Interview with May Ann Licudine
In her kindergarten graduation, May Ann Licudine received her first award, Best in Creative Arts. She changed her nickname “Mall” when she was in Grade 4. Because she chose the initial letters of her full name. She is a visual artist and freelance illustrator living in La Union, Philippines. She is also a painter and has had several painting exhibits. Her art is inspired by her own dreams, nightmares, childhood memories, as well as God, nature, music and other great artists. She enjoys dreaming, listening to music, and setting her imagination free into wide colorful skies. Once inspiration hits her, May Ann’s paintings and drawings radiate and overflow with her emotions. She particularly loves making illustrations of her very own whimsical characters Babu and Abu the Cat.
May Ann won the Grand Prize for the 2005 PBBY – Alcala Prize, an annual illustrators’ contest sponsored by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Library. She also received the Encouragement Prize in the 14th NOMA Concours for Picture Book Illustrations, a competition biennially organized by the Asia/Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO.
She illustrated her first children’s book “The Yellow Paperclip with Bright Purple Spots” written by 2005 Grand Prize PBBY-Salanga winner Nikki Dy-Liacco and published by Adarna House, the country’s first and largest publisher of Filipino children’s books. May Ann has also been commissioned for a music album, paintings, murals, advertisements and others.
Her art is featured by Drawn!, startdrawing.org, Juxtapoz, Artist a Day, NOTCOT.org and others in worldwide. Her commissioned project Live Your Dream, which commissioned by BBDO Guerrero, for the Philippines Department of Tourism is already appeared on Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, CNBC, CNN and other few international channels.
Most people do not know that May Ann was born with a hearing deficiency in 1981. But now, she can hear, talk, sing and communicate like an ordinary person. Everyone is very proud of her transformation. She managed to overcome her deficiency through hard work, a lot of practice, and prayers.
Hi Mall! Thanks for agreeing to this I’ve been a huge fan of yours for some time. Your world is so vivid, and populated by such vibrant creatures. To start with, I know you initially did textile designs, but ended up doing children’s illustration. What was the transition like? Did you have any fine arts training?
Thank you for interviewing me. You are very well informed (smiles). Before I started my career as a children’s illustrator, I worked as a textile designer. During that period, I was blessed to have an amazing boss called Robert. He was always very meticulous and someone that was a perfectionist. Robert pushed me to improve my designs by adding more texture and paying special attention to details whilst selecting the best colors for a certain design or theme. As a first working experience it taught me a lot in what regards different colorings, compositions and textures. When I look back I am thankful for all that I experienced there because I learned that I should always give my best when creating a piece and that I should always try and raise the bar because that is the only way to keep growing as an artist.
Unfortunately, in my last months in the company, I suffered some health issues that made it impossible for me to remain in my position of textile designer and with the support of my family I resigned and later on I started to give my first steps as an illustrator. But I shall always be grateful for everything that Robert taught me and his support during the time that I collaborated with him.
In what concerns your other question, about my fine arts training, the answer is yes. I was fortunate enough to be able to have a good training through the years with amazing art teachers with whom I learned so much. During high school I took classes for oil painting, charcoal and pastel. Later on, I enrolled in the University on a Certificate in Fine Arts – Visual Communications degree for three years. This enabled me to gather more knowledge about a wide range of subjects such as mixed media, sculpture, photography, how to make a successful advertisement campaign, how to do animation amongst others. After getting my CFA-Visual Comm., I enrolled in CFA-Painting for one year.
I also read somewhere online that drawing helped you get out of a depression. Drawing has served a similar therapeutic function for me. Would you care to share how drawing helped you?
I would be delighted to tell you how drawing helped me to overcome my depression.
In 2006, I began to feel deeply depressed because of some family problems and after ending a long term relationship with my boyfriend. It was one of the darkest moments in my life. I started to become suicidal and even tried to commit suicide a couple of times. Luckily, my family was there for me and stopped me for trying to hurt myself in such a way. I was feeling so lost that I didn’t manage to focus on my art during several months. My dear mother took me to a psychiatrist – she told me that I needed professional help for my condition – and I was followed by a doctor for more than three years. On the appointments with my doctor we spoke about life and everything that went through my mind during that time. The anti-depressants tablets she gave me helped me dealing with the suicidal tendencies and there was this one time, during our long talks that I vividly remember my doctor telling me: “Mall, you have such a gift. You are a talented artist. Why don’t you try to start focusing on your wonderful art again? All the creative process of painting or drawing something can help you getting out of your depression and make you feel positive and focused again. I am sure that your family, friends and everyone that loves will always support you, feel proud of you and that you will never feel alone.”
