Al Estrella is a full-time grade-school teacher. He is also passionate about art.
“I was always into arts as a kid but I never pursued it intentionally until I joined Ang INK (Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan). When I joined Ang INK, I realized that there is a room for the industry even for those who don’t have a formal art education.”
Estrella, who is mostly self-taught, is an illustrator who has worked on a number of children’s books including the “Supremo” series. He also used to create comic strips inspired by his teaching experiences. “I even had a short stint as a guest comics strip artist in Inquirer way back in 2014,” he said.
Then, inspired by illustrator Jomike Tejido, Estrella started working with clay. “I remember watching him every Saturday on TV to see his clay creations.”
Estrella was no stranger to clay, of course, having played with it as a child. “Growing up, there were only two constant toys in our home—Lego blocks and clay. I am not sure if it was my parents’ intention to hone our motor skills, but it sure opened my appreciation for it. My father taught my brother and me how to sculpt. He was our first art teacher.”
He enjoyed it. “I have always loved clay sculpting since I was a kid. Although I stopped making sculptures for a few years, I started again in Ang INK’s annual exhibits where I used clay as my medium. Since then, I have continuously created clay sculptures.”
He has created a lot of clay sculptures but his “Kakanin!” project remains one of his favorites. “I was commissioned by Adarna House to make a board book with rice cakes as characters. I had a lot of fun designing and sculpting my own characters.”
Another memorable one is a project with Repertory Philippines. “I sculpted the backdrop for their upcoming musical ‘The Great Cookie Christmas Bake Off.’ I loved this one because it was not the usual work that I do, and it proved that clay art can be in other forms. It goes beyond the simple art class activity. It can be made into books, set design, exhibit pieces and more.”
Estrella accepts commission work from individuals, too. “Aside from book illustration, I mostly do clay portrait commissions. It started during the pandemic, and it helped me with my finances. The pandemic hit the education sector badly especially for us teaching in private schools. The reactions I get from clients are always overwhelming and inspiring.”
Estrella shares photos of his work on Instagram—they are vibrant, colorful, with a hint of humor, and the sight of them brings so much joy. “It warms my heart when people tell me that my work makes them happy. As Robert Alejandro said in an interview, sometimes art style is not just a look but a feeling.”
Some of his recent posts have featured characters from “Squid Game,” including one that’s eating squid balls. His clay recreations of popular Filipino snacks are also delightful.
Tejido, who inspired Estrella’s journey with clay, also became the reason he booked a clay workshop with a popular brand. “He recommended me for the gig, and I want to do the same for the next generation of artists. I also want to pave the way and open doors of opportunities for them.”
Ever the teacher, Estrella enjoys doing workshops. “Workshop is the love child of the two things I love doing most—teaching and arts. Cliché as it may sound, education is an equalizer. It builds character and intellect. Teaching provides an opportunity for me to profoundly impact the lives of children.”
His advice for them? “Learn from the people you look up to and continue learning as you go along. Be daring and pave the way for future artists. I always tell this during workshops, practice makes progress.”
Find Al Estrella on Instagram (@aliputput). His books are available online and at bookstores.
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