Sumit Balla sits at Bloc Cafe, a mug of warm coffee in front of him. His head is down, his eyes focused on his phone. But he’s not scrolling through Facebook feed or double-tapping on Instagram posts—he’s sketching.

He holds the small stylus in his hands and brushes back and forth, adjusting here and there. When I say hello, he looks up from the table, smiles and shakes my hand. I thank him for meeting me, for allowing me to tell his story. He locks his phone and looks at me.

“I don’t deserve it,” he says.

Balla is soft-spoken, intelligent and most of all talented. The Nepal-native moved to the United States in 2007 as a student studying mechanical engineering, which didn’t last long.

“One day I was watching this silly comedy movie, and in the movie, I think, [the main character] works in a bank or some company,” Balla said. “He’s always had this interest in gaming, so he gives up everything and works in the gaming industry. And that’s what I felt too...I gave everything up and studied art.”

Growing up in Kathmandu Valley, he always appreciated art. The area is filled with artworks from the 14th century, he said, and he used to sketch when he was younger.

He enrolled in classes at Bunker Hill Community College, starting with designing. Soon he met a professor, a watercolorist from the Massachusetts College of Art. Though Balla never saw his professor painting, he said the work hanging in his office was breathtaking.

In Nepal, he added, art and painting weren’t things that were taught. One would have to specifically know a master in the craft and they would then have to accept you as a student. But coming to the US, he had the chance to learn.

“[The professor is] very passionate about art ... and he saw that passion in me too, I guess,” said Balla.

Soon he was completing extra assignments in class—if the professor asked for ten sketches, Balla would come with 50. And then Balla started experimenting with watercolors, concept art and landscapes.

“The satisfaction that you get out of painting, and the complexity of painting was what [drew me]. It’s very challenging. It’s just a really wide, wide, deep field,” he continued. “Every painting is a new challenge.”

Now Balla works in the restaurant industry and at his uncle’s convenience store seven days a week and, no matter the job, he always has the same problem: his bosses tell him they don’t pay him to sit around and draw.

“It’s not something I do intentionally, it’s just second nature,” he said with a smile.

When he’s manning the counter at the store, he sketches and paints. But the problem, he says, is he’s painting a picture from the computer screen, which affects light exposure.

A few times, he added, customers have asked to buy his work in the store.

“The local people are really nice,” said Balla. “It’s the same people coming in over and over again ... all the paintings I’ve sold have been at the store. Somebody says, ‘hey, that’s a really nice painting.’ Sometimes they wait for me to finish it and sell it to them for $5.”

On Wednesdays, his days off, he ventures outside, often to Prospect Hill Tower, to paint the scenery. He prefers to paint early in the morning, around 7 a.m., when the sun is coming up behind the Boston skyline. During the evenings he visits the Museum of Fine Arts, taking advantage of the free admission and bringing his art supplies with him.

Painting, he says, isn’t just about the finished product, but the experience as well. Painting from observation, he continued, is about the light, the time, the process. Because he works on his paintings during work, he breaks it up into sessions, and tries to continue at the same time every day, to stay consistent.

Balla hopes someday he’ll have enough time to dedicate to his work, to fully immerse himself in the observational experience.

“I’m still in a very early learning stage,” he said. “That’s why I have not really dedicated my time into this kind of work because it’s too early for me….but what I’m trying to achieve in my sketches is a simple statement. It’s the most important part of the painting, to get that simple statement.”

What are the minimum strokes of lines he needs to convey his message, he asks. What are the least number of colors?

“That’s what I’m thinking all of the time,” he continued. “Once you get that right, putting in the details is kind of like icing on the cake.”

You can follow Sumit Balla on Instagram @pigmentedlife.