back on my beat

Last month, I was in Baguio for a week-long workshop: Room to Read’s Kwentong Musmos workshop for illustrating storybooks for beginning readers. It was my first time to attend an illustration workshop that extensive, where we had to focus on working on our characters, storyboards, and concepts in one run. We had great mentors, super helpful feedback from our publishers (thanks, Adarna, I love you), Room to Read’s team, and each other. There’s nothing like a bunch of illustrators with a deadline.

So.

I’ve been stuck in a rut for the longest time, and this affected my work this past year SO BADLY. My confidence level for most of this year is below the ground. A couple of big projects got killed and it was devastating. I felt like such a failure. I didn’t really get to produce a lot of work that I was truly proud of. A lot of different factors contributed to this in general because I was just physically tired all the time. I’m thankful that I get to do what I do, but it can get really difficult sometimes.

The workshop kind of jumpstarted me back to life a bit because I was forced to draw and produce good work in a short amount of time. It also felt so good to be a student again, to be in that safe place to ask questions and unlearn old habits to make space for new ways of working. When your hobby becomes a job, oftentimes there’s little to no margin for error so I’m always kind of on my toes and more inclined to playing it safe. That, or it’s just my anxiety problem. Anyway, I was honestly so relieved to be given the space (literally and mentally) to not feel stupid about working in a new way.

I’m mostly a self-taught illustrator. I didn’t get to do tons of foundation work in school and build good drawing skills early on in life, and my pursuit of a career in the creative field has always been looked down upon in my family given that it’s not as lucrative and money-making as other jobs, I guess. This has always been a great source of insecurity for me, like I have to work harder because a lot of people have a bigger headstart. I have to constantly try hard to see this mainly as a source of motivation to get better instead of letting it weigh me down and make me so anxious all the time.

When I started to learn how to become an illustrator, I didn’t know how to paint yet, so I worked mostly with ink in a very loose way, scratchy and lineart-focused. Then I started to teach myself how to use watercolors, and I struggled with it so much at first but I slowly got better. Most of my current portfolio is clean, watercolor drawings. I look at my body of work so far and I guess I can give myself a little pat on the back because I like a lot of the stuff I’ve made through the years.

However, I must say that somewhere down the road I think I got tired of how calculated my process for working that way was. Right now, I feel myself going back to scratchy pencil lines because I think I miss how natural my way of drawing was at the beginning. I really want to work towards combining that looseness with some of the painting techniques I’ve picked up along the way.

When I was learning how to illustrate with watercolors, I picked up things from Carson Ellis and Brecht Evens, clean flat shapes layered over each other, kind of like a transparent color-by-numbers type. I also liked Lisbeth Zwerger’s soft and poignant tone.

Now I’ve been studying how artists like Maira Kalman, Laura Carlin, Brian Wildsmith, and Beatrice Alemagna balance crude and naive forms, muted and limited palettes, and a wide mix of textures to make emotionally strong drawings. I’ve been looking at illustrations from Spain, Russia, and Japan for inspiration. I’ve also been inspired by Louise Bourgeois, Isabelle Arsenault, and some of the Bauhaus ladies like Anni Albers, Gunta Stolzl, and Hilma af Klimt for color and palette inspiration.

Something that stuck with me all throughout school back then was a quote from Kandinsky: “Every work of art is a child of its time.” Which is to say that every work produced by an illustrator such as myself, at any given time, is what I want to say at the moment, and how I want to say it. Like a voice of some sort, not really a style.

Thinking about this now makes me realize that maybe all the struggle this past year with my personal work is just me in a transition period. Maybe the things I want to say and show are different now, and I want to say and show them differently too. If this is so, then I’m happy, because they should be different. What I want to say and show should change, because I’m constantly changing and learning and seeing new things.

I used to worry that if I change things up and work differently, I would end up failing at this illustration thing. Now, I know I should be more worried if I don’t feel the need for any change in my work through time, because that would mean I’m not really learning new things. I’m only just beginning and I have so much to absorb. It’s scary and exciting at the same time, walking the tightrope between inspiration and despair.