It has been several years since my last appointment with my doctor and in the meantime I have stopped taking my anti-depressants. To draw, to paint, to create a world in a blank sheet of paper or a canvas makes me feel happy, relaxed, strong and that everything is possible, that I can do anything that I want… that I am strong. My artwork has been growing and evolving with me during all the stages of my life and I feel grateful that I can use drawing and painting as an escape to my problems.
I have to say that other things for which I am passionate about: photography, doings crafts and other hobbies are also a great contribution to help my mood and to basically relieve all the stress of my daily life.
Last, but definitely not least, everything that I said above wouldn’t be possible without my dearest close family, friends, online friends and relatives who always encouraged me, supported me and helped me during my life.
You live in the Philippines, which may seem very quaint to many of our readers. I often see a lot of woodland creatures in your work, and the area you live in seems quite idyllic! May I ask how your environment influences your work, if it does?
The nature that surrounds me definitely has a strong influence in my artwork. I feel inspired by the colors, smells, textures, creatures, light and all the life that is around me. Albert Einstein once said: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”. That is exactly my feeling. I think that nature is important to keep a certain balance in the world… that is why everything coexists the way it does. That is why I like to explore nature in its natural form, so that I will be able to faithfully reproduce it on my paintings.
You make sculptures, paint, take beautiful photographs, among many other things. Often, these mediums meld into one: recently, I saw you make little clay ‘paintings’ on a wooden panel or bowl. How do you see these 3 mediums as different or similar? Do you envision a fluid relationship between different mediums?
(thinks) I personally see these three mediums as something completely different. In what regards the little clay ‘paintings’ on a wooden panel you’ve mentioned in your question, I thought about doing it because it was a way of presenting an unique piece and also because I wanted to do something experimental and that would be a fresh approach to my usual style since I usually just paint and draw.
Good question about the fluid relationship between different mediums. I think that these days art can be created with the coexistence of several elements that challenge the artist´s mind and that in the end will make that piece appealing to whoever sees it and make them discuss about its meaning.
You also make your own stamps! I love them a lot- they give your packages that personal, intimate feeling. What got you into making those?
I am ecstatic that you like my hand-carved stamps (smiles). I got the idea of doing these stamps as a way of personalizing the envelopes / packages that I sent to my customers worldwide. When you see the correspondence or mail boxes, they are usually so dull, grey and without any life that I thought these stamps could bring a bit of the magic, fun and color from the worlds that I create in my artworks into the envelopes and cardboard boxes. I wanted to make people smile when they hold them in their hands before opening them to get the painting inside.
I love your pieces on wood! You seem to be very good at playing with different compositional tones. I find your work very expressive. May I know how each image exists in your head before you create them? What is your creative process like?
Again, thank you so much for your kind words. I truly appreciate them. Now, as for your question… at my university years I saw a Japanese movie called “Dreams” from Akira Kurosawa. He did his film based on his actual dreams at different stages of his life. In a certain way, this is similar to what happens to me when I start thinking about creating a painting. The worlds and creatures sometimes appear in my dreams and then I combine those ideas with my imagination and it is the start of my creative process. I see all these elements together with colors – I do not need to use a color theory test. After a couple of minutes I start a sketch but it has slight differences from what I originally thought in my head, but usually it is very small differences. (smiles)
Music has a strong role in my creative process. I like to listen to music every time I am about to start a new piece. It helps me to feel focused and concentrated. I do the first drafts of an artwork that I envisioned in mind while listening to music. When I feel that something needs to be perfected (any element in the composition) I usually look for art references and fix what was puzzling me before and keep working on it until the final result pleases me.
I usually have more than two sketches for an artwork from which I – together with the client – choose the best concept and then I start my painting or drawing either on paper or wood, depending on the chosen medium.
I love the wood you use to paint on. They seem to have a very visceral, raw quality. The grain is often a deep mahogany, and their shape has this slightly asymmetrically oval bent. Where do you source your wood? Do you cut it yourself?
My favorite source for my wood is a local store in Pugo, La Union. It is there that I usually go to purchase my wood because I can ask the friendly staff to cut it according to the measurements that I need for my artworks. Also, sometimes I buy some boards in smaller stores. For the smaller ones I usually cut them myself.
You’ve done a lot of work for a variety of clients, from television producers to personal collectors. What is your philosophy when dealing with clients?
I always have the same approach when dealing with my clients. The most important thing to do is to listen carefully to what they need, try to understand the meaning that the piece will have to them… the place where they are going to have it on display… if it is a celebratory piece… something they want to give for an important person in their lives. After we establish that, we talk about if they have any preference for a medium. Once we decide this, I start creating the first rough sketches and send them to the client for their approval. My main goal is to create something that every time the person that has the painting / sculpture looks at it, he or she feels that it is the first time that they are seeing it. I want that each time they look at it they discover a new thing they didn’t saw it before and that ultimately it will be something that make them smile and always believe in magic.
You seem to weave a lot of Japanese folklore into your work. May I know how Japanese folk culture inspires you? What other elements would you say were inspirations?
I have to thank my older brother Jeremy for introducing me to the Japanese folk culture. He urged me to watch Studio Ghibli movies and other anime shows like ‘Ranma ½’, ‘Drangonballz’ amongst several others. Jeremy told me: “Try to watch these, you will love them.” So, I watched all of Hayao Miyazaki & Akira Kurosawa movies and started to become interested in researching more about the Japanese culture, traditional toys, textures and other elements. Several of my fans think that I am Japanese because of the nature of my work and when I say that I am Filipino they can’t believe it (smiles).
I think that a great deal of my personal work has Japanese influence, but I am also very inspired by American etcher and engraver, Helen Hyde.
When you ask about other elements that inspired me… do you mean related to the Japanese culture? I love their masks, wardrobes, their written symbols, the strong and festive colors.
I also love your pencil pieces, particular the charcoal girl series. They’re very different in tone from your usual pieces, though! The emphasis seems to be more on raw, grainy emotions, rather than minute, meticulous detail. What got you to start that series?
(smiles) I very much liked the way you interpreted my pencil pieces. Thank you so much again for your kind words, they mean a lot. Well, I started working on that series during the time that I was feeling suicidal and that I suffered from depression. I didn’t know what happiness meant and nothing made me feel cheerful, so, I chose to do this series in black and white. All of the girls combine my feelings and thoughts in that period. I called this: “Mall’s Art Diary”. They reflect what I went through and I wanted them to be a testimonial so that each time that I looked at them I would see the hard battle that I faced to overcome this horrible condition that depression is.
Care to share a picture of your workspace? How important is your space when you work or do you bring your materials around with you?
Sure (smiles). I have posted several pictures previously on my art blog . My workspace is actually my bedroom (laughs). It is a place where I can find some peace and quiet to take care of my work commissions and personal projects. But one of my goals in the future is to move to a proper studio near the balcony in my house. I usually work in my living room or the balcony when I have to take care of artworks that have a bigger size.
In addition to your art blog, you also have a photography blog. What camera did you use, and what drew you to photography?
My camera is a Panasonic Lumix GF1. Henri Cartier-Bresson said: “For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.” I think that Photography is a nice way to show how we see the world that surrounds us… to capture a moment that we want to save through time and remember it later. Also, it is a good reference for my artwork when I need to research nature or buildings.
Any upcoming shows or future plans?
I have an upcoming two person show with the amazing and talented artist Becky Dreistadt at the Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, California and a group show “Bloom Art Festival” at the Cubao X, in Manila, this September. Also, my few works will be displayed at the booth of the Republikha Art Gallery at the country’s largest art fair, the Manila Art Fair..
Apart from that, I am working in some pieces for private collectors, I also finished ACEO paintings to sell in my online store and I have a couple of more invitations to participate in more shows that I still need to confirm.
I feel blessed for the moment that I am currently living and for the amazing support that I have from my fans.
Where can we go to see more of your work?
My website: www.mayannlicudine.com/
Also my blog: http://nnayam.blogspot.com/