This young artist pursues both passion and profit by painting on bags

Anna Gabrielle Cerezo

Posted at Feb 07 2019 08:05 AM


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MANILA -- Choosing between the desire to pursue their passion and the need for a stable well-paying job is perhaps every millenial's dilemma. Let's face it, for the generation known for jumping from one job to another, having both remains to be a distant dream. 

Ira Balmes, founder and sole artist of Martini, an online shop that specializes in customized handpainted bags, however, is one of the lucky few able to turn that dream into reality. The innovative entrepreneur was able to capitalize on her talent by using stylish bags as her canvas and painting on them what folks across generations deem priceless -- their pets. 

"For the aspirants who are being clouded by the thought that the art industry is only profitable for the select few, I have to say, you only need to find value in your art and then make your art valuable," Balmes declared. 

While Balmes admitted she was inseperable to the paint brush since she was a child, the painter never imagined she could build a business with it.


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"I had no formal education in the arts but have always spared some weekends just painting my heart out... In hindsight, those weekends I would paint on random sketchpads and blank canvasses were considered hours of practice to something that I had no idea was brewing up," she said. 

In fact, the young businesswoman only began to gain the confidence to recognize herself as an artist after the success of Martini. 

"Painting is just something that I enjoy on a personal level and was initially difficult for me to share with the world," she recalled. 


While Martini was born from Balmes' desire to earn extra income outside her day job, selling her artwork did not cross her mind.

Balmes first tried writing, video editing, hosting classes and even starting a clothing line to earn extra money. 

"Unfortunately, none of it worked out," she admitted. 


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After the series of frustrating attempts, Balmes decided to gather enough courage and give her talent a shot. The painter finally made the bold move of bringing her safe haven out of her comfort zone. 

"After trying so many things, only then did I realize that I need not look too far. It was painting that I enjoyed most and which I should go with. The question, however, was 'How do I put value to my paintings? How do I make them useful?'" 

Given that there are hundreds of other talented artists the aspirant has to compete with in the industry, Balmes knew for her artworks to make waves in the market, she had to create something not only unique but practical as well.


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"You have to be creative enough to make your art useful so that other people find value in it as well," Balmes noted. 

The aspiring entrepreneur came up with the idea of combining her favorite hobby with a sensible accessory no woman can ever have enough of -- bags. 

"That same day I knew the answer. I soon started my search for a bag supplier and the rest was, as they would say, history," she said. 


After establishing the vision of her shop, the painter had to overcome yet another fear-- which is now the store's most popular demand. 

While most of Martini's customers are dog parents, the shop's sole artist admitted she is actually terrified of her client's four-legged besties. 


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In the begining, Balmes planned for Martini to only consist of meticulously crafted leather bags with hand-painted floral designs. 

"I was never really confident with painting animals let alone dogs because I am actually scared of them! However, when I was finishing my first ever collection, I decided to paint dogs for assortment amidst the floral bags. To my surprise, the dog-painted bags sold faster than the floral ones," she recalled. 

"In fact, most customers who asked for my calling card were dog parents and wanted to have custom-painted bags of their pets," Balmes added.

Despite her fear of dogs, Balmes noted she now finds painting her client's beloved furbabies most exciting and rewarding. 

"Dog paintings are the best since it’s almost always a different breed being requested each time," Balmes said. 

"As cliche as it sounds, I just want to continue making people excited and inspired by their custom orders. The appreciation they have just takes all the difficulties away," the painter added. 


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In just little over a year, Martini's has sold more than 300 bags. Balmes, however, reiterates that while profit is a key indicator for success, she does not base it on numbers alone. 

"Success for me is not purely dictated by the units I have sold. There is more to a creative business than the profit it generates. A big part of it is simply being able to create art," the painter said. 


Balmes described the art industry as an "exciting but challenging arena." As much as she enjoys inking her canvass, there are days she struggles and experiences what she calls an "artist's block." 

As passionate as Balmes is about painting, running a business fueled by creative juices can be very mentally demanding and draining. Every single stroke after all requires ingenuity, attention to detail, discipline, and determination. Given that each bag is unique, there is no fixed process or single procedure to follow.

"Creativity takes good timing. There are days I can finish up to 7 orders in 4 hours and some days I can’t even go through one," Balmes noted. 


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"The trick, I guess, is to not let go of the momentum once it’s there. I make sure my phone is off, the room is perfectly lit, and at times, play some music so I can work through the block. Nevertheless, I do not push through with the process if there is really no mood for it," she explained. 

Since Balmes may not always be as imaginative as she wishes to be, to ensure Martini always delivers topnotch products, each order requires a two-week lead time -- which Balmes proudly noted she has not once exceeded. 

"As a creative entrepreneur, I think one should just be responsible enough to finish the job (or in my case, send out orders) despite the blocks," she said.

Balmes takes every single order as an opportunity for her to grow as an artist. 


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"The thing I like most about the shop is the constant challenge... It’s always just something I have to figure out how to paint," she said. 

Apart from dogs, Martini has catered to a wide range of designs from a variety of flowers to abstract patterns. 


Martini is ready to take on any request from the customers. Balmes encourages customers to send photos of their requests to serve as inspirations but like any other artist, she will add "tiny touches of her own." 

Balmes reiterates that choosing to pursue one's passion is a leap of faith that would require one to unflinchingly believe in themselves to succeeded.

"If you don’t believe in your product, no one else will," Balmes declared.


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According to Balmes choosing to do what you love does not mean the path will be easier. In fact, in an industry only a chosen few thrive, it will be more challenging. 

"Being passionate with something does not mean knowing everything. Rather, one does not stop knowing everything. There are always new bag brands coming up, and new artists trying new techniques," she encouraged. 

Following your dreams may not be easy, or even fulfilling in the beginning. But if you put down your brush in the face of difficulties, you will never finish what might be your masterpiece. 

"Passion is not found in the high times of hitting sales plans and growing the business, it is rather found in times when you want to quit but you still dip the paintbrush on your chosen color and paint your dreams to life," she said.