Take it from the masters: What art lovers can learn from experts

Shaira Panela
The nuances in your language, your design process, your angles – just some of the few things to consider in your own creative process

LAGUNA Philippines – The lush mountain ranges of Laguna are the perfect backdrop for any aspiring artist yearning for isolation and inspiration.

Located near the lush forests, the home of many young Filipino talents – the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) – couldn’t be more perfectly situated. 

From February 2-8, PHSA launched its first Intercultural Arts Festival called MAKILINC, which included a series of workshops conducted by artists from various disciplines, with some flying in from abroad.

PHSA students, who major in fields like creative writing, the visual arts, folk dance, and music, got to choose which workshops to attend regardless of their concentration. 

Ballet dancers grabbed scraps and tried their hand at visual art. Visual artists took lessons in creative writing. Folk dancers took hammers and cut metal sheets, among others.

Works in progress

The students are works in progress, but the artist-mentors shared how they can improve their craft,  to hopefully prepare them for the real world.

INSTRUCTION. German metal artist Michael Steger coaches a student on the process of design execution. All photos by Shaira Panela

Based on the 4 workshops that we attended, here are just a few of the takeaways gleaned from the event:

1. Make extra effort to give your photos a unique twist.

FRAMING THE IMAGE. Take care to observe the surroundings you can use to compose your photo. In this picture, a student fits the wings made up of plastic bags in preparation for the performance art session. Photo by Shaira Panela

In a time where everyone has access to high-resolution equipment through phones and point-and-shoot cameras, and when everybody with a dSLR proclaims to be photographers, it is quite difficult to make sure that your photo stands out from the rest. 

“Virtually everyone with a camera has photographed a sunset,” said Filipino photographer Jay Javier. The complete recipe of a good photograph includes a combination of color, texture, form, pattern, and contrast. Timing – anticipating what may happen – separates one frame from the rest, he said.

A good photographer will wait for another element to pop in the frame to keep the image from looking too generic.

He also told the students to “create an abstraction out of common things” by looking at an object from an unusual point of view – to veer away from the conventional.

2. Words have great impact on our thoughts and actions. Poetry is a performance of words. 

CLOSE READING. Lines on a page often resonate more clearly after the second and third readings. Photo by Shaira Panela

Meanwhile, Oscar Peñaranda, a Filipino writer based in the United States, inspired the students to play with their words and create poetry.

“Poetry is a performance of words,” said Peñaranda. True enough, he performed his “Ode to Balut” in class, to to emphasize how a poem can transform a litany of words into a symphony of sounds through word play. 

In one of the exercises, he asked all the participants contribute lines to a group poem entitled “Desperate Fantasies of a 10-year-old poet.”

Here is an excerpt:

“I wish Donald Duck wore black briefs in a land of cotton candy.

I wish Bernardo Carpio would go to Iraq wearing shiny, golden skirts like Michel Steger.

I wish Maria Makiling gave Manila’s skies a rainbow. I’M HOPELESS IN POETRY.”

Poetry isn’t only about the words themselves – the sound, beat, and even the pauses, the placements of punctuation, all come together to create the finished product. Be sensitive to the nuances in language – it can improve even your everyday communication. 

3. Be open to appreciating new kinds of art. Performance art, for example, is different from performing arts.

OPEN YOUR MIND. Students consult with visual artist Amy Klement. Photo by Shaira Panela

Meanwhile, American visual artist Amy Klement showed the differences in the way young artists perceive performance art and performing arts. She showed how the two could be completely different from each other. 

She said that performing arts is usually contained within a specific space – a stage, perhaps, complete with proper blocking and positioning, while performance arts can be done anywhere.

Another thing Klement pointed out is that performing arts like dance, theatre arts, among others, are often confined to a schedule or timed to precision, while performance art is more flexible.

4. The finished product can greatly benefit from a meticulously planned design. This is especially true when it comes to the metal arts. 

DESIGN PROCESS. Craft carefully, focus, and execute. Photo by Shaira Panela

Metal could be a tricky medium to work on in terms of artwork. Once it is cut, it would be difficult to revise the design or the art piece itself. 

German metal artist Michael Steger emphasized the need to have a clear, strong and cohesive design. 

He said that most of the creative process happens during the plotting of the design –laying it out on a sheet of paper before transferring it to the metal. And that’s where the students have to be very careful.

During the workshop, Steger himself drilled brass sheets, cut and hammered them to help the students create masks, many of which were inspired by animals and fictional characters. –