“People ask me why I don’t have a job,” Gayan said. “They ask me if it’s difficult to find work. Most often, it is confusing for them because they know I’ve studied well, and technically, it shouldn’t be hard to find work. They get even more confused when I say that I like what I do.”
Gayan Pitawalagedara (28) is a street portrait artist, working by the Kandy Lakeside. On certain days, he brings his portable easel to the Lakeside, set it up alongside several framed portraits he had sketched and begins his work. “I’ve been doing this for over two years now,” he said. “But I only set up here around a few months ago. I started during the COVID-19 lockdown, like a lot of other people. I saw the potential in this and decided to stick with it.”
“A lot of Sri Lankans are of a singular mindset: study, work, build your family. But I prefer to work on my own,” he said. “I don’t subscribe to that. I will go my own way.” This, however, does not mean that he has given up his studies: he added that he is currently studying software engineering.
Ever since he published his initial work on Facebook, Gayan received commissions for portraits. So much so that he decided to quit his job and dedicate his time solely to his paintings. “I used to work as an accountant in Kandy, where I live,” he said. “It was difficult to survive on that salary. Now, I earn enough through my art. I earn enough to fend for myself and look after my parents.”
“I feel immense peace doing this work,” he said. “The pressure of a 9-5 job is not there. My mind is clearer. But that doesn’t mean that work has been reduced. Sometimes I work till very late in the night. But on the other hand, I earn more than I used to when I was an accountant.”
He added: “Art is different and unique to everyone. My advice is to find your niche and excel at it. That is how you hit your goals. You cannot be greedy in this field.”
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