Hello, I’m Michelle “Shelly” Soneja Del Mundo. For several years, I’ve worked as a freelance artist under Robot with a Smile where my husband and I worked on a variety of projects like comics, illustrations, and video game art. I currently work as a 2D artist for Altitude Games, one of the leading mobile games studios in South East Asia where I create concept and final art for characters and environments, animate, and texture 3D assets, to name a few. I’ve also co-founded art groups such as Drink and Draw Philippines and the all-female artist group called Tequila Tea Party. When I’m not drawing, I love to play video games and watch movies and TV shows. Follow me on: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Behance, and WordPress.
Q: Everyone has an origin story. Could you share with us the exact moment (or moments) wherein you realized that you wanted to become an artist?
There was never really an exact moment when I decided that I wanted to be an artist. It was always something that I enjoyed doing ever since I was young. If I wasn’t drawing on my sketchbooks and notebooks, I’d be doodling on my bedroom walls or tracing cartoon characters straight from the television! I would even copy the stories of my favorite comics (like Doraemon, Archies, and Sailor Moon) but replace them with my own characters that I designed. I have always felt the need to create, and the process has always been very enjoyable for me.
I could, however, talk about how I got on the professional path that I find myself in right now.
When it was time for me to go to college, I wanted to take up Fine Arts but was dissuaded from doing so. This was during the time when people always said that there was no money in art. Granted, people still say that today, but this was back when the internet and the opportunities as we know them now didn’t exactly exist yet. So I took up Media Production, thinking, yeah, I’m sure I could put my creativity to good use somehow in this field.
So I got involved with a lot of things in college like being a DJ and Vice President for the campus radio station, a video editor and sometimes host for campus TV, a cartoonist for the campus paper…all while still drawing and posting my artworks online. The course I took didn’t have any illustration classes so I just continued honing my skills on my own as I’ve always done.
As luck would have it, I saw a poster for a comic workshop in a nearby mall and I signed up immediately. It was run by Jamie Bautista and Elbert Or, and they gave me my first break in comics after I showed Elbert my portfolio. I forget the exact order of events, but I eventually ended up illustrating a side story for the comic “Cast”, found out that Jamie was a part-time teacher at my school, had my OJT at his printing press, and worked on art for one of the stories (that Jamie had written) for Siglo: Passion which went on to the win Best Comic Book for Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Awards! So it was a pretty exciting time for me, as you can imagine! I’m super thankful for the opportunities that Jamie and Elbert had given me considering I was just a nobody and all I had that time was my portfolio and my eagerness to be a part of that industry.
Before I graduated, I was given a job offer to work at an outsourcing art studio by Jonas Diego who was familiar with my work that I posted online. I was super excited about it being an art-related job and felt that I would be able to grow my skills further there, but my parents wanted me to work elsewhere. I was torn, but I grudgingly took up the entrance test for the company my folks wanted me to work for anyway. After taking it, I felt even more determined that I shouldn’t let an opportunity to work in the creative industry slip me by. I was ready to put my foot down and fight it out, but when I told them that I’ve decided to take Jonas up on his offer, they just simply said, “Ok, if that’s what you want.”
I worked there for several years, then moved on to working at a video game company, then eventually ended up freelancing for 5 years together with my husband, Marvin. I now work as a Senior 2D Artist for Altitude Games.
Q: From that moment, and throughout your journey as an artist, what has been your biggest struggle?
I struggle a lot with self-doubt. It’s funny, because I feel like I’ve grown a lot in terms of my skills and what I know, and yet I always feel like it’s never enough. Sometimes I find myself placed in situations where I’m trusted to lead something and all the while I’m thinking in the back of my head, “One day, I’m gonna screw up and they’re gonna find out that I have no idea what I’m doing!”
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
I would think about all the things that I’ve achieved in life and tell myself that, surely, all of those accomplishments must count for something? And it does help when you get validation from your peers, superiors, as well as people you look up to. It’s better that you doubt yourself from time to time instead of thinking you’re the best at everything and have nothing more to learn. But when the self-doubt becomes crippling? That’s when you have to check yourself. I think I’ve gotten a bit better in managing my Impostor Syndrome.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your skills?
Constant practice. If I had just given up on art or was easily discouraged, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your artistic career? Why?
Nothing, really. I take the good with the bad and I have no regrets about being on this path.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue making art or comics?
I’ve always had this need to create, and as I’ve mentioned before, I just really enjoy the process. I hope that someday, I will eventually be that kind of person who would inspire other people to pursue art, just like how I used to look up to my idols when I was younger. So that keeps me going and wanting to improve my skills.
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to create art?)
