The art of the matter: inside design skills startup, Digital Canvas Academy

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

In the world of art, an invisible barrier exists between classically trained designers and digital art which practitioners on both side try to overcome. But as most find out when they try their hand at it – it’s not quite that simple.

Tumelo Selamolela, a 29-year-old entrepreneur from Johannesburg, thinks he has found a way to bridge the gap between the two and get the two forms to integrate through his new Digital Canvas Academy startup.

Selamolela studied animation at The Animation School‘s Cape Town campus and graduated in 2005.

He had always had a passion for art and received a lot of support from his parents to pursue a career in the field, something he says a lot of parents with artistic children still are reluctant to embrace.

During his high school years, Selomolela was mentored at a graphic design company to learn more about animation before kicking off his tertiary studies.

After graduation, Selamolela got the opportunity to work on major national projects in Johannesburg and Cape Town such as the Jock of the Bushveld and Zambezia animated movies.

Last year, Selamolela was featured on an educational show as a mentor to a young student interested in design and animation for a year. He noticed that although the student was gifted with fine art talent and had the drawing skills, digital drawing didn’t come as easily.

“I saw this gap and at the time, I had been speaking to Nuno Martins [the principal of The Animation School Joburg] and he told me he was also thinking of introducing young artists to the basics of digital drawing,” Selamolela says.

“That’s when I partnered with Nuno to conceptualise an idea for a school that would teach young people those skills in preparation for formal studies at schools like The Animation School and equip them with skills they can use in their artistic careers.”

“In hindsight I realise that the mentorship I went through before coming to The Animation School was in an informal way what we are offering here at the Digital Canvas Academy. I got equipped with the skills so that by the time I started my studies, I knew my way around digital art.”

Selamolela says a lot of students enter animation institutions and course with a raw fine arts background and next to no knowledge of how to draw on a computer. This lead to some students failing and falling behind on their studies.

“If you look at their art works, most of these youngsters are very talented, but the digital world has its own principles and way of doing things. All that needs to be done is that we need to incubate that talent,” he says.

Selamolela began the ground work and opened the academy which is based at The Animation School this January, something he says would not have been possible without the help of Martins.

Martins assisted Selamolela by giving him a room rent-free at The Animation School for his academy invested in it by investing in all the equipment needed for the classes.

Space at The Animation School used by Digital Canvas Academy.

“Riding on The Animation School brand helped give my startup credibility and allows me to focus on other things such as growing it,” he adds.

Classes at the academy run for seven to 10 weeks during school holidays and takes in 20 students per time. Most students are made up of high school learners and post matric youths, but a few students already enrolled at tertiary institutions or have a career in art already established have also signed up for the course in the past.

Bringig art to life.

The course includes four modules:

  • Digital Tools
  • Digital Sketching
  • Colour Theory and Digital Painting
  • Tones in Digital Painting

Upon completion, students receive a certificate of attendance.

Expansion has is on the cards for the Digital Canvas Academy, and Selamolela plans to bring the classes to Cape Town by July. Durban will follow in the near future and after establishing a base in South Africa, Selamolela hopes to expand outside local borders into the rest of Southern Africa.

South Africa is behind in terms of international digital art trends, we want to bridge that gap because there is so much talent here,” Selomolela says.

“Our aim is to inspire kids to get excited about digital art and to get parents to change their perceptions about it and animation and help them support their kids. I believe if I can carve my own path with this business model and be successful in it, other will follow in my path”.



Hypertext creates relevant business and consumer technology content for our readers. We live at the crossroads of invention, culture, mobile, 3D printing and more, where the greatest ideas of today inspire the innovations of tomorrow.