projects, giving them the chance to pursue a career that they may have been denied previously due to their addictions and various struggles.  

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