Creator aspires to perfect craft


Christian Urrutia / The Advocate

Art major Shenal Amarasinghe concentrates on shaping a clay sculpture in his Sculpture: Beginning II class in A-6 on April 13. Amarasinghe plans to move to Los Angeles to work in movie production after he graduates next year from Contra Costa College.

By Marci Suela, Art Director

Experimentation can transform normal work into a thrilling activity and may charm others with hilarity.

A project bewildered art student Shenal Amarasinghe as the assignment called for a design creating playing cards in his Digital Art: Beginning II class during the spring 2015 semester.

He sat in front of his computer in A-1 dumbfounded and aimlessly looking for ideas, before seeking help from classmate Michael Lopez, also an art major.  

Lopez revived his puzzled pal as he tackled the mental wall with wisecracking humor.

“I was joking with (Amarasinghe) about making the theme about ‘My Little Pony,’ and he asked in a (comical) accent, ‘Really?’” Lopez said. “Next thing you know, he was dragging and dropping pictures (in a folder) on the computer. He was grabbing every pony he’d find online. It was hilarious seeing the whole process.”

Currently in his second year at Contra Costa College, Amarasinghe challenges himself as he steps toward perfecting his craft as an artist.  As a product of CCC’s art program, incoming and continuing students can learn from Amarasinghe’s ambition and experimentation.

Amarasinghe said, “I can be free and do whatever I want. When I see something, I want to be able to create it. (Art) has freedom to create whatever you want to make.”

Amarasinghe was born on Oct. 18, 1995 in Sri Lanka. He lived there for five years before moving to Italy. His love for art began at age 9 after drawing a building and received positive feedback from his peers.

During his time in Italy, he attended Scuola Alberghiera Castel San Pietro for two years, a school concentrated on culinary arts, bartending and hotel management. Because cooking did not appeal to his interests, he refocused his sights toward art.

Amarasinghe relocated in the U.S. in 2011 and graduated from Hercules High School in 2013. He began to test his artistic skills when he enrolled in an art class at the high school.

Hercules High art teacher Daphne Schrampf said she remembers his presence in the classroom as he grasped art as a means of self-expression.

When given assignments, she said Amarasinghe didn’t take the project at face value.

“He didn’t settle for ordinary stuff. He would have a personal twist and be attentive to detail,” Schrampf said. “He knew what he wanted to do. He’d work on (the piece) until he had it in the way he had it in his mind.”

Amarasinghe’s current project at CCC is in long-exposure photography for his independent study course.

In a project he places steel wool in between a whisk attached to a cable. He lights the wool on fire, twirls the whisk and particles of the steel wool fly in different directions.

To capture the direction of sparks, the camera is on a tripod and set to manual mode at a 30-second shutter speed, while he twirls the whisk in the dark.

He uses the same settings in another long-exposure project, but his materials are deodorant spray and a lighter. The results from the sparks and flames from these projects are used as the only light source and are captured by camera.

“It’s fun and crazy. Even though it takes a lot of time to get the effect, I go with the flow. If it doesn’t look right, I’ll do it again,” he said.

Starting out

CCC fine and media arts professor Dana Davis said he remembers when Amarasinghe took his Digital Photography: Beginning II class in the fall 2014 semester. He was beginning to hone his artistic skills.

“It was a small class of 16 people. Seven of them were phenomenal, and Shen (Amarasinghe’s nickname) was one of them. Once he got going, he was enthusiastic about his projects,” Davis said.

When Lopez invited Amarasinghe that semester to Kraken Con, an anime convention held in Oakland, it was the start of them taking photographs of people.

Lopez said photographers walk around and ask for consent to take pictures of cosplayers, individuals dressed as Japanese characters from a movie, book or video game.

Lopez said Amarasinghe went out of his comfort zone and approached cosplayers to ask for their consent.

Thevin Rajapaksha Arachchilage, Amarasinghe’s high school friend, said he’s shy because English is not his first language.

“The struggle sometimes is when he is explaining (ideas) to someone because he wasn’t born in America and doesn’t speak English well. This is what he thinks,” Arachchilage said. “I’m sure when you talk to him, he sounds fine. It’s one of his drawbacks where he cuts himself too short when it comes to his English when he is just fine.”

Lopez said, “He was shy about approaching people so we teamed up and took turns asking (if we could photograph them). I told him, ‘It’s your turn to ask him.’ So, he goes to the cosplayer and asks (impolitely), ‘Hey, you busy?’ It was funny as heck because that’s not how he (usually) acts.”

Amarasinghe brought some photos of cosplayers in for critique, Davis said.

He said because of the driven attitude Amarasinghe has, Davis treats him more as an artist with “respect and freedom” than a beginning art student.

“Every critique I didn’t have to worry about (him) bringing in work. I didn’t ever have to pry (him) before a deadline,” he said.

Sense of humor

When fine and media arts professor Anthony Gordon assigned a design for playing cards in his Digital Art: Beginning II class last year he only required students to make 10 cards. Gordon said Amarasinghe went “above and beyond” as he made a whole deck of 52 cards.

“They were breathtaking. It was quite hilarious. Art can take itself too seriously. Sometimes, it can take a route where he (did) quality work that just happens to be funny,” Gordon said.

When Lopez jokingly suggested the idea of ponies, Amarasinghe said, “I was looking for a project and when we were talking, it was as if he was daring me to do it. He challenged me, so I did it.”

Lopez said, “I’m afraid of joking with him sometimes because he’ll run with the idea.”

Amarasinghe’s personality shows through his artwork, Lopez said.

“He won’t admit that he’s good in drawing and in photography. You don’t think about what he’s capable of but he will pull (his talent) out and blow you away,” Lopez said. “He puts everything into what he’s doing. If you give him ideas, he’ll interpret them well.”

Art student Marva Reed is enrolled with Amarasinghe in the Drawing and Composition: Intermediate I course. She said she treasures his presence because of his gentle assistance.

Reed had trouble understanding perspective for one assignment. Amarasinghe and Reed stood in the Art Building’s hallway to use an example so she could visually understand the concept.

“You have to learn perspective drawing in the class. It (was) hard to figure out how it is supposed to go. Shen opened up for me how to do one-point perspective in the hallway,” Reed said. “Shen said as you look farther away, the tiles get smaller and the walls go inward. Because of him, I got the idea.”

“(The professor) will explain (concepts) but sometimes it’s hard to understand. He’ll speak your language and explain in words you’d understand so you could do it,” Reed said.

Plans after CCC

Amarasinghe will graduate next year, but has no plans to transfer to a four-year university. He said he wants to find work and save money before moving to Los Angeles to work in movie production. He wants to enter the film industry because of the emotional connection movies bring.

“Since I was young, I moved to a lot of places. When I moved from Sri Lanka to Italy, I always had to watch movies for kids to get the knowledge of the area,” he said. “I was able to also learn the language. (Some movies) capture almost everything I’ve been through.

“When you try to explain something, you don’t understand it until you see it. It reminds me that I came a long way from where I started.”

Amarasinghe said he’s confident of succeeding with his talent because the beauty of art “always (allows) a second chance.”

“Art allows you to fail and do it better,” he said.

As he finishes his last digital art class this semester, his final project is to design a “My Little Pony” board game to exceed his design of playing cards from last year.