Ssebadduka finds joy, money in drawing people’s portraits

John Paul Ssebadduka finds beauty in the everyday life by producing renderings of people’s portraits using a pencil earning him the name JP Pencil.

Despite being one of the best artists in his high school days and doing art up to his senior six, the 28-year-old never thought of doing art for commercial purposes.

However, as fate would have it, the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything.

“I started drawing professionally in 2020 during the lockdown. The lockdown came while I was working as a bar manager and we were forced to stay around the place since everything was now closed,” the graduate of Business Computing from Makerere University Business School says.

“With nothing to do, I tried to reflect on what I could do to avoid boredom. I tried to reflect on my abilities and resurrect my skills and talents. I came up with idea of resurrecting my talent which is art. I had taken some good time without doing it but since I had so much time and without any business, I started drawing with a pen,” he says.

Ssebadduka says the first portrait that came into his mind was his daughter’s and it is what he drew.

“When I posted it on my Facebook page, the feedback I got from people was positive. One of my friends who is professional artist advised me to go on and make a few perfections and asked me to use pencil. He advised that I could make money out of drawing portraits,” he says.

School time

He confesses that he was among the best art students at his school and excelled highly during the final exams.

However, despite the urge to continue with fine art at university, circumstances surrounding his life could not enable him continue with it.

“I got a B in the final exams in senior six but due to financial constraints, my aunt who was paying my fees couldn’t not afford the cost of an arts course at higher institutions of learning. That is how I ended up doing a diploma in Business Computing at MUBS,” he says.

The start

Having been inspired by an old boy to start drawing pieces for money during the Covid-19 lockdown, Ssebadduka said he took time perfecting the skills he had ditched almost six years back in high school.

“Having been a great student of art, it wasn’t so hard for me to cope. The hardest thing was I had spent over six years without holding a pencil but aspect of drawing was still in me and had to redefine it,” he says.

He says his first commercial piece of art was bought by a friend for his girlfriend.

“You can never forget your first client even if you get rich. He was my OB whom we had studied together at school. When he saw my first work on social media, he right away trusted it. He called and sent me a picture of his girlfriend who had an upcoming birthday. He asked me to draw a portrait from the picture and paid me Shs 25000,” Ssebadduka says.

He adds that he didn’t need anything but rather a pencil and paper was enough for him to start working.

Since then, the 28-year-old says he has never looked back.

He says he mostly uses Twitter were he posts portraits of various people he has drawn and from his followers he gets clients who make orders.

Ssebadduka says on many occasions he draws portraits of politicians and celebrities on his own and posts them on social media as a way of marketing himself.

 “You do piece of work and post it for them to see and out of love and appreciation they can post on their walls so people can get to know of someone doing professional work. When you post your work and people share it, others inquire about it and this way you get clients,” he says.

He says he doesn’t have a workshop but works from home.

“I don’t require so much space, just table, papers and pencils. I frame and deliver to people,” he says.


Just like any business, Ssebadduka says he has a number of challenges that he faces as he goes about his work.

The 28-year-old artist descries the ever-increasing prices for commodities that he says has not spared the materials he uses for his art pieces.

“One of the challenges is the increasing prices of materials every now and then. For example, the price for papers, pencils and frames keeps increasing. This affects me greatly.”

He says that a number of materials he uses are not readily available on the market, adding that since they have to be imported, it makes his work difficult as he has to wait for them to arrive into the country.

Proud artist

Despite the challenges, Ssebadduka says he is proud to have chosen art.

“I would be ungrateful to say am not a proud artist. It would be disrespectful. Being an artist has brought for me lots of things in the two years I have practiced it. I have got new friends because of art,” he says.

“My work has opened doors for me that I never knew I would enter. I have so many clients whose offices I wouldn’t have entered had it not been for art. I have many people who look up to me as a role model and that alone makes me proud,” he says.

He says he has never regretted being an artist since it now employs him and is able to look after his family.

“I feel proud that because of art, my daughter attends good schools.”

He is optimistic the future is bright with art.

“In the next few years, I look forward to being able to inspire many other fellow youths. If you ever reach retirement and there is no one who said you helped them be like you, you wouldn’t enjoy your retirement. I expect to inspire many other youths because of art.”


Ssebadduka advises fellow youths to never fear to start small and later grow big. “You can only start with what you have. If you can’t recognize what you have you won’t start a thing. I started with a pencil and paper but if I had not started, no one would have known me. Develop your talent and develop it. Make sure by discovering that skill, you learn how to monetize it,” he says.

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