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Name: Lei Daniel Sarmiento
Current City: Mandaluyong City
Filipino Artist Profile: Lei Daniel Sarmiento
Despite all the challenges going around us in the world today, art is always something we can rely on to provide feelings of inspiration and awe. This is what Lei Daniel Sarmiento’s Watersong Art will do for you. This artist masterfully uses his medium of choice - watercolor - to create a subtle, yet elegant, form of art. What you'll see are creations that will take your breath away. Learn more about how Lei does it below.
How did your journey as an artist begin?
I think I’ve always been an artist. My earliest memories of me drawing were in prep, grade one. My father always supported me. I didn’t have any problems getting materials. I was able to sell my first few artworks when I was in grade two. It was just comics. The craze back then was Funny Komiks. I drew Combatron and Garfield. We had a sari-sari store and I sold my watercolor artwork. I made five pesos each. That stopped when I was in grade three because we had no store at that time. It was in the province, by the way. I was motivated by this hobby because I get to sell my work. It’s a motivation.
How did that progression happen and how did you come to be the artist you are now?
I think I never stopped. I drew comic art and cartoon characters in elementary. And then I transitioned to comic characters, like Marvel characters and X-Men. I joined contests drawing Marvel characters, fantasy, landscapes. Basically, that’s it. As a result, I was known in school and I received responsibilities in the school’s organizations. I got to be the president of the Art Club. And then, I think, when I Was graduating, I just wanted to be in Fine Arts when I entered college. I took up Interior Design, where I learned more techniques, like watercolor.
When I graduated from college, I practiced for a while. I still practice but I choose my clients carefully, particularly, those who know me. I accept them for interior design. When I graduated, there was no money in interior design, unfortunately, for an artist. So, I took the more traditional route, as a graphic designer. Of course, web design, graphic design, logo, whatever. I’m happy that I landed work with an ad agency and I became a manager. I got more responsibility there.
In college, I had a background in video production, TV, and multimedia. I also got into video production after my stint with an ad agency. But then, I never stopped painting. I just continued painting. I never stopped, even if I do get to sell my work or not. I had several sidelines that were not related to art, but more on video. I directed short films. I wrote scripts, even dabbled in production itself. I did photography for advertisement, billboards, photoshoots for ads, anything ad-related.
How did you come up with your brand name and what is the reason behind it?
Lei: I guess I’m mostly known as a watercolor artist, hence the water part. Song? Maybe, it’s because of the Koreans or K-Dramas. Song is a Korean surname, right? I liked Watersong, it’s a bit melodic. It’s like songs of water. I’m Pisces, so it’s related to water. My spirit animal is a turtle. Basically, that’s it. I like the movie Song of the Sea, which is very artistic because its animation style resembles a painting. Now, I don’t want to use my name, which is Lei. So, I just switched to Art. So, Watersong Art.
How would you describe your style?
People say that my work is subtle, elegant, tender. I guess that’s the way I know how watercolor works, which is you go with the flow.
I’m attracted to feminine faces. Florals, not really, but a lot of people like that. Men don’t usually paint flowers. I like doing female portraits. Many people request that I include florals with their paintings. I incorporate those feminine touches. My art is very feminine, people say. That’s for portraits.
When people see my work on landscapes, it’s very masculine. It’s more on landscapes, buses, tricycles, buildings, urbanscapes, that kind of style. It’s not strong in the market but when I’m able to sell landscape paintings, it’s priced higher.
Earlier, you said you always create feminine portraits. Would you say that’s your favorite subject to do?
I have my phases. Yeah, I like painting portraits but I have a phase where I really like doing landscapes. Maybe, when you get tired of drawing portraits, you have to get out of the artist’s block and go paint using another style. I’m pretty confident, in my own perspective, with my portrait style. But when I get tired of it, I’ll go back to doing landscapes. I also love doing fine art, movie characters, comic characters. I always go back to that.
