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'It's not what you say, it's exactly what you say' Interview with artist, writer Mano Sotelo

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

Mano Sotelo

My overall artistic practice can be divided into two general categories: observational, and the contemplation of beliefs and values. My main objectives in painting observation, contemplation, meditation and prayer.

Mano, we met through submittable when I first saw your incredible artwork and asked you to be the featured artist of The Very Edge: Poems, our first international collection of poets and artists in English, Spanish, and French. I wanted to share your work this week during US Thanksgiving as some of us lean into a time of festivities, and some of us a time of loss or even both. Your work has so many layers to it, both joy, sorrow, historical references, and present-day themes. Tell us more about your unique creative and artistic process? Or maybe explain what the artist's life means to you?

I think the idea is that I see painting and drawing as a form of prayer, a meditative practice, a way to observe, and a way to contemplate ideas. Meditation can be a process of focusing on one thing (e.g. breathing) for a sustained amount of time. The practice of observational painting and drawing can imitate that.

How do you see a connection between art or creativity and prayer?

It requires sustained concentration and focus–on one thing in the present moment. Many of my paintings contemplate ideas about life, morality, and spirituality. Just as representational drawing and painting is a language, I must be thoughtful about what visuals I choose to produce. This way of thinking inserts a level of rigor. It reminds me of the saying, "It's not what you say, it's exactly what you say."

Prayer can be simply communicating or spending time with a higher power. Any name can be used here: God, Yahweh, Allah, the Creator, collective consciousness, or consciousness prior to thought. When I am drawing or painting, I am creating. This can be seen as a mirror of a higher being, or as a channel. When I go into that "flow" or "zone" state of mind, I am not alone. It is an indescribable state of bliss that typifies a moment of connection, praise, gratitude, and devotion.

Tell us. How does history inspire you? I see how that is true. I also see the beautiful mandalas in your work and imagery from Medieval and Renaissance artists. Where does your inspiration come from?

I am a lifelong learner, a passionate student of art. I think that is why I enjoy teaching so much. I geek out at every art museum I visit. My list of favorites is far too long to include here. I use a lot of signposts. Meaning I have quotes and sayings all over my studio, including on my easel. I write things down when I come across something inspirational or insightful. There are a lot of spiritually meaningful quotes that I often revisit, but one that speaks of both my spirituality and artistic practice is: "for whom do you draw?" This reminds me of my values, beliefs, and what I want to focus on as an artist and as a human being.

That brings me to your advice. Oh, I love that so much. What a good question. What advice would you give a new artist starting out?

I would say that anyone can master the art of painting or drawing. It only takes two things: passion and practice. You must love it because that will keep you coming back to the easel or the drawing table. That love will feed your curiosity and need for development and it will support your resilience when you need it. Practice means physically making art, not reading about it, or thinking about it. You must make art, and repeat, and repeat, to improve. Practice is both the exercise before a sporting event and the sporting event itself. That is why practice should also be deliberate and reflect the values and goals of the individual.

What was it about your art that gives your insight and energy? When has your creative work helped you through new experiences and hard journeys? Yes, I see that in the writing life, too.

I wrote a book called The Collective Truth. It contains a series of what I call "diagrams" accompanied with explanatory text. It helped me think through some questions I had about life, and my purpose. It turned the abstract and fleeting thoughts in my head into solid physical words and images. That transition from mental to physical was a powerful thing because I could then see, evaluate, analyze, reassess, clarify, and correct those concrete ideas on the page.

I think a lot of our readers can relate to creating at least one type of creative work and often two that go together, both visual and written, and many other mediums for creativity. I know I see it that way as one inspiring the other back and forth.

We are so honored to the work of Mano Sotelo featured in this collection. Support our local bookstore by buying it here. We felt the ideas of everyday angels and saints, pushing through our contemporary narrative really spoke to the ideas of The Very Edge. That the stories we tell in our poetry and art weave together a narrative that is a testimony to our creative natures and our desire to be at the table together as one people celebrating differences but crossing our borders. Thank you for being a part of this project, Mano. We wish you an increase in sharing your art and much success.

Mano Sotelo is currently Visual Arts faculty at Pima Community College where he teaches a variety of drawing, painting, and design courses. Mano’s work has been exhibited in several art museums and a variety of juried and invitational gallery shows across the country. He earned his BFA at Otis Art Institute Parsons School of Design and his MFA in Painting from Academy of Art University. Mano’s work has been exhibited at the Coutts Museum of Art, Alexandria Museum of Art, Tampa Museum of Art, Coos Art Museum, Tucson Museum of Art, University of Arizona Museum of Art, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson Desert Art Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, local and national juried and invitational shows, and a variety of Tucson galleries. His work has also been highlighted in competitions hosted by The Artist’s Magazine, International Artist Magazine, and American Art Awards. Find out more at or on Instagram @manosoteloartist.

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