Mark Bulahao (edictiv on deviantart) grew up in Northern Luzon, and came to Metro Manila to pursue his education. A fan of history and warfare (evident in his art and his loves HBO’s “Rome”), he painted a more static, yet sinister, scene for Elaine Cuyegkeng’s “The Widow and the Princess of the Dwende” in Usok #2, and he took the time to sit down with us (virtually speaking) to discuss his influences, the importance (and joy) of drawing backgrounds, and whether or not artistic talent is genetic.
How did you get started as an artist?
I got interested in drawing at a very early age. I think it’s all the cartoons and video games that got me started. I also collected Marvel and DC comic books and copied them all the time.
Me and my brother were fortunate to have a few friends who also liked drawing. After playing video games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, we would do an artjam on our favorite characters or design ones based on them. They later lost interest with drawing in high school but me and my brother stuck with it.
You have a twin brother who also seems to be a very good artist. Do you think that, to some degree, artistic talent is genetic? Does anyone else in your family draw/paint?
In our family, only the two of us are interested in drawing. So far I haven’t seen or read anything that proves the existence of “artistic genes” so I have no reason to believe in it. We just happen to like drawing and have made it a hobby.
A lot of the pieces in your deviantart gallery have a lot of detail invested in the background, whereas a lot of artists I know would prefer not to do backgrounds at all. Do you enjoy rendering those vast, panoramas? Do you like working on the background as much as working on the characters/people?
If art is biology, then those who are interested in backgrounds would be the type of biologists who study not just a certain species but their environment as well: how they interact with it, what role and niche they play in the ecosystem, how they cope with environmental changes, etc. I guess artists who ignore backgrounds are like biologists who are more concerned with a species’ anatomy, behaviors and interactions with other creatures. I don’t want to choose between the two because I’d rather be both.
I wouldn’t say that I enjoy doing environments and landscapes more than characters, but there’s a special kind of feeling in creating thriving ecosystems or living and breathing societies. There’s an incomparable joy in painting places that can allow someone to forget about reality for a while and be transported into another world, even for just a few seconds.
If you want to create fictional worlds, then you have to understand that a setting can become the star of a story while the characters themselves can take a back seat. Environments can have “personalities” and sometimes they’re much more interesting and complex than the characters that inhabit them.
You’ve also painted quite a few battles, and you once posted that in high school you “filled a sketchbook with battle scenes from WWII aerial dogfights to Spanish conquests to American civil war naval battles.” What is it about a battle that inspires you?
I became fascinated with history as a kid. I was a young history buff who was more interested in wars and battles than the more “boring” aspects like politics, economics, social systems etc. Lately I’ve gotten interested in these other aspects as well (I’m interested in a lot of things ) but my fascination with military history is here to stay.
I guess it’s the energy, the adrenalin, and sense of movement that makes battle scenes so inspiring. They are challenging to paint but I enjoy composing them. There’s a lot to draw too, which is fun. It also helps that I’m into armor and weaponry.
What historical battle would you most enjoy painting?
The Battle of the Hydaspes River would be great. Alexander the Great, a phalanx with thousands of pikes, Indian war elephants, chariots…It would be cool!
Leaving the realm of reality for a moment, what type of battle do you think would be the most exciting?
It’s hard to choose. I guess it depends on my mood. It could be sailing ships against giant squids, underwater humanoids fighting over Atlantis or a battle between winged creatures.
When did you start creating works through digital painting? You used to do work using pens and colored pencils – was it difficult to make the transition?
I started doing digital paintings almost a year ago. It wasn’t easy making the transition from traditional to digital but it wasn’t too hard either. A lot of the difficulty had to with not knowing how to use photoshop well. The fact that I happen to have a penciling style that relies on shading just as much as outlines made it easier for me. I guess the hardest part was that I had to understand things like saturation, undertones, hues, soft and hard edges etc. rather than just values and lines.
How many hours in a day do you spend drawing/painting?
I spend about 2-5 hours practicing each day. I sketch with pencils on paper more often than I paint with photoshop.
What’s the most important piece of art advice you’ve ever received?
Practice, practice, practice and if you’re tired then practice more. Well, you do need a break once in a while, but you get the point. I know it’s overused and “corny” but it’s the best advice I’ve read, especially after considering what some experts call the “10,000-hour rule”.
If you could own five pieces of original artwork–paintings, comics pages, animation cells, anything at all–which five pieces would these be?
“The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali, Venus de Milo, “The intevention of the Sabine women” by Jacques-Louis David, Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketchbooks and uhm…. Sauron’s helmet.
In five years, what do you hope to have achieved, as an artist? Any dream projects, whether you’re already working on them or plan to in the future?
I’m open to many possibilities. I might be might be a concept artist in a video game development company, or work in a studio, maybe create my own studio, or teach in digital painting courses.
As for dream projects, my brother and I are thinking of making a 4-5 part graphic novel that incorporates our obsession with fantasy worlds, diverse cultures, military props, wars and battles. I doubt we’ll start making it any time soon though… I’m guessing we’ll be in our 30s by the time we start.
How did you go about creating the art for “The Widow and the Princess of the Dwende“? I must say, I feel you really captured the malice of the frayle.
Yeah the frayle were the ones I really enjoyed painting. I had to google for pictures of Filipino clothing and houses during the Spanish era so I could capture the atmosphere of Elaine’s short story. It was nice learning a few things.
We’d like to thank Mark for speaking with us. You can see more of his work at his deviantart gallery here.