At 2 a.m, Bithia Dantoumda, a junior at The University of Texas, can usually be found in her bedroom with a paintbrush in hand. In the moment, other thoughts disappear and her focus is on creating.
When she was 4 years old, Bithia’s family of five left their home country of Burkina Faso and planted themselves in Tyler, Texas. When they moved to America, Bithia said they didn’t have very much money saved up and struggled financially. Growing up as an international student, Bithia said she knew she would have to work even harder to achieve her dreams.
At the age of 12, she began showing an interest in art. Her father immediately bought her an array of expensive art supplies. She said her father is her greatest source of encouragement.
“I ruined a bunch of notebooks and pencils and stuff, but he just kept believing in me,” Bithia said. “Knowing that I had his support, I just kept going and then I got better at it.”
Before she fell in love with painting, Bithia said she primarily created ink designs. In high school, her art teacher encouraged her to try painting and she began selling her work to pay for school trips and other expenses.
Without a work permit, Bithia said she struggled emotionally to make a profit from her work and have enough motivation to keep creating.
“Some days I felt creative, some days I didn’t, but I had to keep going and I had to keep making this art if I wanted to afford everything that I wanted out of life.”
It was out of these honest reflections that Bithia came up with her business name: Creative Days.
Spending up to 12 hours on each piece, Bithia paints on everything from canvas to apparel items, like shoes and purses. She also creates digital art and currently has a fellowship with MOVE Texas, a non-partisan organization that works to give young people voices in politics.
With over 11 thousand followers on Instagram, certain pieces sometimes go viral on her social platforms. Her first viral post received over 18,000 likes on Twitter and features a painting of Megan Thee Stallion.
When some people initially see her art, Bithia said they’re often shocked that she’s an international student. While American artists are culturally accepted, she said some people think Africans and people from low-income backgrounds don’t have the capability to create art on a grand scale.
These reactions pushed Bithia to challenge stereotypes about African women and people from Burkina Faso.
“Even googling (Burkina Faso) you just see kids playing in dirt and that’s not an accurate reflection of where I come from,” Bithia said. “My goal is to break the stereotype and (show) that we’re so much more than what you see on Google and the news.”
She incorporates traditional Burkina Faso stripes and patterns into her illustrations of American celebrities. She hopes this will challenge people to address what they associate with African culture.
She said her greatest piece of advice for other women entrepreneurs would be to just start somewhere, instead of spending years trying to develop a business plan and platform. She wants her platform to inspire other international artists, especially other women, to seriously pursue their artistic passions.
“You don’t necessarily have to be a nurse,” Bithia said. “You can do more than what you’re expected to.”
When she started her business, she said she often bombarded friends and family with her work. Now, she focuses on personal connections with her community and tries to explain why they should invest their time and money in her work. She said this is one of the reasons why she has loyal customers who introduce her to other opportunities like competitions and scholarships.
“I really try to know people on a personal level, instead of just pushing my art in your face,” Bithia said.
Instead of focusing on numerical values, grants and awards, Bithia said being satisfied with her own work is most important. She often doesn’t return pieces to customers until they are completely satisfied.
“I’m very hard on myself, sometimes harder than I should be,” Bithia said. “I don’t want to put something out there that I can’t look back on a couple years from now and be proud of.”
While she used to negotiate with customers about sale details, she said she’s learned to accept and move on when people don’t appreciate the time and effort she puts into pieces.
After watching some artists prioritize keeping up with trends, Bithia said she doesn’t want to lose her character and values in the process of growing her business. Raising over $3,000 for the Black Lives Matter movement, Bithia designed t-shirts that honored George Floyd after his murder by a white Minneapolis police officer in May.
Throughout her business journey, her greatest tool has been her support system of friends, family and loyal customers. Bithia said she encourages other entrepreneurs to surround themselves with people that are going to encourage them and their work.
With hopes that Creative Days will continue to grow and sustain her after college, Bithia said she plans to eventually return to Burkina Faso and start an art school.
Find her on Instagram and Twitter: @creativedaysart