Meet the Maker: Stephanie Casino Esguerra

Meticulously applied lines of jet-black ink are a defining feature of the fanciful works of this Orangeville artist.

November 27, 2023 | | Made in the Hills

Lucky are dinner guests hosted by painter and illustrator Stephanie Casino Esguerra and her husband, Jay. Visitors seated at the dining table in the couple’s light-infused Orangeville home are treated to a feast for the eyes. Hanging on the wall is a vibrant canvas showing three Philippine water buffalo skulls and the magenta outlines of the sampaguita, the Philippine national flower, on a periwinkle blue background. When it’s not time to eat, the table also serves as an occasional creative space, whether for Stephanie or the couple’s daughters, ages 8 and 4. This is a house filled with colour, creativity and exploration.

On a day in October, one of the projects Stephanie is working on is the outline of a crow, her “canvas” a wooden block. “Wood can be quite absorbent,” she explains. “So I sand the blocks and apply gesso, a basic white primer, before I start working.”

Ensconced at the table, Stephanie painstakingly inks the sides of these wooden canvases to ensure they’re as show-worthy as the front. Halfway through my visit, she crouches down to make a quick ink touch-up to a larger self-portrait that leans against a wall. The portrait, also painted on wood, features butterflies on her eyes – to represent the positive outlook she tried to cultivate during Covid.

Stephanie Casino Esguerra adds gold leaf to one of her watercolour and ink pieces. Photography by Pete Paterson.

Stephanie Casino Esguerra works on one of her watercolour and ink pieces. Photography by Pete Paterson.

But Stephanie also works with more traditional canvases, as well as watercolours. No matter which medium she chooses, however, her process is much the same. She starts with a pencil sketch, then applies a base colour followed by the next most prominent colours and, lastly, minor accents. Finally, it’s time for her favourite part, when she carefully inks over the pencil sketch to bring the subject into sharp focus. “Ink suits me the best,” she says of her chosen medium. “It’s so fluid, and it’s all about how it feels. I can take my time with ink and not be rushed.”

On smaller works, Stephanie uses micron ink pens – which are permanent and waterproof and very black, in case anyone’s kids are asking for a set. For the line work on larger projects, she chooses Speedball India ink, a very dark, opaque and almost oily ink that she applies with long, thin brushes, often called rigger brushes. Stylistic nods leave little doubt about the art she admires – from the body-focused style of Austrian figure artist Egon Schiele to the ink magic of South Korean artist Kim Jung Gi and the wild caricatures of British illustrator Ralph Steadman, best known for his work with gonzo American journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

As we chat, Stephanie turns her attention to a half-finished watercolour of a Philippine hornbill, now a threatened species. To the painting’s browns, yellows, greens and vibrant oranges she adds a distinctive touch of her own: gold leaf. She applies adhesive, waits for it to dry slightly, and then, with a deft hand, brushes the leaf onto the pencil outline of a sun. Gold leaf is extremely light and delicate, so gently pressing it into place, rather than rubbing it, is key.

A selection of Stephanie’s pieces show the striking contrast between jet black ink and delicate gold leaf.

“I like the touch of luxury,” says Stephanie, adding that in her painting Modern Geisha, the subject’s hair ornaments are gold. That piece was included in the catalogue of a December 2022 Gallerium online art show.

Stephanie finds inspiration in all corners of life – books, movies, what the kids are doing, and her own heritage. During the pandemic, she crafted a piece inspired by her Filipino roots. “My dad was from the island of Mindanao. The Indigenous woman I painted was from the T’Boli people of Mindanao.” That piece won the Jurors’ Choice Award at the Museum of Dufferin’s 2022 Unity in Diversity art show.

Since Stephanie and her family relocated to Orangeville from Brampton two years ago, she has been captivated by her new proximity to nature, especially animals, birds and moths. “I love texture,” she says, pointing to examples in her work. “Scales, feathers, wings – I’m so intrigued by capturing that detail.”

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  • Stephanie studied graphic design at George Brown College but soon transferred to the bachelor of applied arts program at Sheridan College, where she embraced a blend of traditional and digital art, including 3D drawing and sculpture, as well as basic web design and animation. She now aspires to write and illustrate a book – another outlet for the writing craft she hones as a freelance writer and through her job as marketing manager for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada.

    Somehow, Stephanie recently found time to launch an ethical jewelry business, specializing in engagement rings. “It’s another creative outlet for all of my ideas,” she says.

    Find Stephanie on Instagram @stylographica.

    About the Author More by Janice Quirt

    Janice Quirt is a freelance writer who lives in Orangeville.

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