Portrait of a diplomat as an artists’ model

Artist: Fernando Catague

Artist: Fernando Catague

Artist: Mars Custodio

Artist: Mars Custodio

Artist: Gelo Espiritu

Artist: Gelo Espiritu

By Cristina DC Pastor

The usually unflappable Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. sat all by himself on a long, lonely sofa. He was not entertaining CEOs or world leaders. Instead, he was facing a coterie of artists sizing him up with their oils and watercolors.

“This is something different,” de Leon said, smiling as he adjusted his seating posture and repositioned his arms. His fingers were clasped as if in prayer.

As he sat still, unmoving except when replying to random questions, members of the Society of Philippine American Artists (SPAA) worked on their sketch pads and canvases attempting to capture their impressions of the Philippines’ highest official on the East Coast. In the case of theater actress Ching Valdes-Aran, what she created may not be his artistic replica but his “essence.”

Watercolorist Fernando ‘Nanding’ Catague drew his spontaneous reflection of de Leon. At the end of his sketch, he pulled out a hair dryer to prevent the colors from bleeding into each other. This elicited a chuckle from the ConGen. Nanding teaches fine arts at the Summit Visual Arts of New Jersey. Before coming to the U.S. he taught fine arts at the College of the Holy Spirit in Manila for 30 years.

“Watercolor,” he told The FilAm as he plugged the hair dryer to an available outlet, “is a very difficult medium.”

Mars Custodio, a retired oncologist, used pencil to create an impressionist’s portrait of the ambassador. The image appeared vague except for the dark suit but it showed a certain learned style of figure drawing. Mars said he has been painting as a hobby for about 12 years.

Obie Award-winning actress Ching Valdes-Aran called herself an “accidental painter.” She discovered drawing in the late 1990s when she got sick and stayed mostly at home. She couldn’t do any acting or dancing so she dabbled in sketching. She was the most prolific in the group, producing about five different interpretive sketches of de Leon using bright colors.

“Painting is play,” said Ching, and so she drew images of de Leon imagining him as a young man through the various stages in his life.

Ronald Cortez was at the receiving end of the group’s teasing spree. He works at the Philippine Consulate’s front desk, which makes de Leon his boss. He joked about the pressure to make de Leon look good or he better find another job. His drawing was one of the more realistic portrayals of de Leon, rendered on a gray sketch pad, which gave the drawing the nuance of somber formality. The serious diplomat clearly showed through.

Greta Lood, who comes from a political family in Zamboanga del Norte, did a pencil image of de Leon.

Sculptor Gelo Espiritu, a professional artist, created the most realistic portrayal of de Leon using pastel pencils. Everyone was in awe of Gelo’s drawing style, even more so when he disclosed that National Artist Napoleon Abueva was his mentor.

De Leon survived the session after an hour of holding his breath and keeping his laughter restrained. SPAA official Carlos Esguerra said the group was appreciative of the ConGen for being so accommodating.

De Leon said he was “honored to be sketched,” and with deadpan understatement, added. “That wasn’t so hard!”

Society of Philippine American Artists holds a sketching session with Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. The FilAm photos

Society of Philippine American Artists holds a sketching session with Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. The FilAm photos


  1. LULU wrote:





  2. Congratulations to the Society of Philippine American Artists who were there to sketch PCGNY
    Ambassador Mario de Leon, Jr.- as their model. It’s not easy to pose until your portrait is done.
    I admire the ConGen for his time, his composure to keep that smile throughout the session and
    most of all it is FREE! Today, you cannot just ask anyone of his stature to pose without a fee
    like Manny P. Those portraits are priceless!

  3. Compas wrote:

    Great job ! Congratulations !

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