Sketching a life

Artist Thiago Cinelli is just beginning to come into his own.

When artist Thiago Cinelli, 33, first made his way to the Island from Mantena, a small town in southeastern Brazil, his friends and family told him he wouldn’t last a year. That was in 2005. He traveled here to join his father, who had been on the Island a few years by then. Thiago came with two uncles and some friends, and he is the only one from the group who is still here.

Maybe you’ve seen him sketching away behind the counter at Leslie’s Drug Store, where he’s an assistant manager. Thiago’s precise and strikingly realistic graphite and charcoal pieces are starting to make their way from the pharmacy into the hands of grateful patrons. And Thiago doesn’t seem to know what all the fuss is about. Drawing is just “something I’ve always enjoyed forever,” he says.

His aunt in Brazil first piqued his interest in art, and she’s still painting today.

“Back in Brazil, I used to do some here and there,” Thiago told the Times. “I was 15 or 16 at the time, and then I came here and I was working so much that I didn’t have time to pursue it. Someone saw me drawing at the pharmacy, and said, Can you make me one?” That was his first sale, a portrait of a couple of children. “I’ve sold some here and there. I didn’t think people would be that interested,” he says. Thiago is so unassuming, in fact, that it was a coworker who entered his sketch of a geisha in the Agricultural Fair; Thiago won first place.

Chappaquiddick artist Elizabeth Whelan noticed his work when he entered his portrait “Patrick Fitzgerald” in the inaugural Martha’s Vineyard Drawing Contest last summer. Whelan created the contest to “encourage the pursuit of excellence in drawing.”

“I am impressed with Thiago’s sensitive renderings of his subject matter, and I was very glad to see his work chosen as a finalist for the Martha’s Vineyard Drawing Prize,” Whelan said. “He is an up-and-coming talent on the local art scene.”

Thiago has been at Leslie’s for 10 years, and also does the bookkeeping for his father’s foundation business on the Cape, so he works on his art when he can. There are a few things in the works, some all-occasion cards to sell locally, and an active Instagram account where you can view his work.

“I’d like to have a show someday,” the artist says. He just needs to gather the work and make time in his schedule to focus on his art.

“I would love to branch into other things,” he says. “I do enjoy portraits the most, but I have the desire to try more things, even painting.”

He loves the intricacy involved in getting a portrait just right: “When it comes to pictures of Island houses or sites, it’s a lot faster than a portrait when you have to capture faces … I love doing wrinkles, anything with details.”

Lately he’s been working on Vineyard scenes for a greeting card collection that will sell at Mardell’s on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. He works on projects a little at a time, when things are slow at the pharmacy. He and his husband David Holmberg travel back to Brazil to visit, and plan to go in February to “hide from the cold weather.”

Thiago has some ideas about upcoming projects, particularly an expansion of the geisha piece. He’d like to do a 12-portrait series on “Women of the World,” and he’s currently working on a special project for the mother of a childhood friend who passed away. He has to have that one completed by February. It seems as if art may take on a larger role in Thiago’s busy life, and with an uncanny ability to capture expression and detail in everything from a child’s face to the perfect tilt of a beloved dog’s head to the rails of the steamship Islander, he’s well on his way. Besides, he enjoys it.

“It calms me down, it’s like therapy,” Thiago says of his artwork.

To see more of Thiago Cinelli’s work, check out @cinellithiago on Instagram, or you can always drop by Leslie’s to see what he’s working on.