Modern African identities in the digital art of Terence ‘Tako’ Maluleke

Terence Maluleke, also known as Tako, is a digital artist, animator and illustrator who draws inspiration from different African cultures for his beautifully expressive work. He uses an unusual palette of earthy tones with neon pops, and he combines the world of comics with street style swag to create some of the coolest contemporary character illustrations around. For Graphic Art Month we caught up with this up and coming young artist to chat about his creative background, working towards a distinctive style, and the ins and outs of his process.


How did you discover the world of digital art – and what drew you to illustration and animation specifically?

I discovered digital art through my art teacher Mr Holland in the 8th grade, see this guy was the one, he was my favourite teacher. Mr Holland introduced me to a vector program called Coral draw, before that I used to draw on Microsoft Paint using a mouse and there was no anti-aliasing so you could pretty much see all the pixels, hahaha. I remember I drew Bart Simpson using a mouse and everyone in class was amazed and they all started doing it.

I absolutely love digital art, it allows you to do things that would be impossible in traditional work. Programs like Photoshop and Autodesk Sketchbook have a layering system that make drawing super convenient, not to mention the ‘undo’ button – I’d be nothing without (Crtl Z). Digital art is big part of my life. My mood is most determined by the last thing I drew, if my last drawing was good I will be happy for the rest of the day and if it was a bad drawing, well, then talk to me at you own risk.

What drew me to animation was the first Toy Story movie. I still remember exactly how I felt after watching it. It was the best thing I have ever seen in my entire life. I’ve seen it over 36 times and I know the entire movie word for word. I went to an art school (The National School of the Arts) and we were exposed to different mediums. This is where I found out that you can make a career making cartoons, and it was also were I found out about the Animation School. My parents were very skeptical, but also very supportive of my decision.


How would you describe your style or aesthetic?

Uhmm…that’s a hard question. It’s difficult for me to describe my style because I enjoy exploring different mediums like comics, traditional 3D work, photography etc. I admit it is very hand to have your own unique style when you take so much inspiration from sources like Pinterest and Tumblr hahaha. It is very important to keep you work original. I always try to have non-conventional ideas that are also appealing. I’m still unsure if people can identify my work without my “Tako” signature, this concerns me a little. I mostly draw black people, though some would argue that I ONLY draw black people. I can tell you what I want to achieve with my style instead: To be able to capture and translate people’s personalities and imperfections in my drawings. People identifying my work with my “Tako” signature would be great as well. 🙂

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Pinterest. I enjoy educating myself on different African cultures and learning about how other people live, it also improves my storytelling. I also draw inspiration from the city life and kase (township) life, people in ekase are very expressive.

What does your work station consist of?

My work station consists of 3 sketchbooks (2 of them are completed), Richard Williams ‘Animator’s Survival Kit’ and stationery all over the place – especially pencils and pencil shavings. I also have my Wacom drawing tablet…though I recently lost my stylist pen and I’ve been having a pretty dark week since.


What are the major differences to the process of illustrating vs. creating a piece of animation?

Well the process of animation is more frustrating that’s for sure. Most of the time animation consists of teams that focus on different departments of production, there is a team for pre-production, production and post-production. The pre-production team does the storyboards, character designs, scripts etc. The production team consists of an animator, in between animators and a colourist. The animators turn the story to life. It is also at this stage the team decides on which animation technique will be used. The last production stage is post-production, this stage consists of voice actors, promoters, distributors, etc.

Even though both illustration and animation requires artistic skills and talent they have different principles, you can’t just combine a bunch of drawings in hope it moves correctly.

The process of illustrating is not as long as creating a piece of animation. Before I start illustrating I first gather inspiration from Pinterest, of course, then I draw a few gesture sketches and choose the best one. From there I start refining the lines and then I add colour. Adding colour is my favourite part of the process…well that and gesture drawing. You could say 2D animation is a moving illustration with considerably less detail.

Tell us about your recent series of characters, ‘Nice People’?

‘Nice People’ is simply an artistic movement my best friend and I which we started back in high school. It is Inspired by everyday people, from people who I admire like Gyimah Gariba, and other people who I draw my inspiration from like skaters, the cool kids, people who love fashion and expressive subcultures like Izikhothane.

Are there any themes that seem to reoccur in your work?

Well most of the time it is just whimsical drawings of my personal interest. I mostly draw black women, I remember last year some time I created a big 5 series where I drew women standing next to the big 5. All 5 pieces come with an empowering quote, my personal favourite was the elephant one, which said, “You survived what you thought would kill you. Now straighten your crown move forward like the Queen you are”. Maybe I should revisit that series and recreate it.


What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received so far?

Well, the most valuable piece of advice I’ve ever received was from my father. We had an argument when I told him I want to pursue a career in animation, he wasn’t sure what that was so I added cartoons “amapopye”, it took a lot of explaining for him to finally understand. He then said to me “Ani lavi nchumu eka wena no lava wena ukota kuti hanyisa hiwexe” which translates “I don’t want anything from you, I just need you to survive on your own”, though it had more of an impact in Xitsonga.

If illustration and animation weren’t an option, what would you pursue?

 I would probably go into fashion design, I think it’s also cool.

Are you working on anything at the moment that we should keep an eye out for?

My best friend and I are working on a top secret African inspired comic book it is going to be crazy! There is also a project with this cool photographer by the name of Kevin Radebe, and we’re comibining photography with illustrations.

Follow Terence on Behance and Instagram.



See more Graphic Art Month on 10and5.

Graphic Art Month on 10and5

Between 10 and 5