Today we’d like to introduce you to Celina Sarmiento.
Celina, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that I wanted to become an artist. So it was just a matter of finding opportunities to be out there as one.
Ever since elementary school, I made a couple of bucks drawing for my classmates. It wasn’t much — didn’t even cover my materials at all — but it made me feel that with the right amount of effort, resources, and support, I can make money doing art.
When I was in high school, I started attending Anime Expo and always wanted to participate in “artist alley” (convention area where artists sell their stuff), but I lacked the resources to purchase the space and produce merch enough for an entire table. The perfect opportunity presented itself in college when I was invited by my good friend Jasmine Mochizuki (IG: @mochijam) to share her table with her.
We shared the costs and the pressure. I wasn’t Captain Senpai back then though. I was going by “/RAGEQUIT,” and all of my stuff was fanart. It went really well! That was five years ago. We still table at Anime Expo together every year.
I started going by Captain Senpai in 2016. Everything just fell into place. My best friend Rachel Lee (IG: @ghostcandies) came up with it as a joke. I designed a logo for it that I loved, and that inspired a much clearer vision of where I want to take the brand.
That year, I shared a Designer Con exhibitor’s booth with a couple of friends and debuted my first two original enamel pin designs. And here I am! Still putting my stuff out there and still on my journey as Captain Senpai.
Has it been a smooth road?
When I was a kid, my family wasn’t very excited that I wanted to be an artist. They meant well, but they had negative assumptions about art as a career. The discouragements fed my insecurities, and I stopped drawing for two years in my teens.
To this day, I’m still struggling to find my way back to being that happy-go-lucky artist that I was as a kid. It’s frustrating, but at the same time, I’m thankful for that chapter in my life. When I got back to drawing after my “hiatus,” I felt even more sure about my goals.
My family has come to support my decision. My achievements changed their perception about artists and creatives. Now, I work as a full-time graphic designer at my dream job and build Captain Senpai on the side.
Even so, there are other struggles that persist to this day, like lack of time, energy, money, etc. Staying inspired, executing my ideas successfully, building an online and physical presence, producing merch — all of these things are hard work, and none of it is cheap.
It’s not easy finding a balance between a day job, side projects, and other personal responsibilities. So I just have fun with it and do what I can.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
I call my brand “Captain Senpai.” As a graphic designer, I would love for it to have a deliberate, consistent style but Captain Senpai is me. It’s about what I like and what stories I want to tell. It’s heavily inspired by Japanese culture, but that wasn’t intentional.
I’m just really into that stuff, and of course, it shows through my designs. Sometimes it’s quirky and cute. Sometimes it’s cool and obscure. I used to make prints and other stationery items, but recently I’ve been doing enamel pins exclusively. I’m hoping to expand into apparel soon.
I’m most proud of my collaboration with Steve Ahn (IG: artofsteveahn), one of the directors of Voltron: Legendary Defender. He asked me to design enamel pins for his Kickstarter, Blossom Detective Holmes. It was an honor to work with Steve and be involved in a successful Kickstarter campaign.
It was also a big achievement for me because of how cute the designs turned out. I’ve always struggled with “chibi” and cute designs. It’s a style I’ve been trying to learn for a while but it just never looked right. But for Steve’s project, it’s like something clicked. Sometimes, I ask myself if I actually designed those. *laughs*
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Yes! Los Angeles is overflowing with places and people to learn from! The art scene is booming here too, so the opportunities to showcase and sell your work are endless!
The only problem is the cost of living. Rent and gas prices are very high. On top of that, public transportation is unreliable, so even if you’re only visiting, it’s almost impossible to get around unless you can afford to Uber/Lyft all over the place.
Los Angeles has a lot of room to improve — not just for artists, but for everyone.
- Enamel Pins = $10
- Website: cptnsenpai.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org