Candy-Coated Sadness

by Jubal Gallaga
On paper, 25-year-old Christoph Sagemuller appears to be at the forefront of the digital wave of artists in this new decade. He lives in Seattle, Washington State, and works primarily on his iPadPRO and MacBook. He is strongly affiliated with the Musuem of Pop Culture in Seattle (popularly known as MoPOP) and he teaches art online on the learning platform, SkillShare.

However, just like his works, there is more to Sagemuller than lively colors and in-your-face images. Sagemuller graduated in 2016 from La Consolacion College in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental in the Philippines. His degree in Digital Media Arts, despite its name, gave him a thorough grounding in traditional art forms. He learned anatomy, how to paint with oils, acrylics, and other media. In truth, his shift to digital art was more out of convenience than a true preference. But perhaps, wisely so.

In 2018, Sagemuller moved to Seattle and it was simply easier and more expedient to do art on his computer and tablet. He didn’t have the space or the resources to set up a traditional art studio. Going digital meant that all the tools were not only in his computer or tablet, but, in the case of his tablet, he could carry it around anywhere and thus be able to draw anywhere. He could also safely store his work digitally. He did not have to worry about framing his work or damaging it with humidity.

He was not a stranger to digital media, however. He received his first drawing tablet when he was 12 years old and, as Sagemuller recounts, he would draw around 10 hours a day, even back then. “So I always kinda knew I wanted to be an artist ever since I was a kid,” he says, “In school I’d just be drawing in my notebook. I didn’t really care about school at all,” he adds, breaking into a laugh, “since it didn’t really interest me. I would get into trouble a lot with my teachers because they’d check my notebooks and they’d only find a few pages with notes and the rest would just be drawings. That’s what I would be thinking about all the time, just drawing, animation, and art.”

Sagemuller does miss working with traditional media. He admits he is slightly better at drawing with a pencil than with a stylus. He also shares that he gets a proper sense of scale of a piece when he sees it in front of him, than when he sees it on a screen. His digital work has existed both on the monitor and printed out to fill a 60-foot wall, and the difference seeing it on the wall versus on the screen is telling. That said, he still has a heavy preference for digital media. It makes the work easier. For example, he can select the exact color he wants and get the exact effect he wants faster. The struggle an artist normally undergoes to get that on physical media is now removed, so he can then focus on getting his idea translated into something tangible.

And Sagemuller’s ideas are tangibly eye-catching. They are visually arresting, immediately capturing your interest with bold colors and captivating subjects. Sagemuller works almost exclusively with portraiture. He feels an emotional connection to people that is just missing when he works on pieces without them, like landscapes.

Someone once pointed out that Sagemuller’s art is “candy-coated sadness,” an epithet that the artist embraces. His works are emotionally driven. “Art is the best way for me to communicate,” Sagemuller elaborates. He admits his mind does not think in words but in images and fragments. This is apparent in his trademark use of contrast, not just in the choice of bright colors, but more so, in juxtaposing those vibrant colors with melancholic subjects. He feels particularly drawn to these kinds of images. Just like when his family home in Bacolod was flooded and several family photographs were damaged, Sagemuller recreated the ones that meant most to him.

An emotional connection is important to this artist. When Sagemuller moved to Seattle, he felt a strong connection to Filipinos back home. He brings up how very supportive the art community in Bacolod City is, concluding that an art community may even be more important than art itself. And yet, as an artist who makes the most use of digital tools, he does get his share of comments on how digital art is not “real art”. Sagemuller quietly disagrees, pointing out that those who say so are almost always not fellow artists. He maintains, “It’s all the same. Drawing an image, whether with a pencil on paper or with a stylus on an iPad, it’s the skill that matters. If you give two people the same digital tools to create a drawing, it would not be similar, because artistry and skill exist in the person, not in the tools.”

Sagemuller is keen on sharing his expertise. He has taken the opportunity to do so by teaching on SkillShare, an online learning platform. He says that he started as a student himself back when he was still living in Bacolod City. The digital movement in the arts is not just providing new media for artists to create art, but to expand the reach of the artist: to be able to find teachers, students, even an audience all over the world. It was an especially useful avenue during the lockdowns. When the pandemic started, Sagemuller at first welcomed it as an opportunity to stay home and draw. But eventually, even the self-professed introvert realized the importance of human connection. Teaching, albeit online, gave that semblance of connection. Moreover, as revenue sources closed due to quarantine restrictions, being able to teach online provided Sagemuller a steady income.

“Don’t listen to people who say [Digital Art] is not “real” art or that it’s a “lower form” of art,” he
states. “That’s just their opinion. You should not be tied down by other people’s perception of
something just because they don’t understand it.”

Sagemuller’s work includes designing posters for MoPOP and the film “Logro” (a part of the Cannes Film Festival’s short film corner), as well branding identities for music festivals in the US. Now entering his field of vision is video game development. He has always played video games and sees it as a good medium for art, in fact, an interesting mesh of art, music, and narrative. Video game development provides the artist an avenue to merge skills, intersecting atmosphere, music, design, and story. As the physical world continues to crouch on lockdowns, Sagemuller slowly sees his artistic avenues opening up. “There’s a lot to explore,” he concludes.

His work is full of contrasts … choice of bright and vibrant colors juxtaposed with rather
melancholy subjects.

Sagemuller works almost exclusively with portraiture. He feels an emotional connection to

Digital media makes the work easier, for example he can select the exact color he wants and get
the exact effect he wants to show

Sagemuller’s work includes designing posters for MoPOP as well branding identities for music

When he moved to Seattle, for the first time he felt a strong connection to his Filipino side.

When the pandemic started, he welcomed it at first as he saw it as a great opportunity to
stay home and draw. But eventually even the self-professed introvert 
realized the importance of human connection.

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