Juan C. Sanchez, 28, uses blue ink to sketch portraits, classic cars and roses, on handkerchiefs.
“I really don’t remember when I started drawing. I know that I started doodling when I was in sixth grade— my thing was cartoons,” Sanchez said.
He said he became an artist in order to express what he was thinking.
While in high school, Sanchez loved drawing houses and buildings and believed he could make a career in architectural design. He found himself pretending to be an architect. He gained confidence after winning art contests—first place seven times and second place five times. The prizes included metals, money and art supplies.
After high school, he enrolled in the University of El Salvador to study architectural design, but didn’t graduate, eventually ending up in the U.S and incarcerated at San Quentin.
Sanchez says that creating art at San Quentin reminds him of how far his talents could have taken him if he had not made bad decisions.
“For me, art has become like an extraordinary therapy,” he said.
As an artist, Sanchez says he’s willing to get out of his comfort zone to discover new ways to express himself and express creativity.
The proud Salvadoreño created a piece with the El Salvadorian national emblem. “It’s a complex design,” he says.
While at San Quentin he’s also explored the prison’s 1854 facade.
One sketch shows the prison’s entrance. Above it, the Virgin Mary is flanked by revolutionary-looking women who are wearing Mexican hats called charras; the woman on the left has a Mona Lisa-style smile and $100 bills wrapped around the charra. Both charras are wrapped with bullet straps, giving an impression of a warrior during the Mexican civil war of the 1920s.
Due to the pandemic, Sanchez wasn’t able to get regular ink pens, so he improvised with used blue ink pens. However, viewers still appreciate his unique mixtures of ink.
Sanchez says he enjoys drawing incarcerated people. “The faces of incarcerated people reflect on the most positive memories for our loved ones—meaning not every experience of incarceration has to be negative or based on our lifestyles or poor choices.”
He added, “We are all humans and have people who love us, too. Even though we may be incarcerated, we can always do good things.”