Beautiful things can emerge out of uncertain and disruptive times. For many, the lockdown period has been an opportune time to pursue old passions, dabble in new interests, and engage in exciting ventures that had previously taken a backseat pre-COVID.
Event photographer Kenji Mercado’s calendar used to be always full before the pandemic. “Since I’ve been working for events as a wedding photographer, palagi talagang may shoot even on weekends,” he says.
Mercado, 27, graduated with a degree in Multimedia Arts at the Mapua Institute of Technology. He worked in a corporate firm for two years before he made his foray into photography, playing apprentice to wedding photographer Jaja Samaniego.
He still works with Samaniego up to now, but projects had been scant since the lockdown in March. “This pandemic really took its toll on the events industry. Shoots that were scheduled from last March until the foreseeable future were either pushed back or got cancelled. Since then, having a stable income became a struggle, a difficult one at that,” he writes in a Facebook post which also announced the pet painting venture that had been brewing in his head for quite some time.
The young artist shares his inspiration for launching Pawrtraits: “Back in 2015, I found this poor kitten in the neighborhood because he had the loudest meow in the world. It’s an orange tabby. I named him Baby Z because he used to be very sickly, and for the next three weeks since I took him home, wala siyang ginawa kundi matulog.”
It goes without saying Baby Z has been one of his favorite photography subjects. But wanting to do something special, he decided to paint the cat’s portrait. “Doon sya nagsimula talaga,” he says.
Mercado never really got to paint after college; he got busy with corporate work and eventually with event photography. “So this [pet painting venture] is sort of an exercise na din, a refresher,” he says.
Ready for anything
Mercado admits feeling skeptical at first about his plans, but he decided to give it a go thinking there’s nothing to lose.
“I told myself, hindi matatapos itong pandemic na hindi ko siya napu-push,” he says.
Since he didn’t have a portfolio yet, he decided to do pro bono work amongst friends. The first pets he painted during the lockdown were the Shuba Inus of Samaniego (“Chelo”) and fellow photographer Patrick Diokno (“Tokyo”).
“Sabi ko if someone picks it up, then it’s okay; if wala, then ok din lang, at least I enjoyed making them,” he says simply.
So he was pleasantly surprised that many people had started inquiring after he posted the announcement Wednesday night. “I ask for a downpayment, para sure na kukunin nila [ang pet portrait]. Ang nakakapagbayad na ng downpayment is five. Then six or seven pa yung magfa-follow up,” he happily tells this writer.
For those who would like to commission a pet portrait with Mercado, he requests for five of their favorite pet shots, preferably shot under standard daylight. He also asks the pet’s name, breed, type, gender, age, official color, if any.
Prices of pet portraits in an 8x10 canvas start at P2,000. Each commissioned work will be delivered in a customized box packaging along with some freebies.
“I use artist grade acrylic paint and ready-to-hang canvases to make sure that the paintings I produce will really last (I mean laaaassst) for a very long time,” he says in a Facebook post.
Asked if he plans to continue doing it even when the pandemic is over, he answers in the affirmative. “Yes. Ito na yung start e. When everything goes back to normal, I have learned something new,” he says.