Yapese artist reviving his culture’s ancient art

Colonia, Yap — Some artists use canvas and paint, others turn to marble or clay, wood or fabric or any of the other myriad materials for their creations. As a young child, Leo Pugram’s choice was what was near at hand – a #2 pencil, ink and paper. Over time his drawings of the flora and fauna of the sea and land that he grew up around on the remote island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia began to incorporate more and more complex shapes and geometrics.

Pugram had no idea that he might be able to turn his talent into a business. His sketches were just for his own pleasure while some were requested by friends for logos, t-shirts and other similar uses. Still, he did not think of his designs as anything more than simple drawings that he enjoyed putting on paper, all too often in class when other schoolwork needed to be done.

Then at the age of 27 in 2010, beginning with a mail-order starter kit costing $300, he began experimenting on his own leg with common designs like a skull. At first, the ink washed away. But with practice and concentration, he learned just how deep the needle needed to go, how much ink to use and how to control the tools. And he learned quickly that “drawing on paper was not the same” as drawing on a person’s body, he says.