Everyone loves a success story. When award international award-winning Filipino painter/sculptor/printmaker/writer/book illustrator and philanthropist Manuel D. Baldemor recently toured Canada, he sat for an interview with PMNTV about his humble beginnings and his adventures around the world as the most travelled artist with his work for UNICEF. I also had the privilege of collaborating with him on a painting he based on his recollection of a sculpture by my late granduncle, the famous Filipino artist/sculptor/inventor Jose P. Alcantara.
Baldemor became friends with my granduncle through his teacher Vicente Manansala who was my granduncle’s childhood friend and neighbor. Collaborating with Baldemor felt like coming home as I never had the chance to work with my late granduncle. So how did Baldemor achieve the ultimate artist’s dream? With an impressive career spanning across cultures and continents with over 200 solo exhibitions worldwide, artists can learn a lot from Baldemor. So here are some gems of advice and wisdom I learned from this modern master’s creative journey:
Follow your heart
If you have the passion and the talent, go for it. It is possible to not only survive but also thrive making a living from art and Baldemor is living proof. Who knew back then that the little boy from Paete, Laguna, who came from a farming family would grow into a world traveling success? So follow your heart, but take your head with you because you also need a plan…
Start with a solid foundation
“That is most important for an artist, even for a young artist- you have to know how to draw,” Baldemor says. Drawing is the foundation of painting. By studying the basics, you gain a better understanding of techniques that will make you a better artist. Learn the rules before you break them.
Natural artists are born- but successful artists are made.
Baldemor says it takes more than talent to succeed. His first job as an artist was at nine years old painting paper mache toys to save money for high school. At fourteen, he was painting posters for movie theatres. He spent years honing his skills in art school, exploring different styles and media, putting careful thought into steps he needed to take to get his work noticed.
Attend art openings.
Nothing is going to happen if no one knows you or your work. Attend art events and mingle. Develop relationships now so you can get your work in front of the right people. And speaking of work…
Even when he had an 8 to 5 office job, Baldemor devoted time to painting at home. Through consistency, he created a large collection of work for exhibitions that enabled him to pursue painting full-time. No amount of networking will help you if you have no art to show. Keep creating so you will be ready to exhibit whenever the opportunity strikes.
“UNICEF chose my work because my paintings are the colors of Christmas. Color sells.” Baldemor explained when I asked him how he caught UNICEF’s eye and had his vividly colored works selected for reproduction on UNICEF’s Christmas cards for 18 years straight. Color attracts the eye.
It is ok to draw inspiration from masters, but be original
New artists tend to try too hard imitating famous artists that they end up getting lost in a sea of other wannabe Amorsolos, Manansalas, Monets, Picassos, etc. Although Baldemor was a student of a famous master, he blazed his own trail and is known around the world for his own distinctively unique style. You owe it to yourself as an artist to let the world appreciate you for your own uniqueness. Be the one and only top-notch version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of someone else.
Study your roots
He is known for his vibrant depictions of Philippine folk culture and traditions and his extensive knowledge of history fuels his creativity. “You have to understand where you came from,” he explains. Every culture has its own unique history of traditional arts and crafts. Tapping into your own heritage can be a wellspring of ideas.
Expand your horizons. Learn about other cultures
This opens your eyes to new places, people, experiences, philosophies and ways of living that can spark your creativity in ways you never thought possible. If you can’t afford to travel, use the internet and visit the library, museums, and local multicultural festivals.
Inspiration is everywhere. If you can’t find inspiration, facilitate it.
He says he never has artist’s block. What inspires him? People, music, travelling and the environment. While working on our painting, he asked me if I sang when I worked alone. He explained that when painting pieces depicting a certain culture, like his Mexican series for example, he will often play Mexican music for inspiration to immerse his senses in the creative process. Don’t wait for inspiration. Seek it everywhere.
Use a sketchpad/notebook/phone/iPad/etc. to record your ideas.
Baldemor keeps a small travel sketchpad to record his thoughts. Ideas for a masterpiece can hit you anywhere, anytime and you need to be prepared to draw or make notes so you can refer to those ideas when you’re back in your studio.
When fate gives you a nudge, take the hint. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone or you might miss great opportunities.
Baldemor initially declined the job to create his epic mural for the Basilica of St. Therese de Lisieux in France because he had never done a large-scale mosaic of that nature and wasn’t familiar with St. Therese. An avid traveller, he often visits cathedrals to admire the art and architecture. Coincidentally, at that time whenever he visited a cathedral, he saw an image of St. Therese which sparked his curiosity. To top it off, on his flight back to Manila, the relics of St. Therese were on the same plane. He figured it had to be a sign. After doing some research on the saint and mosaic techniques and materials, he took a leap and accepted the job on which he collaborated with French mosaic artists Sylvie Henot and Francois Sand. The rest, as they say, is history.
Maintain a positive attitude. Turn setbacks into opportunities to do good.
When his studio in Pasig was flooded in 7 feet of water by typhoon Ondoy in 2009 while he was in France on a tight deadline, he asked the priest for permission to fly home. “You cannot take anything with you to heaven or hell. These are material things,” he was told. He stayed to work and went home in November to find all his paintings destroyed. However, some of his watercolor paintings became even more beautiful after the flood waters washed and blended the colors. He donated these to the environmental institution in the Philippines and UNICEF, turning a disaster around into an opportunity to do good.
Create a work-life balance
“Work hard and play hard. You also have to relax. You also have to give space for your mind, your body, your time,” Baldemor explained. Inspiration cannot flow if you are over stressed. Give yourself time to celebrate life, to breathe, observe, absorb and reflect.
Always keep learning
“Even now, I consider myself under training,” says Baldemor. No matter how accomplished and famous you are, there is always room for artistic growth. Despite being accomplished in different media, his other interest is photography, which he is working on mastering.
Share your gift
He finds fulfilment in using his art to help the less fortunate. Material success will only give you so much satisfaction, but sharing your blessings with others helps make the world a better place. “Maybe if I retire or can’t paint anymore, I wish I can write or teach so I can share whatever gift I have. If you have a gift, you have to use it. And use it in a nice way, in the right way and if you have that, you have to count your blessings so you can share it. Maybe that will be my little contribution to the world,” he explained.