Basically, I love doing fan art the most because I don’t run out of references. If there’s a new movie, I can paint the characters. Umbrella Academy came out, I can paint them. It never runs out. When it comes to original content, my landscapes, and portraits, I sometimes run out of ideas. I research and research for original content. When I do, there are movies for fan art. I get to sell them as stickers and prints for bazaars.
Every artist has that one creation they’re proud of the most. For you, what is that piece and why?
I’m browsing through my portfolio right now on Instagram. Of course, there are some fails. The ones that I liked, they’re all even, like my portraits of Daenerys. To be fair, I got a break when I painted Maine Mendoza. She ordered a portrait painting for an anniversary event. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture with her but I have a picture of her holding the painting. So, I got that break and it became viral. When you get to paint Maine Mendoza, that’s a big deal. As a result, a lot of people got to trust my style and liked it. It’s there on my Instagram.
I was also able to paint Sarah Geronimo twice and I’m painting Maine Mendoza again right now because she commissioned me for an order again. She has a Mcdonald’s branch and she displays various artwork there. I got lucky when I got a break and I got many commissions for paintings. Because of that, I got to paint government officials and big-time names and rich people.
What are the struggles you encounter as an artist?
Anything financial. Art has a season. There’s a time when your work is in demand and there’s a time when it’s not. I’m fortunate to have established a name in this industry. People who can pay can trust me more. That’s why my sales are consistent. I know around December or Ber months, I have sales. Around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day, I’ll be able to have sales during those days. But during the lean months, like August, September, June, or July, people are busy. You really run out of projects.
I turn to online work, which can still be considered as art. I edit photos, I do paintings online. I do digital artwork. It’s a struggle because once you decide to become an artist, you’re not a freelancer, you’re a business person. You can’t wait for a client to arrive. You need to promote yourself to get clients. I want to be honest. My portfolio is beautiful and there are clients but there are times when there are zero sales. There’s no change, even with this pandemic, in my life as an artist. There are really no sales during these particular months. Last Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, there were sales again because there are a lot of commissions, especially from clients abroad.
The pandemic hasn’t affected my work as an artist that much, although my side business as an internet cafe owner suffered. If you’re an artist, you need to work hard on your chosen profession, but you also need a sideline. I established a coffee shop first and it failed. I started an internet cafe and it’s working but I don’t know if it’s going to survive after the pandemic. Art is seasonal. For the times that you can’t make a sale, you need a traditional way of earning, like selling food. You just need to be wise with how you do this feat.
In your own opinion, what is your most important achievement that you have attained as an artist?
Cumulative, I guess. In a way, in the art community, I built my name and somehow, I became a micro influencer. Brands, like National Bookstore and Faber-Castell, they sponsored me. As a result, I got a lot of stuff from them. Around 2013 to 2015, there was a surge of art in the Philippines. The brands were coming in hard and they were promoting their materials. They gave us materials for me to post on social media. I can consider that as a proud moment because I am able to inspire other artists. Faber-Castell also took me on a one-year art tour to La Salle schools. It was supposed to be a yearly thing but it was cut by the pandemic.
What are the strengths you possess as an artist?
I’m creative. I can find solutions. People can rely on me. If I have a client, if they need a poster that has to convey a message, I just close my eyes and I’ll come up with an idea to communicate something. Creativity is my main strength. I was trained in school and the ad agency I used to work for.
What do people usually say whenever they see your work?
Apart from what they say in the testimonials they leave online, it’s a good thing no one says my work is ugly. They are happy whenever they see my work. They say it’s elegant and subtle. Watercolor is my main form of art. It is the most difficult to handle. When they see artists who can handle the design this way or that way, the way that I do, they are impressed. It’s impressive to be able to hold and control the medium that is very difficult to master. I’m not saying I’m a master, though, but if you don’t stop working on it, you will eventually be there.
As an artist, how do you handle criticism?
I have to be honest. I’m not that bad at all with my paintings. I usually don’t get criticisms, especially with my clients. Most of the criticisms I get come from family, but they are constructive. They are really supportive. My younger sister is a mega artist. She is a mega painter. She is an influencer to me because she is younger and she’s more familiar with the Xennials. That’s her circle. She’s my main critic, which is constructive. I take it constructively because she’s a better artist or a better technical painter than me, so I listen to her. It’s easy to take that kind of criticism.
