Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Children’s art: When the colour-blind lead the uninitiated

Posted by Kimberly on August 22, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
August 22, 2007, page 2 (1,253 words)

Macau seems to have local artists in abundance, those with years of teachings and experience who are willing to impart their wisdom on the curious.
But there’s another group of artists that don’t get the spotlight shone on them, whose paintings under due tutelage, remain in a basement.
These are the children of Macau, whose parents choose to involve them in creativity rather than frivolity.
And they are taught the use of the paintbrush by two Filipino artists who have been painting since childhood.
Ernelio (Nel) and Bernadita (Diddith) Canasa are a team, not only through marriage, but through their commitment to provide local children with a creative outlet over the course of two summer months.
The couple also taught painting in the Philippines until Diddith mentioned to her husband the possibility of perhaps taking their teachings outside of the country.
“Then I told her where do you want to begin? She said I think I’ll begin in Hong Kong,” said Nel.
But facing difficulty in starting such a venture, Diddith decided to travel to Macau after a friend suggested it, who also assisted in Diddith gaining permission from the education department.
“She asked for the permit to teach here but the head of the department said it was OK to teach as long as it wasn’t a formal education and we didn’t give diplomas,” said Nel.
The first three years of teaching the summer painting course in Macau was done as a one-man show until Diddith realised it made sense to invite her husband along for the ride.
“In the third year she thought maybe I need my husband here,” said Nel.
“Because her students were growing up so they needed to learn something more advanced. So she called me up and asked if I’d like to come here,” he added.
With Diddith teaching children and Nel the more advanced learners as well as adults, it was the perfect combination.
“We arrived June 28 and we go home August 27,” said Nel.
Their current class consists of about 40 students in total, most from Macau but at least half from Hac Sa, or “foreigners”, as Nel refers to them.
“For the basics we teach drawing, how to mix colours. We also teach the hollow wheel, what are the primary colours, how to sketch and then how to paint,” he said.
Meanwhile, his wife teaches the younger students “the dot dot dot technique,” said Nel.
The students in Macau get taught on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while the Hac Sa students have the alternate days with Sunday the day off for the couple.
Nel admits it can be difficult sometimes when dealing with the students from Hac Sa because they may not be familiar with the Filipino culture.
“But here in Macau they know because most of the students here are Philippine so we can mingle with them easier,” said Nel.
And there have been hiccups.
Nel recalls times when the children seem to think it’s up to them when they want to learn and when they want to play, which requires Nel to discuss ways of controlling them with the parents.
“So with their [parents] permission we do [shout]. And it works!” he said.
When questioned as to the cost of the course, Nel gives an astonishingly low sum.
“We only charge MOP25 per hour.,” he said.
“That’s only for our food and accommodation. Because we work as part of the missionary.”
For an artist such as Nel, who’s won numerous competitions, and charges an average of Mop8,000 per 24×36 inch painting, it’s amazing to discover that he’s colour-blind.
“I can’t distinguish between the red, green and brown. I get confused,” he said.
“I have to ask my children, especially when it’s a commissioned painting, when they give out a picture I have to copy. That’s a problem.
“I ask my children, is this the one, when I mix it. Is the red the same?”
But that’s hardly prevented him from succeeding.
“I really love to paint,” he added.
Nel used to cut school in order to paint, hiding away at an artist’s lane, “and my mother never knew,” he said.
“I already knew how to draw and paint but I only wanted to know the technique so I used to go there and sit from morning to afternoon and then go home and practice,” he added.
He stopped painting after getting work from the age of 15 and by the time of his marriage, even his wife was unaware of his talents with a paintbrush.
“We went to a friends house and she [my wife] saw a painting and thought it was a beautiful painting. I said I could do that,” he recalled.
So at the ripe old age of 38, he took p a brush again and the first thing he did was enter an art competition held at the Spanish embassy.
“It wasn’t difficult at all, because when it’s in your blood…” he said.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t afraid, because as he tells it, “I had no self-confidence. It was a competition among final students and professional artists.”
Which he won.
“It was the first competition I’d entered. I felt fulfilled and I thought to myself, ‘I can do it!’ after that I joined a lot of contests and painted a lot and I won,” he added.
The culmination was winning the grand prize last year, for a watercolour contest held across the whole country.
Didith’s story is wrought with a little less danger, but she recalls using the end of a broom to paint across her entire backyard.
“When I got married I already had the courage to paint but I didn’t know how because I didn’t know the technique,” she added.
Diddith adds that their styles and personalities are very different.
“He’s very much into animals and the environment,” she said, adding that “he’s into realism. I’m into impressionism and sometimes abstract.”
And then there’s the fact that Diddith rarely bothers taking care of her paint brushes while Nel “cleans his brush very carefully,” she said.
Nel adds that he prefers oil painting to watercolours, which he admits is the “hardest medium.
“When you make a mistake, that’s it. You have to throw it. It’s really hard to re-touch the painting,” he added.
The most difficult painting he’s done involved safari animals, taking him three months to complete. Yet it was bought by a gentlemen who absolutely insisted on its purchase, despite the artist’s reluctance to sell.
“The shortest painting I can do in one day,” said Nel but adds that he always has difficulty when staring at a blank canvas.
“When that happens I have to stop. Sometimes I go out and when I come back, I have a fresh mind again,” he said.
An entirely different difficulty he faces comes surprisingly from some of the parents, a few who have not been entirely impressed with the product of their children’s time.
“Sometimes the parents, when they see the paintings of their children, they’ll say the painting is really ugly,” said Nel, with Diddith adding that she then tells the children, “let your parents come to me and I’ll ask them to draw. I want the parents to show their respect and love and encouragement. Because the children will be discouraged.”
No doubt all the encouragement in the world will be evident when the paintings are shown in this Saturday’s exhibition at 2pm, on the basement floor of Pacific Ace, located in Senado square.

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