Carmel Mercado has not been painting long. She said she only really started to take it seriously in the last six months or so.
But when she looked for inspiration for her cat portraits, she turned to one of the first video games she ever played.
Her Street Fighter II cat series reimagines your favorite fighters like the Stretch Armstrong-like Dhalsim, the fleet-footed Chun-Li and the electric Blanka as cats.
The results, as you can imagine, are adorable.
“This was one of the first games I played as a child,” the 34-year-old Seattle-based Mercado told Everything Video Games in an email interview. “In my working memory, this was the pivotal game that got me into gaming. I’m pretty sure I only really used Chun-Li and Guile and button-mashed my way through KOs but what do you expect of a 4- or 5-year-old?”
A shift from cats to gaming cats
Mercado painted her first “gamer cat portrait” in February, when she wanted to mark the opening of Nintendo World in Japan, while also using the cat of a friend who works at Nintendo for inspiration.
That was the accidental start of her pursuit of Street Fighter II cat paintings.
“I could not help but also feel my own feelings of childhood nostalgia through the process,” she said. “At that moment, I knew I was going to need to paint more gamer cats, mostly for the fun of it.”
She recently showed off her art at a show in Orlando, Fla., sponsored by that city’s NerdNite group and the Orlando Museum of Art, which featured several artists whose work focuses on video game- and nerd-related subjects.
The exhibit, “Nerds in the Age of Popularity,” looked at how appreciation for video game culture has grown in recent years.
Mercado, who will add on to her five-portrait Street Fighter II set with three more characters (including the puffball Zangief!), said seeing the event partner with a respected institution like the museum didn’t surprise her.
Nerd and gaming culture, she said, has certainly become more accepted.
“I think nerd interests will continue to grow in presence in ‘mainstream’ culture, and we may look back years from now and forget that there used to be a stigma if you identified as a ‘gamer’ or ‘nerd,’” she said.
Mercado plans to continue to produce a series of paintings based upon gaming cats and dogs, mentioning potential pieces that incorporate the Triforce and Super Mario Kart’s banana peels and blue shells.
How art defines video games
As a painter, she of course respects how video games can have an art style that defines them.
Whether it is the dark and dingy style of the Resident Evil series or the brighter colors in the Mega Man series, an art style can create a mood that sometimes transfers to the player.
Mercado said that is what happened for her when she played the Legend of Zelda series.
“I find that congruence between the art style and the storyline affects how epic I perceive the gameplay to be and what I remember of the game years later,” she said.
She said that “The Windwaker,” for instance, was not one of her top Zelda games and said part of the reason was that she was not too into the cartoony art style.
“Breath of the Wild,” however, was more her speed.
“The art style fit more with the grandeur of the Zelda universe,” she said. “My siblings are younger than me, and, for them, they loved ‘The Windwaker’ because of the art style. The style was cute and appealed to a younger audience, and for them, this is why they feel like that game sticks out more in their memories compared to the other Zelda games even until now.”
She said she still loved “The Windwaker” but that it was not in her top 3 Zelda games.
A move to Seattle
Mercado, who moved to Seattle just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, has been a pediatric ophthalmologist for most of her adult life.
She did not attend art school but had long had a knack for drawing and painting.
Sometimes, when her young patients would feel nervous about wearing glasses, she would draw them on pictures of dogs and cats to make them feel more comfortable.
While the self-taught artist still plans to volunteer her medical services at clinics and on mission trips, she says she will pursue art full time.
“I remember in first grade when I opened up my first Dr. Seuss book (The Lorax) and fell in love with his strange illustrations,” she said. “I’ve been drawing and painting since then.”
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