For example, from my wife, because my wife is an artist too. She’s a calligrapher, she’s a painter. If she sees something unbalanced with my painting, she tells me right away. I’m quick to adjust. I also look at it from her point of view. My harshest critics are my family, my wife, my sister. My sister’s boyfriend. They’re all artists. They’re my harshest critics but they’re all very constructive, very helpful. If I have a problem, if I did something wrong with my art, they already have a solution. You’re going to be lucky if you have critics like that.
Can you describe your process or workflow whenever you’re creating an art piece?
It depends on the project. When it comes to paintings, I research a lot. I try to come up with a theme. If there’s no theme, I research more again. Sometimes, there’s artist’s block and I can’t come up with a theme. I research other artist’s styles. I steal from them, I steal a bit from this artist, from that artist. That’s the way. You don’t plagiarize but you steal a bit from this one and that one and you combine them. In the end, I get to produce something. If there’s nothing, I just draw and draw until I see something I like to paint. When I see that, I’ll make it into a painting. It all starts with a sketch, either digital or using a sketchbook.
And because of the numerous sketches, there will always be one that I’ll like to color. I’m going to paint it digitally first. The workflow is I use Photoshop first and then if I want to paint on canvas or paper, I enlarge it. There are many methods from there. I paint, I trace, I project. For me, it starts digitally, on Photoshop. I check so I’ll know the balance, the symmetry, the color of the painting’s overall composition. I arrive at those things digitally first because I need to take advantage of technology so I don’t waste effort or paper only to end up with a mistake. Painting it digitally first is more efficient and eco-friendly.
Do you have any advice for talented individuals who are about to start their journey as an artist?
Just don’t stop. Once you stop, your progress will also stop. Most people will ask how to get better in this field, the answer is you need to hone your craft every day. If you don’t do it every day, there’ll be nothing. There’s no shortcut. You have to do it every day for several hours a day. My wife teaches calligraphy. She requires three to four hours a day. Calligraphy can be quite addicting. I’ve tried it and three hours doing it is very fast. I do calligraphy while binge-watching. You can binge on your favorite shows and do calligraphy and you won’t notice your three hours are already done.
For me, I don’t binge on a series without drawing something. I usually sketch something while watching. It’s efficient. I don’t like just watching without doing anything. I avoid doing that. My wife knows that the series I’m watching is my timer. The latest I’ve watched is Ozark and Umbrella Academy. The latter runs for about 40 minutes each episode, around one hour at the most. I know I need to watch four episodes and then stop after that to rest. That’s my timer. While watching, I’m drawing. For me, don’t stop. If you want to get better at drawing, you need to draw every day. Money is a different matter. It’s hard because you need to determine if you want to get better doing art or you want to get rich doing art. Not everyone who is into art earns money. Not everyone who earns doing art is good at it. It’s a totally different subject.
How did you discover Merchiful and why did you choose it as the platform for your designs?
For my latest designs, I usually sell them abroad. When I post on IG that they’re only available in the US, Canada, and Australia, my local followers would then inquire. I say that it’s only available in other countries. There is no dropshipping or print on demand locally I can find back then. I researched and I saw Merchiful. I like their featured artists and learned to trust them, as a result.
What can Merchiful customers expect from you?
I don’t work alone. I work with my wife, with my sister. We’re looking to design more Asian ornaments. Of course, it has to be with my portraits, my original creations. I want to input more Asian culture or Asian-related motifs to my paintings. I’m doing my research and it will take some time. Let’s say I’m researching Middle Eastern Indian ornaments right now and I need to draw them constantly until I’m confident with the sketches of those ornaments. When that happens, I can incorporate them into my portraits. That’s what I do right now - research and drawing. I invest weeks and months before I become confident with one design motif.
In one word, how would you describe yourself?
Interested in getting your hands on some merch by Watersong Art? Visit his Merchiful page here, or see more of Lei's work on the following platforms: