The Passport to Achievement © Copyright PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA 2023
The Passport to Achievement © Copyright PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA 2023 | Foto: The Passport to Achievement © Copyright PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA 2023

The Passport to Achievement

Por: Diego Cerón

23, February, 2023 en Business Concept

The Passport to Achievement Geraldine Zialcita

The relationship between Toti Cerda and Erwin Mallari is like a garden that needs to be nurtured and cultivated. The weeds signify the challenges an artist encounters, but with sunlight, water, and air, the flowers will blossom and grow.

Toti Cerda was born and raised in Binangonan Rizal, Philippines. His childhood dream was to become an artist. At an early age, he spent his free time creating sculptures from mud. “I already had a strong gut feeling about what I wanted to be when I grew up and I’m grateful to my parents for always encouraging and supporting me with my dream,” he shares.

Growing up with scarce and limited resources, Toti acknowledged that life is difficult and education is important. “My mother had to pawn her properties for me and my siblings to obtain a formal education. I pursued a bachelor’s degree in Drafting Technology at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. After graduating from college, I worked as a draftsman in Meralco Foundation,” he informs.

The Passport to Achievement © Copyright PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA 2023
The Passport to Achievement © Copyright PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA 2023

After five years of working as a draftsman, Toti quit his job to become a comic illustrator. “Seeing my drawings come to life gave me the courage to pursue an art career. I started drawing people and developing book covers. I learned so much about the value and roles of colors. I initially used watercolors as my medium then ventured into acrylics,” he relays.

With no formal art training and education, Toti would study the artwork of renowned artists to develop his signature style. “I like to procreate old works and masterpieces and incorporate my own stories. One of my paintings includes a child gazing at a painting of Juan Luna entitled, Adorasyon. Known to be a painting within a painting, this method enables me to replicate an artwork. I recreate these paintings and copy the master’s works since I never had the chance to study art. The story behind this painting signifies me being a student of my work, a student in progress,” he describes.

Acknowledging his craft and potential, Toti submitted his works to a gallery that recognized his talent and potential. Impressed with Toti’s work, Gallery Genesis offered him to be an in-house artist which opened the door of opportunity. “Gallery Genesis established a solid foundation for me to engage and improve my craft. I’m very grateful their platform has enabled me to gain recognition and achieve fruitful results,” he states.

This accomplished artist embraces the Realism genre where he uses an opaque style to execute his paintings. He is well known for capturing the expression and innocence of children, creating awareness about social relevance, and what occurs in society. Hailed as the grandmaster of aquarelle, garnering multiple awards, and showcasing his work in various galleries and museums, Toti is grateful for his humble beginnings and how his childhood hobby manifested into a full-time career. “Looking back at how I started from scratch, I’m thankful that I was able to support my family through my artwork.” He smiles.

Toti spends substantial time at his studio working on his canvas and delivering valuable art pieces from his daily observations. At times, it can take a day to a whole year to complete a painting, depending on the size or intricacy of the work. I follow an office schedule to balance work and family,” he briefs.

After all these years of being a distinguished artist, Toti has acquired wisdom, experience, and skills to be a mentor and inspiration to Erwin Mallari, an established artist who has been following his career without his knowledge. “Since I never had formal education in art, I’ve always wondered what it would feel if I experiences special training. With a strong conviction to give back and share what I’ve learned, Erwin happened to be the right protégé. I don’t believe in coincidences, and our union has been meant to be. Erwin’s office was beside Gallery Genesis and he was consistent in studying my paintings without meeting me in person. Once he developed his craft with precision and skill, Erwin showcased his works in various exhibits. He invited me to be his guest and it was like we had known each other for a long time,” he indicates.

The Passport to Achievement © Copyright PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA 2023
The Passport to Achievement © Copyright PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA 2023

Through art, Toti and Erwin became good friends and often spend time together sharing stories and exchanging ideas. “Erwin is an amazing artist who didn’t need to be taught. He possesses a good exposition and knows his work. I share some tips and techniques, yet, overall, knowing I’ve inspired him and other artists is the most rewarding feeling. Mentorship is significant because it creates a ripple. Your protégé can be the next mentor for an aspiring artist. I will always be there to guide and motivate Erwin,” he conveys.

Toti plans to join more group and solo exhibits and continue to paint so he can leave a memorable legacy behind. He concludes his story with pearls of wisdom for aspiring artists. “Always be patient, give yourself time to rest, and never lose hope because you will achieve your dream.”

While some take decades to discover what they want to do in life, Toti knew from the very start what his purpose was. Unwavering talent, a steady focus on his dream, and strong courage enabled Toti Cerda to pursue his true calling and destiny.

Erwin Mallari was born in Malabon, Metro Manila, Philippines. In high school, Erwin became fascinated with art and illustrated characters he saw in comic books using a fine pen. His parents were very supportive of his drawings and often encouraged him to practice. A good friend also recognized Erwin’s talent and motivated him to hone his craft.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, majoring in Advertising from the University of East, Erwin worked for an advertising agency. As a graphic designer, Erwin developed different designs for various departments in the agency. Erwin also embraced photography on the side. “Being a photographer compelled me to express my creativity through painting. During my free time, I would visit a gallery and study all the paintings so I can gain exposure to the style and composition of the artists,” he relays.

Each time Erwin frequented the gallery, he would envision himself exhibiting his work and being a full-time artist. “Although I was burnout with my job, quitting seemed uncertain. My child was still young and my family needed the security. However, at thirty-five years old, I tendered my resignation and focused on being a full-time artist. I told myself that it’s never too late to pursue my dreams. Art has no expiry date, and a lot of artists become famous when they are much older. Art is like wine, it gets better as you age.” He smiles.

