Coaching has been his life—until people noticed his Totoro
Around this time of the year, cheerleading coach Ajjie Mendelebar is more than just being busy. He handles three cheerleading teams: the grade school and high school teams of San Beda Alabang, the college squad of the University of Asia and the Pacific, all of which compete in the annual WNCAA (Womens National Athletic Association) Cheerleading competition usually scheduled around late February or early March.
But since the pandemic happened, all sports events have gone to a halt and no one knows when things would resume. This kind of uncertainty took a toll on everyone, especially on Mendelebar whose passion for the sport is beyond words. “There were moments I would break down,” he said.
Coaching has been his life and he really misses cheerleading and his girls.
One day he posted an artwork he made of Totoro, a famous character of Japanese animation film studio, Studio Ghibli, using only pen and ink on watercolor paper. People took notice of it.
“Because of the pandemic, people have more time to create and share art, the same goes with me,” he said.
Mendelebar—coach Ajjie to his athletes—has always been an artistic person. “I grew up as an artist and it has always been my extra-curricular activity.”
His creative outlet goes beyond pen and paper; he designs his teams’ cheer uniforms and does the choreography and stunts for cheer competitions and performances.
“When I initially studied to become an architect, I was introduced to a variety of art mediums and techniques.”
Mendelabar was also a member of the Salinggawi Dance Troupe at UST, the troupe which performs during halftime in the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) games.
Now that he has enough time, he went back to stippling, a technique that incorporates several small circles or dots in the same color to create a composition. “I never really got the hang of it until recently when I had more than enough time to enjoy and really explore what I’d be able to accomplish with it.” Quoting Japanese artist Marie Kondo, he said, “If it sparks joy; do it.”
Mendelebar’s creations usually gravitate towards plants and animals. “But I’m basically up for anything.” It takes around 12 to 16 hours to make an art piece, depending on the design. “I take breaks in between because it can get strenuous for the hands and eyes.”
He has been getting a lot of inquiries for portraits, but unfortunately it’s not his strongest suit yet. “I’d have to practice more. But we’ll see, I’m excited to see how far I’d go.”
He even mounted a fund-raising drive selling some of his works for the victims of recent typhoons.
For now, Mendelebar is taking each day as it comes. “I’m humbled by the appreciation of the people around me. I get a lot of compliments from friends, family, and fellow artists. It’s truly humbling.”
These feedbacks push him to be better and take more risks, just like in cheerleading. For now, however, the pom poms have taken the back seat to pen and paper.
One can check more of his works