I thankfully don’t have to worry about beating traffic because Altitude Games has a work-at-home setup. So I’d wake up, take my coffee and breakfast, then get to work. After I’m done with the day’s tasks, Marv and I would have our dinner while watching TV shows or a movie. After that, I’d either play video games or draw. Weekends are the best time to draw since your brain is well-rested and you have more energy to work on personal projects.
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your art?
I stay away from social media, chat programs/apps, and video games. Playing music helps me to concentrate better while working on an artwork.
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
I’d step away from my piece for a while and do something else, just so that I can have fresher eyes when I get back to it.
When you’re burnt out, it’s good to take a break from creating anything, but you can fall into the trap of having a reeaaally long hiatus and before you know it, your skills get rusty and it’ll take a while before you can get back into the groove again. Sometimes, you really just have to keep on pushing yourself, even if your artwork looks like crap. Knowing when to take a break and when to keep pushing can be quite tricky, but if you know yourself well enough, it’ll be easier to know when to step away (and for how long) and when to keep pushing.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
That I’ve managed to fool all these people that I know what I’m doing!
This may sound cliche or whatever, but aside from getting awards and/or getting published in a number of international publications, it really does mean so much more to me when people tell me that I’ve helped and inspired them to be better. Sometimes we get caught up in wanting to bask in the glamour of fame, or obsessing about likes/followers in our social media accounts, but really, when you find out that you’ve helped people and inspired them, there’s really nothing quite like it. Those moments are always something that I would cherish and hold on to.
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
I suppose it would be all those times when I’ve doubted myself and made myself miserable to the point where I’d tell myself, “Who am I kidding? Why do I even bother?”
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
It’s important to have eyes on your work so having an active social media presence really helps. Art is meant to be shared! Post them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Behance, Artstation, to name a few. If handling all those accounts is too much, pick a few and stick to them.
Aside from promoting yourself online, don’t underestimate face-to-face interactions. Get yourself involved in social events like artist meet ups. Sign up for a booth at a comic convention or art fair. More often than not, you won’t make a lot of money but bonding with other creators and potential fans goes a long way in getting yourself known as an artist.
Have business cards printed. Have your portfolio or some samples of your work ready for showing off – you never know who you will bump into, whether it be a potential client or someone you could collaborate with!
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
Someone said it better than I ever could: it’s like climbing a mountain of which there is no summit. I just want to keep on creating and growing and learning until the day I die. There is no end game – if I’ve achieved all the things on my bucket list, all that’s left to do is to add in new ones!
Right now, I want to get better at doing traditional art and hopefully I could eventually make a living off my artworks. A solo exhibit would be nice, too. Ah, who knows what other things I’d like to do in the future!
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
I get inspired by a lot of things like movies, comics, nature, life.
Q: What is your big “WHY”?
I create art because I need to! I can’t imagine myself just not creating at all. It really is a huge part of who I am and what I enjoy in life. Even if I was filthy rich and didn’t have to work for another day in my life, you would still find me drawing and making art.
Q: What 3 stories (comics, movies, documentaries, novels, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
Sailor Moon: I was obssessed with Sailor Moon so it’s impossible to not be influenced by it. As a child, I even made my own magical girl characters (where they were each based on different gems and jewels) and a comic which was unfinished and hilariously written. In a bad way.
Any Disney or Don Bluth animated film: Aside from their films making me laugh and/or cry, I was so in awe with their art style and animated techniques. To this day, I’d still geek out over old-school Disney and Don Bluth animations, backgrounds, and special effects.
Other things that have inspired me and my work: Magic Knight Rayearth, Card Captor Sakura, Popcorn, Sky Doll, Paprika, Spirited Away, Pixar movies, etc.
Q: What are the top books, art books, blogs, podcasts, or workshops you’d recommend that helped you level up your skills?
Perspective! for Comic Book Artists: How to Achieve a Professional Look in your Artwork by David Chelsea
Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter by James Gurney
For online resources:
Ctrl+Paint: A great resource for digital painting. Contains a combination of free and paid, in-depth lessons.
You could also check out Schoolism, The Magic Box, and CG Master Academy.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
I’d love to experience working in Europe. I’ve never been there and I think it would be a nice and drastic change of scenery from what I’m used to.
Q: Name ONE artist/writer that, if you could, you would pick their brain and find out all the hidden secrets behind their amazing work?
The awesome but late Satoshi Kon.
Q: Who do you consider your biggest mentor that helped you improve your skills?
(Doesn’t have to be someone you’ve met personally. Can be someone you look up to, or someone whose art really inspires you to get better.)
I look up to Tara Mcpherson. She has a distinct style and her work spans across posters, clothes, figurines, etc. and on top of that, she also does gallery work. I’d love to have my work on all sorts of merchandise and would love to be a part of the gallery scene too.