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This Artist Paints Romantic Pictures of the Past Using Coffee

If you like coffee, you’ll love this 23-year-old artist's pieces!

RC Angel Basco Bautista likes to start his day with a hot cup of coffee. “Dark, classic, and a little bit of sugar for some sweetness” is how this 23-year-old fresh graduate from the University of Santo Tomas’s College of Architecture likes his go-to brew. 

The same may be said of his coffee art— water-based paintings rendered with classic dark and ground coffee. His street scenes of Manila circa 1930s to 1950s— sepia-tone hyper-realistic images done with such painstaking detail and tinged with red— evoke an old-world feel and romance that instantly transports viewers back in time. (Read: The Pope’s Cup of Tea)

My Pope Philippines chats with Angel (“RC” stands for the names of his parents, Raymundo and Catherine) about his unique painting process and ultimate dream. 

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(Left) Nostalgic Love: When I Met You in Manila | Escolta Street, Manila, 1950s. (Coffee and watercolor, May 2019) (Right) RC Angel Bautista wit his coffee palette and a cup of coffee. (Photos courtesy of subject)

Have you always been into art? 

I started drawing and sketching at the age of 4. It is something that came naturally to me; as they say, “may pinagmanahan,” since most of our relatives on my father’s side are artists and musicians like my Lolo Angel. But we never met each other because he passed away when my father was just a second-year high school student.

How long have you been doing coffee art? 

I’ve been doing coffee art for almost four years. I started using this medium in September 2017. My first coffee art was a portrait of the actor Ace Vergel. I saw a sepia photograph of him, and I wanted to create an artwork version of it. At first, I was thinking of doing the traditional black-and-white portrait using graphite and charcoal, but I was also thinking of something warmer, classier, and natural that can create a sepia effect. (Read: Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art Holds Virtual Exhibit for Female Artists)

While drinking a cup of dark coffee, I created some mixtures of coffee on my palette, then I grabbed a sheet of watercolor paper and a brush. I tried it for the first time, and I fell in love with it.

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Angel’s first coffee painting, a portrait of actor Ace York Vergel (September 2017). (Photo courtesy of subject)

What subjects do you paint using coffee art? 

As I fell in love with coffee art, I also fell in love with Manila during my college years at the University of Santo Tomas. From España, I would go to Intramuros, Downtown Manila, and my favorite part, Escolta Street, during my free time. That’s when I started to be fascinated with old architecture, history, and the beauty of Old Manila. Most of my subjects right now are street scenes from black-and-white and vintage photographs of Old Manila (circa 1930s to 1950s).

When people see my work, they say that it has a vintage and romantic mood. I paint the whole street scene and background using coffee, then I paint the main subject with red, which is my favorite color. Personally, it’s like going back in time, in a romantic black-and-white movie. (Read: What’s Hot in 2021: A Barista’s List of Must-Try Coffee Drinks)

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(Left) Behind the Times: From Manila with Love | Escolta Street, Manila, 1930s. (Coffee and watercolor, June 2020) (Right) Rosa Roja, Mi Amor: From España with Love | España Blvd., Manila, 2019 (Coffee and watercolor, October 2019) (Photos courtesy of subject)

What is coffee like as a medium? 

Coffee is like a combination of watercolor and oil paint because of its texture and application. It is water-based, pigmented, can be diluted, and sensitive. I use the classic ground and dark coffee for painting. As a medium, coffee is monochrome but it’s classic, subtle, warm, and deep. It’s for an old soul, for an old-school romantic. (Read: Is it Helpful? Here’s the Shocking Truth About Celery Juice)

At first, It was quite difficult for me, especially creating and applying the different shades. The challenging part of using coffee is creating the darkest shade because it has to be thick and sticky. Since I’m lefthanded, I paint from right to left, detail by detail, to avoid smudging the coffee on the watercolor board or paper.

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A work in progress, it’s a picture of one of my 1950s Old Manila coffee paintings (May 2019) (Photo courtesy of subject)

How do you care for coffee art? 

A few days after finishing my coffee paintings, I apply several coatings of fixative before framing it under glass. When framing, the glass should not stick to the surface of the painting to avoid damages and smudges. As much as possible, the painting should not be exposed to direct sunlight and extreme heat as it tends to melt. When not framed under glass, it should be cleaned regularly with soft brushes to remove dust carefully. (Read: Calling All Artists! This is Your Time to Paint For the Pasig River)

While doing the painting, the scent of coffee will truly inspire you. But right after spraying with fixative, only a little bit of coffee scent remains, and it’s completely gone after several weeks.

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An early work of Angel’s when he was in 4th grade, it’s the Notre Dame de Paris (Graphite pencil, October 27, 2008) (Photo courtesy of subject)

What is your ultimate dream as an artist? 

My ultimate dream as an artist is to be able to go back in time, to have a trip down memory lane inside my artworks. It’s fascinating when you realize that it’s impossible.

You can always go back to a place, but never in time. And that’s what makes the past beautiful. So I just embrace the present because it’s a gift. And dreams do come true as time goes by. To fall in love and find that lady whom I’ll share my red umbrella with, with love. (Read: A Prayer for Artists in Times of Crisis)

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