Photography opened up Erwin’s interest in nature and cityscapes, enabling him to translate the images into watercolor paintings. Erwin draws inspiration from the environment and stillness of the day. “I chose watercolor as my medium because it’s not toxic. I bike every morning and document my surroundings through pictures, where I capture the light and beauty, producing a series of paintings all intertwined together. I would usually paint in the library because I love the quietness and tranquility,” he describes.

The Passport to Achievement © Copyright PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA 2023
The Passport to Achievement © Copyright PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA 2023

Erwin embraces two genres of painting. Inspired by the renowned French Impressionist artist, Claude Monet, his first style is En Plein air which translates to on-the-spot painting. His goal is to return to the basics during the time when the artist’s painted outdoors and technology didn’t exist. Erwin spends mornings until noon capturing the light and translating what he sees into a painting. Erwin’s second genre is Hyperrealism, wherein he takes photos and paints inside his studio, adding his narration and feelings to his artwork. “I value the traditional process, the old style that not many people use now due to technology. I want to apply what our ancestors used. I always want to feel peaceful, relaxed, and happy when I’m painting,” he communicates.

Although Erwin is a versatile artist embodying two genres, he prefers the on-the-spot technique vs. working inside his studio because it depicts living in the moment. “The mystery of not knowing what I will be painting excites me. Some children and adults come and observe my paintings and often share their interpretations which feels so rewarding. Since some collectors prefer bigger paintings with more details, I divide my time between outdoor and indoor paintings to balance both needs for my clients,” he conveys.

Erwin considers the process from initial concept to execution to be a collection of visual references. “I start my day with a cup of coffee to give me energy before biking and scouting for places. I take photos and study the images of my surroundings, then go back to bring my art materials. After painting, I explore different locations in search of other subjects to paint. It’s like a visual diary, wherein I share stories through my journey. Twenty years from now, everything will be different and these visuals will remain to tell the stories.” He smiles.

After spending twelve years in the art industry, Erwin will never forget how his strong compulsion started. Unbeknownst to Toti was another artist drawn to his artwork. While Erwin admired Toti’s paintings from a distance, he felt a strong gravitation toward the artist who opened his eyes to the potential that lay ahead of him. Eager to forge a deeper connection with Toti, Erwin gathered his courage to communicate with him. “Being at the right place, at the right time was foreshadowing what was yet to come. I accidentally stumbled into Toti Cerda’s work at Gallery Genesis which happened to be located at the mall where I would often visit. Toti’s paintings struck a chord in me and I was relentless in following his work and attending his exhibits. He didn’t know me back then, but I was already an art stalker of his work,” he grins. “I initially hesitated to send him a message on social media since felt intimidated and uncertain if he would entertain me, but I told myself I had nothing to lose and better to try. To my surprise, Toti appeared to be very encouraging and generous. He always found a way to cheer me up. I told him I admired his watercolor style and how much it resonated with me.”

The Passport to Achievement © Copyright PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA 2023
The Passport to Achievement © Copyright PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA 2023

Since there are only a few watercolor artists in the Philippines, Erwin found the right footing in choosing this medium which gave him the platform to shine. The galleries always request for him to display his watercolor artwork and he also curates watercolor painting exhibits for them. “I believe that we all have our perception of art and should never compete with anybody. Your art should reflect your life, yourself, and the message you wish to relay. People will have their own interpretations,” he expresses.

During the height of the pandemic, the art scene became challenging since there were no exhibits to showcase to art enthusiasts and collectors and this affected the career of Erwin. “Art wasn’t a priority and I got discouraged about what happened. However, if I stopped painting, I would get depressed since it’s my creative outlet. As everyone spent time indoors, people were searching for ways to decorate and beautify their homes, and that gave me hope. I realized that despite being in a crisis, art will always be alive and important,” he imparts.

As Erwin forges ahead in his career, he plans to continue painting and buying real estate properties so he can open more studios. He advises the youth to, “Be true to yourself. Save money since your finances will be affected and also your mood. Always be happy. Attend shows. Take more lessons to improve your craft. Explore all mediums, keep going, and find what you really like. When you’re famous, don’t sell all your artwork because some collectors will want to purchase your older pieces which will be worth so much more.”

A keen eye, a curious mind, and strong attention to detail are the valuable traits Erwin possesses. Through his perceptions, Erwin Mallari depicts the moments, expressions, and realities of people to translate into vivid and remarkable paintings with a story waiting to unfold.

Toti Cerda and Erwin Mallari are like two peas in a pod. Sharing the same interests, passion, and fondness for art created a solid friendship between a mentor and his protégé, building synergy, trust, and value. Toti Cerda’s generosity symbolizes the passport to Erwin Mallari’s achievement, celebrating their triumphs and love for art.


TOTI CERDA @toticerda
ERWIN MALLARI @erwin.mallari.watercolors

Writer: GERALDINE ZIALCITA @geraldineauthor
Copy Editor: KIEDO VILLAUEVA @kei_villanueva
Set Personal Assistant: JESSIE LOU REQUINA @bembemrequina
Logistics and Security: ALEXANDER ABING
Art Director: NIGEL JOHN DEL MUNDO @nigeldelmundo
Photographer Assistant: MARK JERIC AYALA @jecjecayala
Photographer: VINCENT GOTTI @vinniegotti