Harold Soriaga: Casting super powers on his art

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Thursday, December 12, 2013


HAROLD Soriaga at 39, Dad to Mati and Cylo (8 and 9 respectively) and hubby to Jolla, still plays with his toys until today. Born and raised in Manila, he moved to Davao in 1997, bringing along with him his collection of comic books with his older brother, and a penchant for superhero toys.

Of course with a Master of Science in Manufacturing Systems Engineering degree in Stanford University in California and having graduated with the highest honors in the University of the Philippines Mindanao (eventually becoming a senior lecturer in one of its Master in Management Program), one only expects a no-nonsense persona from him.

But wait, there's a twist. With a challenging professional career (Head of Systems and Standard) in a company that consumes his weekdays, his inner child silently beckons during weekends where he locks himself in his batcave-er, room to create his own miniature world of awesome superhero figures.

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There was no formal training. He was self-taught from all those Youtube tutorials by unselfish artists. He was just crazy over superheroes, playing Batman to his brother' Superman. He started sketching at six, and painting in high school.

"I saw superhero statues in Greenhills and in the US. I wanted to own some, but were too expensive. So I thought of making my own," he says. "I began experimenting with modeling clay but it wouldn't harden. I thought of using clayish material from cement plant. It hardened but was brittle. Later I tried plaster of paris but was too hard to sculpt when it dried. I finally discovered water-based clay from online forums. I started with crude figures in 2005, and have been improving since then."

"Improving" is hardly the word I would use. With painstaking detail and patience, he first creates a human wireframe into super heroic proportion-8-9 heads tall instead of the average 7), selects a pose and sketches it first, adds thicker wireframe to support load of figure, and wraps wireframe with aluminum foil.

Using clay as main material, ("water-based is cheap and dries in 24 hours even without baking but tends to crack; petroleum-based is much more expensive, requires baking but doesn't easily break"), he kneads clay onto the foil to form the humanoid figure and makes use of various materials (leather, plastic sheets, vinyl, and metal studs) in making accessories like capes, weapons and other paraphernalia for his figures. The astounding fragility and details involved in each finely sculpted feature leaves you amazed with each arduous task. His main sculpting tool is the X-acto knife, supported by dental and carving tools, brush with water, solvent and petroleum jelly. For his painting, he uses airbrush, handbrush or spray can to achieve different effects. These figures are oven baked for a few minutes, before the final smoothing with sandpaper, painting, and assembling of accessories. This meticulous process takes him 3-4 months to finish a sculpture, unless he drives himself to finish quicker.

Citing the artworks of Alex Ross for inspiration (he bought a huge book containing some of the celebrated comic book illustrator's best works) and that of Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, for sculpting, he will only consider himself really good when he has reached the same level of detail and 'awesomeness' that their toys have. He bought a dozen of them for his quality reference.

"I sculpt only when I have time. When I feel really passionate about a certain character, sometimes I work on weeknights as well if my wife or kids don't need help with anything urgent," he says.

To date he has done more than fifty masterpieces, a combination of DC and Marvel superheroes (the Justice League has 20 figures). Laid out on the table, his wife Jolla carried each figure with care while we took photos and gawked at the thorough detail of each handiwork, from the Spiderman's textured costume (which he claims is his best one yet and took him months to finish) to all their angry gaping mouths, teeth and veins on the skin. One of his sons broke a figure once, and having seen hell arose from the creator, will most likely never do it again nor view these figures as toys. Needless to say, the kids got artistic skills from both parents, since the ever supportive wife paints as well. Will they follow his footsteps? That remains to be seen, if they ever get the patience from their Dad.

"I always need to tell myself that I can do it, to always have the right end in mind. I have the tendency to quit when the piece is not beginning to look like what I imagined it would be. The constant reminder that it can be done (I didn't think I could sculpt a face before) helps me get through," he says.

In the future, Harold sees himself creating robots as well (he was after all, a Transformer buff too). "It's more difficult to sculpt metallic forms as they have to be more precise shape-wise, unlike human forms. Ironman is my first crack at this type."

So what was his life lesson so far? "One thing I've proven is that when one sets his mind and heart into achieving something, the rest of the body work to make it happen. I never thought I'd learn how to sculpt, much less be able to form a lump of clay into my wife's head. I love to imagine what else I can do by learning this lesson," he says. True enough, one thing led to another when he was invited to make an exhibit of his works for Father's Day in Abreeza, aptly entitled "My Daddy is a Superhero." It was a success and drew admiration from people who never knew someone like him existed in this part of the world. Some thanked him for bringing back their childhood memories. He was also featured in the papers. But will he be turning it into a profitable business someday?

"I sculpt because I love to when I have the time. It's also mostly for my personal satisfaction and collection. I can't really see myself sculpting characters I'm not interested in (I had to turn down a friend's request for a Mickey Mouse figure). But my real achievement is being able to capture the prominent features of my wife in a bust in just a few days. I had to rush to make it in time for mother's day. I fear that if this becomes a career, I might lose the fun aspect in it, especially if I need to meet delivery dates. You can't rush art," he muses.

For now he feels he is not in a best position to give advice on making profit from this hobby just yet. He is quite contented with conducting exhibits, and maybe workshops to share his knowledge in the future.

"Generally though, one has to have basic financial acumen before turning their craft into a business. But if I ran out of space in our house to keep my work, I might consider selling some of them especially if the price is enough to help me overcome my attachment to them. If someone requests for a character I also like, I might work on it if there's no deadline," quips the young engineer who also happens to be a musician and a recording artist once (sang an original piece on his wedding day, too).

You may contact Harold through hsoriaga@gmail.com or his mobile nos. 09174825373.

*****

(You may reach the writer at jojiealcantara@gmail.com or visit www.dabawenya.me)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on December 12, 2013.

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