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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

Art Process: "Heaven On Earth"

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

In this post, you will learn about my art process for this commissioned painting inspired by a story of an exile from my country, the Philippines.

a decorative painting on a canvas
"Heaven on Earth" | Acrylic on canvas | 100 cm × 120 cm | 2023

Commissioned Work

It is rare that I accept commission work for a painting mainly due to my schedule with book projects that take months to finish and the logistics of shipping the artwork abroad. But when the conditions are right and the concept is appealing, I will grab the opportunity to create more fine artwork to further develop my decorative style and add more pieces into my fine art portfolio.

It is also rare to get clients who understand my style and know exactly what they want. My client, Shiela Bernardo, approached me after seeing the paintings I have posted on Facebook, one of which was included in a group exhibition "Insel" of our art club Künstlerhaus Stuttgart at the city hall last September. She admired my decorative style and found it fitting for a painting she would love to have in her home. She wanted a piece of work that will remind her of recent homecoming after 15 years of self-imposed exile from the Philippines, our home country, and from her family. It was the first time her family met her husband and daughters and so the entire experience was quite memorable. She wanted to capture the memories of their trip back home, the images and feelings that stuck to them. She also wanted a painting that would remind her of the Philippines, its natural wonders and culture.

An Asian woman standing beside a decorative painting
At my first exhibition in Stuttgart with my painting "Underwater" 2022

This trip is meaningful to me because it is my first time back to the Philippines after 15 years of being in the States. It was my kids’ first time to visit and experience the Philippines. It’s also the first time that my husband met my family. More importantly, it was the event when I finally got closure on past family issues that I carried with me. I felt forgiveness, grace, love and joy abound during this trip… and a desire to rebuild relationships. - Shiela Bernardo

collection of decorative motifs
Mood board for the painting

The Concept

A mood board always helps explain the concept to a client. It gives them an initial idea on how you envision the artwork, which style, motif and of course, colors to expect. It is my own guideline as well. I have incorporated symbols found in the weaving culture of the Philippines such as ferns, the water lily (or "kuyapo" in Tagalog), flower of life, the cardinal directions and so on. I have also gathered cues from the travel pictures Shiela sent me. One of them where she and her daughters posed in front of gigantic woven tray, we call in our language "bilao", caught my attention and became the starting point for the concept.

Rough sketch of the painting concept

So hoping when I look at your painting, these collections [of] beautiful imagery of what our trip looked like, I would remember the feeling. I do want it to have [the] look and feel of Philippines and/or Philippine culture. When you look at it, you know it is in the Philippines. - Shiela Bernardo


Why weaving? Our ancestors are weavers as well as expert mariners and adventurers. A woven cloth is not only utilitarian but also the story of a people with an ancient heritage. The designs allow our people to pass on their legacy of truth and beauty just like how she wanted her children to get to know and experience their uniquely intricate heritage. The technique of weaving itself begins in a center and radiates from heaven to earth and humans serve as bridges between the two realms. Imagine the main figure as an island. The 15 circles radiating from the central sun with 8 points (the sun as an integral symbol of our nationality) represent the 15 years it took her to come back home. From top to bottom and left to right, you will see a pattern that points to opposing directions and at the same time draws you back into the center point. That was how our ancestors always found their way across the ocean. These radial and linear formations symbolize her journey away from and back home similar to how our noble ancestors navigated the seas. They relied on nature and their instincts. Those of us who have left our motherland are instinctively pulled back by our memories, language, feelings, scent and flavors of our birthplace regardless of how we have assimilated into our adoptive countries.

A guide on how to read the motifs and symbolisms in the painting

A Story of Expats

In some twist of fate Shiela and her husband, Allen, came to Germany for a few days so I met them in Frankfurt to deliver the painting, which they carried back to the US. I worked on this on and off beginning in January, 2023 after wrapping up a picture book project and in between new ones until April.

This painting is a story of an expat and an exile, like myself. It is also a representation of our hometown, Tarlac especially in the greener western parts, the teal waters of Palawan and as a whole the teeming wild nature of the Philippines. Only Filipinos will understand but if you have been there, too, you will get it. "If there's anyone who could make this painting, it would be you," Shiela assured me at the beginning of our conversation.

Two Asian women viewing a painting on a bed
Delivery of the painting to my client in their hotel room in Frankfurt


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