Striking appeal of unbroken single-line art

Friday July 12 2019

'Selflove 3' by Husna Nyathira

'Selflove 3' by Husna Nyathira. PHOTO | KAR MUTU | NMG 

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Kenyan artist Husna Nyathira has mastered the technique of single-line art. Continuous or single-line art is where an image is drawn in an unbroken line from beginning to end, often on a single colour background.

The absence of many colours allows you to focus on the form or what is outlined.

“Even in its simplicity, a line can be used to express so much if properly explored,” Nyathira says.

Her black and white portraits use just a touch of colour to capture details, such as in the Faces series depicting traditional women: The furrowed forehead and heavy bags under the eyes of an older woman in one illustration or the smooth skin and youthful lips of a younger woman in another.

It’s hard to imagine that their facial features, expressions and layered necklaces have been drawn without taking pen off paper. Yet, Nyathira says that people sometimes do not notice or appreciate that her work is done with just one line.

She says birds interest her because of their sense of freedom. Flight, a painting in black, white and gold lines on a purple background, is a simple image of a bird with outstretched wings and tail feathers fanned out.


Nyathira draws faces because they portray the uniqueness of each person, she says. “It’s a different experience every time you do it.”

She also likes the fluid quality of the line and the aspect of unpredictability saying, “Once I start, I have to finish it.”

Nyathira took art classes in high school and studied computer science at university. The Self-Love series of female portraits, which Nyathira created digitally, are drawn on white paper with patches of sunny yellow.

They are striking in a starkly beautiful and minimalist way. In other face paintings, she employs a broader colour scheme and the single line is used to delineate the primary features.

Nyathira has learned most of her techniques from YouTube or fellow artists. In addition, a mentorship programme at StudioSoku, where she is a resident artist, taught her how to navigate the industry.