Brenda Tenk: Life in vivid watercolor

‘THE Three Carabaos’ (2020; watercolor; 21 x 29 inches).

Only a few years since she picked up a brush to bring scenes and people to life on her canvas, Brenda Tenk has been recognized in art circles for her works.

The Talisay, Negros Occidental-based artist began painting in 1996. She talked about her journey on TribuneNOW’s Spotlight.

Daily Tribune (DT): How has the pandemic affected you?

Brenda Tenk (BT): It’s like in a movie — it’s a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we cannot go outside, so I was able to hone my skill in painting. You paint every day so you won’t get bored, and also because of that, I was contacted by my other friends internationally to paint and ‘see what’s outside of your windows’… And the International Watercolor Society is also very active. The virtual exhibitions are now in and we’re always out there. I’m also working with the Philippine Guild of Watercolorists. We’ll have our first virtual exhibit after the pandemic. So, it’s been really quite good.

‘ANG Ati’ (2018; watercolor; 24 x 18 inches).

DT: How has the pandemic affected the artists in Negros?

BT: Well, actually it’s not so good because usually, they do exhibitions at the park, etc. But because of the pandemic, we cannot do that. So we do our plein air sessions, that means to say we go out of our house, we go out in the mountains. We go wherever and paint the scene. You can only bring as many as 10 artists.

DT: What was your first artwork?

‘MOTHER and child’ (watercolor; 18 x 24 inches).

BT: As a child, if you don’t want to be scolded by your parents, you had better do something good. My parents were very strict, so every time they would get mad, I would paint something for my dad. But then, if you say artwork per se, I think I sold my first painting when I was in Syria, to my friend. That time we had what we called the “kitchen painting group.” As expat wives, we would sit down together and we would have another expat, who is very good at painting, teach us.

One of my friends, the owner of the Nivea factory, decided to buy one of my paintings. It was my first one; it was expensive. It was a painting of a family and that gave me honor, of course.When I just started, I really thought I could just put whatever color I liked. But then, as you become better and when people start praising you, you start to change. You want to accommodate your kind. You start to learn and perfect it.

Like now, because of Covid-19, we found out about Zoom. With that, we are able to get in touch and learn new techniques to become better painters.

DT: Did you meet a lot of Syrian artists?

Talisay, Negros Occidental-based artist Brenda Tenk. / PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF BRENDA TENK

BT: Yes. One person that was teaching me when I was in Syria was from Kurdistan. He was a refugee, and he was the one teaching us how to make paintings using sand. At that time, I was crazy about portraits and nude painting. So he was always teaching me that. One day he told me, ‘Brenda, maybe you should stop; expand yourself and stop painting only nude paintings.

DT: Do you need an actual inspiration? Do you need to be in front of a scenery or can you picture it in your mind and whatever is in your mind goes to your canvas?

BT: What is in your mind goes out onto your canvas. I need something. I need something factual because that’s how it will come to my imagination.

I draw inspiration from the things I normally do. If I have a bangus farm, most of my paintings would be of fish; birds, because I like birds. I have one that was given to me by my brother, and then a carabao because we have a lot of carabaos. I also do ducks because, at that time, when I was having some trouble, a duck was really symbolic. You only see the duck floating so elegantly, but deep down, its struggling to paddle in order to stay afloat. I painted a lot of jeepneys because I thought that was interesting. So far that’s what I’ve been doing.

‘WAITING’ (2020; 15 x 22 inches).

DT: Is there anyone else in your family who is an artist?

BT: My brother is a good acrylic artist. Also, most of my kids are gifted in that aspect. Many from my father’s side of the family were also painters.

DT: What’s the best thing about being an artist?

BT: Being an artist is actually something personal for me. You start to like painting because you are able to express yourself, you just want to create something, you want to be a little god and create something. Like a flower — converting a flat paper into a flower to make it look like a real one. But later on, you will change that. You can use your talent as an artist to recreate yourself. In other words, the idea of reinventing yourself is quite interesting for me.

‘CHICHAY’ (2021; 10 x 7 inches).

DT: What is your advice to aspiring artists?

BT: Watercolor as a hobby is quite expensive. Paper is expensive, colors are expensive. So if you really want to do that, you really need to become serious with your work so that you can also pay back the expenses. Once you start having a name, it balances a little bit. But, like anything else, you really need to work hard to become good. And if you’re not that interested, don’t make it a career because it’s very tiring, you’ll get frustrated, you’ll get bored and waste a lot of money.

Watch the full interview of Brenda Tenk on TribuneNOW’s Spotlight via the Daily Tribune official Facebook page or on TribuneNOW’s YouTube channel (

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