Cat Juan Ledesma and Charming Baldemor Interview
When people ask you “What do you do?” what is do you often answer?
Short answer—I am a Director of Possibilities, haha! On a serious note, I am a wood sculptor, a Filipino who loves to explore the infinite creative possibilities on reclaimed or rescued wood, taking a resolute stand against illegal logging.
Please share how you first became a wood carving artist?
Wood carving has been our family business for almost 5 decades so you can say it runs in my blood. I’ve grown up around wood carvings all my life so it’s something I’ve come to enjoy and feel comfortable doing.
Growing up, my dad—a wood sculptor—would let me try and explore the craft under his careful guidance. In school, carving was part of our Grade 4 curriculum in Paete (the Carving Capital of the Philippines!)
I decided to continue the legacy of my dad by getting into wood carving as well. I feel that the carving industry of Paete is slowly dying due to lack of wood supply, causing Paetenian artists to go abroad due to the lack of opportunity and inspiration. But I know that wood carving in Paete has a lot of potential, so I decided to stay and challenge myself to inspire young artists to keep the industry alive.
Through my method, I want also want to promote upcycling of wood, and through my art, I want to promote my advocacy for environmental protection and female empowerment.
Did you attend any schools to sharpen your skills? Are there any teachers you had that helped shape your art?
I’ve had no formal schooling. My dad taught me the principles behind everything I know now, especially on how to see value in everything. My parents helped me develop my eye for art and quality.
Some things I’d always hear them say to me:
- Dad – Paying attention to detail – “Hindi pwede and pwede na”
- Mom – “You will only sell something that you yourself will buy”
What woods/mediums are you most comfortable working with? Why?
While I work with all types of wood, I do admit I have some favorites:
- Reclaimed Narra
First because it has a distinct fragrance that lingers even after being worked. Second because the interlocked and wavy grains of Narra makes it very challenging to work with – and I love it!
On a practical perspective (take note, buyers!), it has very good weathering characteristics, making it very durable. It is almost decay-resistant when treated and conditioned properly.
Are there any local or international artists you look up to?
I want to share that I look up to certain artists not just because of their work but because of the story that they pour into the art they make. The lives they lived served as the inspiration behind what they created, and this is a huge driving factor for me as well.
- He never lived flamboyantly
- For the best part of his life, he cared above all for his father and his brothers. (His mother died when he was 6)
- He convinces both himself and us of the the existence of divine QUALITY—perfect by human standards and therefore divine. The details of his works are amazing!
- Araceli Dans
- Her pieces are not ordinary! They manifest her love for beautiful things.
- She’s also an educator. She helps young and not-so-young artists and even sculptors, come into their own. She welcomes them, honing them into fine artists, spending time with them, critiquing and mentoring.
- The details of her works are amazing! Her Calado is exquisite, fine, and intricate.
Can you share a bit about the pieces you are most proud of doing?
I’m most proud of my wearable art – my wooden bags—they originally came about to support a cause / advocacies and are art pieces made to empower women are actually worn by empowered women!
I’m also proud of my “Troso” (hollow tree trunk) lamps—my “kababayans”, fellow sculptors, even my mom – were deeply skeptical about my rescue initiatives for the decayed (hollowed center, just about 2” of the sapwood is left, the entire heartwood is gone, making it thin)
Usually, sculptors/carvers would use a solid wood to carve, making this a challenge. But I think it’s really being able to “read” through the material to see what you can create out of it!
How do you know what design to create on a piece? Where do you find your inspiration?
Beauty inspires beauty. I am very much fascinated with flowers – form, texture, colors, and most importantly how they affect or influence the feelings of people. I like how fragile they are yet strong enough to convey various messages. I always say that they are like women in many ways.
I also have so much pride in Philippine culture and heritage. I pay tribute to our local artisans by immortalizing their craft in my wood sculptures. Say the Habi Collection (for the bags) and the Bilao series (for the sculptures), which features regional Filipino produce on our traditional basket.
I also want to challenge society and instigate social change. I’m proud to say that I support women empowerment. I want to pay it forward through my art.
What are you currently working on? Do you have any exhibits coming up?
- I’m working sculpture in the round Philippine Flora Centerpieces now.
- 2019 bag collections include Philippine Flora and Fauna and Bakas-daliring Pinoy
- FilipinaZ Fair in October, Rockwell
- Manila Art
I understand you only work with recycled wood pieces. What made you decide to do this? What has been your favourite wood piece finds to work with so far?
