I Am an Artist

Mark Culajay

I am an artist. For years I have wrestled with the idea of what it means to be an artist. Do I have to sell a piece? Do I need to have a gallery? What do I have to do to be considered an artist? What do I have to do to consider myself an artist? There isn’t a definitive answer. Yes, there are professional standards, but I’m not talking about that. I mean personally, what do I have to do to consider myself an artist?

What most people would say is “Make art!”, but I’ve been making art since I was 5 years old. In my room at the corner of my bed sits a banker’s box. Just a white and blue cardboard box that has seen better days. It’s a treasure chest or pandora’s box or some other container that holds unspeakable horrors. In that box sits all of my old art. Notebooks, folders of loose paper, and sketchbooks all filled with doodles, characters, places, and of course fan art. I’ve saved every piece, every wretched sketch. Every character from before I mastered drawing the human body to now, where I still sometimes struggle to draw an eye. I go back to these drawings every so often to look at where my art was, but also to remember. The characters with their bean-shaped heads and bodies, hands just poking out of their torsos with no arms. Things were less complicated, they didn’t need to make sense.

My art has changed since then, from those expressionless beans to emotion-filled characters with dimension and depth. I would want nothing less than to take that box and toss it into a bonfire, but then they would be gone. The drawings and the memories they hold. That’s what those drawings mean to me, memories and stories that chronicle the journey that I have been on. From the cringe-worthy attempts at faces I couldn’t draw, to the notebooks I filled with poses when I was trying to understand anatomy. These drawings are a part of me, the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, no matter how much I would want to forget all of those embarrassing memories and large-headed drawings, I can’t. I won’t because that is what makes me who I am.

Art is a part of me. It connects me to the world, and it to me. There is a community of artists out in the world that is constantly challenging each other to be better than they were yesterday. Art connects me to my friends. My best friend and I became friends through art. He and I would challenge each other to draw the same thing, usually a character, and by the end of the day, we would compare them. It was a competition to one-up the other. It was our rivalry. I always considered him a better artist than I was. Even now, though he draws less than I do, he is still so filled with talent and finding new ways to use it. Through our little rivalry, we got to learn more about each other, what TV shows we watched, what videogames we’ve played. We realized that we had more in common than what we initially thought. If you want to know what an artist likes the most, look at their work. Every single artist, and I mean every single one of them, is a thief. Maybe there’s a way that this person draws eyes that I like, or maybe this person is good at drawing hair, so I will pull from that and incorporate it into my own art. My friend took inspiration from Manga and Anime. His favorite shows were Dragon Ball Z and Naruto, and he loved those UFC fighting games. So, his art took inspiration from Manga, with his characters built like UFC characters with PlayStation graphics. My art is a mix of Jack Kirby-era comic art and some modern comics with some Bruce Tim’s Batman the Animated Series inspiration sprinkled in.

Aside from my friends and the world, most importantly, art connects me to my dad. My dad is a teacher, and to most people, he’s just that. To me, however, he is an artist. His art is more painterly, as his sketches are more focused on the finer details. The way the face wrinkles up as someone smiles, the specific angle that light reflects off a singular gold tooth, those kinds of details. His art is what pushed me to pursue art as aggressively as I have. I was only 6 or 7 at the time. I remember looking through his things, as you do as a bored child. What I found was these drawings, Captain America, Batman, Spider-Man, all of these works of art with his name signed at the bottom. I was amazed and determined to be just as good as him one day. Recently, however, I discovered that I never will be. Not because he’s on another plane of artistic existence, no, but because I will only be as good as I can be. The flaw in how I thought of this was that I wanted to be just like him, but I’m not, I’m going to be just like me.

Despite this, art is what we bond over. My dad and I are currently using this corona quarantine to improve our skills. We both started online classes to learn new techniques and skills to carry into our art. I am looking more into character design, color theory, and comic book writing to add more style to my art. My dream is to write, draw, and release a fully realized graphic novel. My dad is looking more into video editing and photography to bring in another layer of realism to his art. Lately, we’ve watched and analyzed videos of other artists and their process. Despite how much I have learned from him, my dad never taught me how to draw. I taught myself, as did he. We both hold this ideal that you can never stop learning something. There is no threshold to hit. You can always improve and be better than what you were yesterday.

I am an artist, and art is my passion. My art provides a literal road map through my life, each piece telling its own story, each piece holding its own secret. I started by asking what do I have to do to consider myself an artist? The answer is simple, be passionate. Be passionate about art or any hobby or talent. Art has carried on throughout my entire life, being the lighthouse through whatever storm I have faced and will face. From the good days where I feel as if my life has peaked, to the bad days where I feel boxed in by anxiety and the terrifying unknown, Art has been that constant. Art has been my passion. It flows through me and onto every single drawing I make. It makes me want to be not only a better artist but a better man. That passion is what makes me an artist.

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