Love + Skill = Masterpiece

By Sunshine Plata as told to Ruth Manimtim-Floresca

I was around three years old when I discovered my knack for exploring the lines and colors that came out of colored pencils, felt-tip pens, crayons, watercolors, poster paints, etc. In grade school, I did extraordinarily well in my art classes and loved doing crafts as a hobby. I paid extra attention to how my parents gave extra care and neatness each time they helped me with school projects and requirements. I was in high school when painting with oils and watercolors became my hobby. The more I explored, the more I needed paints to express my creative juices. My very supportive parents generously gave me money whenever I needed to buy additional art supplies.

I studied high school in PAREF-Woodrose School for Girls in Ayala Alabang. I have this memory of people telling me and my sister, “Hindi biro magpaaral dun sa school na pinapasukan niyo ng kapatid mo ha.” I never really understood but in my own little way, I wanted to relieve my parents of the burden of spending for my art materials because they were not really a “need” but a hobby. I also started my quest for an art medium that could pretty much stand the test of time but was very accessible and affordable to a student like me.

Discovering Inspiration

I found what I was searching for when I made an unforgettable trip to a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. There was one tiny detail that never left my memory. I saw a 19th century signature, just a signature, written in coffee. I thought that if that guy could sign his name with coffee and have it survive a hundred years, then maybe, if I paint with coffee, I could also make it last up to a century.

I did my first coffee painting experiment in December 2000 during my sophomore year as a BS Psychology student in UST. I painted the façade of the university’s Main Building and called it “Ustedyante”. I concocted coffee paints using water mixed with instant or brewed coffee. The concentrations of the dilutions varied depending on the shades I needed. I’ve been, since then, freely sharing these basics of mixing coffee paints whenever I give coffee painting workshops.

Realizing Rewards

In 2004, I joined a mini group exhibit where participants made artworks using their own medium. My good friend Valerie bought “Waterplay” for P3,000. I went home ecstatic because I actually couldn’t believe that my work was worth buying at all! I was already a preschool teacher then and I’m the type who likes to save up so I just kept the money instead of splurging it on something fancy.

The second time I earned from my paintings was during my very first solo exhibit in January 2008. Nescafe, the international coffee giant, sponsored it and that was already a great honor. The exhibit was a one-night-only show with 33 of my coffee paintings on display. All I wanted at the time was just to have an intimate gathering with family and close friends. To be able to sell my works was actually beyond my wildest expectations.

I was told that, on average, an artist could sell 14 paintings in two weeks. To my surprise, 24 out of my 33 paintings were sold that night which made me forget about eating dinner because I was walking on cloud nine!

The blessings kept coming. A few days after that exhilarating night, I wrote Ripley’s V.P. Edward Meyer and told him, “Believe It Or Not, I paint with coffee and here are the pictures of my successful exhibit.” His response was to purchase two paintings worth around P120,000 from the nine that were not sold yet!

Gaining Recognition

It is surreal to recall my roller coaster ride to the art field. A week or two after Ripley’s received my two paintings in their Florida office; they launched a “Special Edition Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” cartoon with me in the middle. That appeared on March 30, 2008 in all the Sunday newspapers all over the world that had Ripley’s cartoon in them.

Everything happened so fast. In less than two days, I was told that “Reina dela Luna” and “Fairy of Sorrows” will be included in the April Fool’s Day “Art That Fools The Eye” episode of the Martha Stewart Show. I really couldn’t believe it’s going to happen but I woke up with my inbox flooded with congratulatory emails from friends and family abroad who are fans of the Martha Stewart Show and who saw my paintings on TV. I was able to see the clip in the Internet and was very proud to see “my babies.”

Thanks to Ripley’s and Martha’s show, I was interviewed in prime time news, guested in various TV and radio shows, and was featured in print publications. Reuters even followed my activities for three days and did a feature story. Three shots of me painting also made it to the Washington Post’s Best Slideshow of the Day and another article about me appeared in the Hollywood centered In Touch Magazine. I was just in awe, amazed, and very grateful to God!

Last year, I got an email informing me that I was chosen as one of Jollibee’s Pinoy Youth Icons. My family and I felt so honored that my achievements were being recognized by Filipinos through the giant fast food chain. I was also excited to meet and be friends with other awardees from different fields. I found out that we all have a high respect for how each of one of us excels in his or her own craft.

Somehow, this recognition placed a kind of pressure on me in a positive way. I am driven to pray more because I am expected to do even better at work, be more generous with my time and talent, and to continue in my struggle to learn all the virtues such as gratitude, patience, perseverance, humility, etc. I know that in striving for excellence, one cannot do it alone but always with the help of God.

Pressing On

From being a preschool teacher, my career shifted to coffee painting. It is now my major source of income although I got myself a small time ice cream business because I love ice cream. I give free coffee painting workshops to the underprivileged so they could have an outlet for art therapy and self-expression. On the other hand, I charge a minimal fee for workshops done in private schools and other private institutions.

During the Ondoy flood, all my paintings got wet except for two: “Iginuhit sa Panaginip” and “PAG-ASA” – a painting of a coffee farmer during harvest time waving at his family who comes to meet him. To my family, Ondoy brought in complete disaster but, in the end, the painting still reminded us about being grateful none of us died or was harmed and that having all family members present must be a source of hope for us.

I still dream of reaching out to others in my own little way through my art. It was thrilling to find out that a bunch of preschoolers in Sweden had daily coffee painting sessions for a month because their teacher read about me and my art in a magazine. Somehow, I get to touch lives.

It is love that keeps me afloat in all that I do – love for God, for country, for my family, and for others. Poet and artist John Ruskin said, “When love and skill work together, one creates a masterpiece.” So, in anything I do in my life, whether great or small, I do my best to please my Creator.

“Just as an artist dips his brush into his soul, paints life beautifully with its light and dark hues, make your virtues speak of you, serve humanity and glorify God.” – Sunshine Plata

My Money Lessons

Sunshine’s Advice to Budding Artists

In the fable “The Ant and The Grasshopper,” the ant always busied himself day by day to save little pieces of food while the grasshopper simply watched. The rainy days came and left the grasshopper with nothing for himself. May we all be like the ant, giving importance to the value of little things, little savings because, before great things happen, they always start small.

“If people without limbs can paint with their mouths, how blessed are we to have both hands that are useful. All we need is that passion, perseverance and that spark of creativity flowing in our veins in order to actualize our shared vision with the Creator of beauty and pure honesty.” – Sunshine Plata

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