“I’ve always been into art,” Michi says. It was a world of paint, brushes, and blank canvasses. In University, she dabbled in studying fashion as a means to a creative career. However, she had “always liked painting women’s bodies” in contrast to her conservative upbringing. She grew up being told that she couldn’t expose her skin, and so, she painted it instead. “With painting,” she shares, “I was freed from that and I was able to create anything I wanted. I felt that it was a beautiful form of self-expression.”
Going against the grain, she stuck with art as a career, knowing that it wouldn’t offer the stability of a corporate path which her parent’s had expected her to take. It was a risky move.
Before social media, the only way Michi knew how to be recognized for her work was to showcase her pieces in a gallery, and hope that one day someone will buy them. But she couldn’t–she didn’t have the money. “I joined group shows only when I was invited. Because to have a solo show, you’d have to have a deep pocket to reserve a gallery for yourself,” she remembers. Feeling lost, doing what she loved wasn’t proving to make a successful career.
In 2015, she got hooked to surfing. “My entire life shifted,” she begins, “and I did everything I could to surf. I spent more time in surftowns than in Manila. My parents thought I was throwing my life away,” she continues, “but I wasn’t.” Inspired, and sporting her best tan ever, she stepped up to advance her career in a way that supports her lifestyle as a surfer-artist.
Going digital meant investing in gadgets. Clueless and practically broke, Michi almost couldn’t find a way to pay up a Wacom sketch pad. At first, she drew with her own fingers on the smooth screen–nearly developing a carpal tunnel–before finally purchasing a pen. Yet for a really long time, Michi wasn’t selling anything.
Competition was steep. Michi encountered her fair share of low-ballers, fellow artists who attacked her with hate speech, or copycat artists who created uncanny pieces alluding to her own. But she didn’t budge her rates, and she stood up for herself. However, crushed and discouraged, she shut down her website to take a break.
With what felt like the biggest wipeout of her career, she needed time to recover. “I was so mad I cried,” she reveals. “So I thought maybe I should create something better. I took that anger and frustration and let it evolve my art into something beautiful.” The result of her sulking is a Michi Pichel who created even better art than before.
Extremely introverted, this step took her out of comfort zone. She muses that in her work or in the water, “it’s so easy to doubt yourself.” But Michi agrees that sometimes, you need just one or two people to believe in you. Her longtime partner, Nate, is one of them. And with the right timing of a @menton and a #hashtag on Instagram, HER WAVES founder Jennipher Marie easily became the second.
The long and winding road
Michi refines her signature style and pushes the envelope each time. “Improving my art is about working on it day in and day out,” she observes, “and the same goes for my surfing.” Both with art and in the water, she says that “when you gain a little bit of confidence, you feed it so it grows just enough for you to get going.”
Recently, she had also begun drawing curvy women and dark-skinned women in her surf series. The reason? “I want to honor and celebrate all women in the surf community,” she says simply, as if it’s her natural duty as an artist. “I want women to feel that deep connection and representation.”
Now, Michi feels lucky to not feel so lost anymore, especially at a time of such uncertainty. “I’m a full-time artist, a full-time mom, a full-time partner, and a surfer, but it’s all working out,” she remarks. As a resident artist for international surf-inspired brand HER WAVES, the timing must be destiny, as she likes to call it.
“I grew up very privileged, but all this took a lot of hard work, and I faced my darkest days before getting here,” she acknowledges. “I wanted to prove to my parents that I could sustain a great life with this type of work and lifestyle.”
With a growing number of fans, Michi proves to be just like the rest of us. As a human being, her initial response to everything is emotional. “I always believed that it’s a good thing to hit a bump in the road,” she emphasizes, “because it’ll make you take a step back and see the bigger picture.” And as an artist, she stands by most clichés, such as you can’t please everyone or the creative process is messy.
Born out of the pure intention of creating beautiful things, this rising woman tells us the tale of a modern-day artist and the possibility of living the dream. But really, our main takeaway is that in life, in art, and in surf, Michi assures us that, “OK lang magkamali.”