I’m always proud of my Troso lamps. I think, so far, I am the only one who uses this medium (at least in our country as far as I know) It’s towering and majestic – preserving the natural shape of the tree.
Can you share what a regular day as an artist is like for you? Is procrastination something you face? Do you ever have those days when you just HAVE to create?
My mind runs on overdrive 24/7. I have ideas about how I want to spend my time and they almost never match reality. But I try, week after week, to impose a sense of order in my days to help me feel like I’m accomplishing something and moving forward. I believe that routine and habit help cement my creative practice. I try my best to be rooted in discipline, otherwise, my ideas will just float off and become lost in the flurry of my days.
- I get up between 5:30am and 6:00am to make sure that my furry son, Pedro, doesn’t have an accident in the room. Give him breakfast after, etc.
- Visit my fruit bearing bonsais at the veranda. Remove dry leaves, do some pruning if necessary. Breathe some fresh air. Reflect and appreciate the new day.
- I’ll make breakfast. Take a shower after eating.
- I set priorities for all my sculpting and administrative tasks, and do my best to work through them when I can.
- I usually get to decide how I want the day to go, though I often have to take appointments and other commitments into consideration.
MY IDEAL STUDIO SCHEDULE
- 6am – Stumble out of bed and try to wake up. This often involves cuddling and playing with Pedro
- I try to exercise every day, even if that just means a 15min run on the treadmill. More than work-life balance, I believe work-life integration is very important, meaning that one doesn’t take precedence over the other
- 7am – Make and eat breakfast, shower. Usually this hour stretches imperceptibly to 2 hours as I sip fresh juice and get lost in appreciating my plants….
- 8am – Get dressed and ready for the day. I don’t put on street clothes or do my hair or makeup – essentially, I switch from sleeping shorts/pyjamas to working shorts/pyjamas – but I do shower every day! I just love comfy clothes.
- 9am – Check today’s TO DOand work on them (chronology depends on my mood—as most artists are)
- 9:15am – Work on art. Usually this is either a sculpture or a sketch of my new idea.
- Sometimes, I let myself have some playtime—just use my hands on any creative work. It helps me think and get more inspiration and of course it helps churn out the most creative ideas when all the other things milling in my head are out of the way.
- 11:30am (or when I get hungry)– Make lunch or make some veggie and fruit juices.
- 1pm – Continue with my art.
- In between hours – Admin tasks: check email, paperwork, running the business side, essentially
- 5pm – Household chores or extended artwork hours.
- I spend my evenings making dinner, cleaning, playing with Pedro or watching TV. Of course social media or listing down ideas.
How has your work evolved since you began to create?
Seeing things in a new light has gradually helped me make the pieces more original. Though my influence is rooted in Realism, I think I’m able to improve my ability to put things together in a more meaningful way.
- I think I’m more flexible now in terms of adjusting to new situations (while carving)
- In case there are imperfections or defects on the material, I believe I’m more fluent in terms of producing new ideas quickly. I really have to always work around the characteristics of the wood, which expands the “repertoire” on the kind of wood I can work with
What is one of the nicest things someone has said about your work?
In my very first exhibit in Rockwell (FilipinaZ Art Fair), a very decent looking guy was staring at one of my flora mural. I came near him, he glanced at me saying “Baliw and gumawa nito, grabe! Iba talaga ang Pilipino! The artist should be recognized!” He showed me goosebumps on his arms not knowing that I am the artist. Until now I still can’t forget the tone of his voice. The expression on his face still lingers in my memory. That was very inspiring!
Is there anything else you’d like to add about your work?
I would always dream of working with Gina Lopez. I admire her devotion, love and passion as an environmentalist. I would love to explore the Philippines with her to discover more inspiration for my art. Maybe we can also have a project to have a sustainable farm of specific wood species for the carving industry of Paete or have an organization or office where the fallen trees after the storm or the cut trees due to road widening projects will be regulated.
- As an educator, I also dream of having an art school where all the employees are empowered women from “rescues”
Where can people inquire, purchase or see more of your work?
Studio address: 38 San Leonardo St., Laguna Bel-Air Subdivision, City of Sta. Rosa
Do note that this is my personal studio, and it’s best to set an appointment with me before dropping by
Contact Number: 0917 882 8746
Instagram : @charming_baldemor