TLDR: I’m happy that I feel happy drawing again. It’s really been a while since I felt like this. I’m also glad others like my new work. The validation, especially from the people that matter the most to me, makes me feel like I’m progressing.

Cheers to growth and birthing pains. Back to work.

verklempt

…is a new-ish word I’ve recently learned about. It’s a Yiddish term to describe a person who’s too emotional to say anything.

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Quick life update

Between a Puddle and the Ocean opened at Galerie Roberto in Alabang last Feb, curated by Lena Cobangbang. The blue ones are mine, and they are the biggest watercolor pieces I’ve made to date. I normally work small, and the big paintings I usually make are for children’s books, so making these framed ones for exhibit was a feat for me haha.

It took me some time to switch from work to play mode. I found that it’s not easy or quick for me to go from making things for clients and other people to making personal pieces. I kept thinking about other people’s potential opinions, and that didn’t help me AT ALL. So much anxiety over almost nothing. In any case, I’m content with how things played out.


Our all-women original picture book art exhibit Peek-A-Book is on view at the CCP, as part of March being women’s month! I really am grateful to be part of this show, and to be surrounded by excellent and generous mentors from the children’s literature community. My younger self would freak out if she learned about this. The show is up until May 6, and there’s a paper cut workshop + Adarna House book launch on the 28th. Drop by if you can!

I gave a workshop during the opening day, and I’m proud to report that I did not cry in public while talking, thank you very much. I volunteered to do the workshop on a whim, without much thinking, in the middle of a party last year. I did my best the day of! And I had a really good time listening to the participants’ stories which they wrote and sketched themselves. I’m personally a BIG believer that art and literature aren’t untouchable things that exclusively belong to a small number of people precisely because of what I witness during these kinds of workshops. Everyone has good stories in them, it’s just a matter of helping them talk about it/show it.

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Remember that picture book about the Philippine Eagle that I worked on during my Cornell internship? Well, I am VERY pleased to share with you that An Eagle’s Feather is now published, and is available for purchase as a small book version! Aaah! You can get your copies at the Cornell Lab Publishing Group’s website and on Amazon.

100% of the first $10,000 and 50% thereafter of net proceeds from the sale of this book goes directly to the Philippine Eagle Foundation to support its conservation education and other efforts to save the Philippine Eagle from extinction.

The original plan for this book was just to make ONE copy: one big book for the use of the Philippine Eagle Foundation for their education programs. And now it’s published! I’m happy to see how far this project has come, that more people can have a copy of the book and learn about the Philippine Eagle, its plight, and how we can help.

And! On top of everything: a whole lot of warm and fuzzy feelings. Sudden but surprisingly comfortable.



Upcoming

Art in the Park is on the 15th, which is on Sunday already. I’ll be at the Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan booth, as per usual. Local Loca will be on May 5, and I am crossing all my fingers I get to finish my new zine in time.

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Pierra Calasanz-Labrador’s new book of poems Dear Universe comes out on April 27 under Anvil Publishing. I made drawings for it, and I can’t wait to see the book in person! I’ve never illustrated poems before, so working on this project was refreshing. Pierra and Anvil were so generous and had given me a lot of room to explore the poems visually.

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Karapat Dapat, Ang INK and CANVAS PH’s book on the rights of a child, is out next month! We’ve been working on this for the past months. The topic is very pertinent, and the timing of this book’s production+release could not be any more apt.

We’ve already raised funds to produce 15,000 books to be given to public schools and disadvantaged communities. Your support through donations and book purchases can help us print more! Spread the word!

Have a peek of the activities and other pages of the book, and learn more about how you can donate and help HERE.


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The Sunday Monday Currently
no. 6

Reading

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from The Shape of a Pocket, John Berger

I am reading…a lot of different things all at once. The only books I’ve finished for the year so far are all poetry books, which goes to show how little A) time I have to quiet myself and read and/or B) attention span I have to quiet myself and read.

In any case! Current reading list is as follows:
• 2/3 of The Lonely City, Olivia Laing
• 3/4 of The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid, Colin Meloy. I got bored in the middle of this, and so.
• The Shape of a Pocket, John Berger. My main read. It’s conveniently divided into short essays, and I am inching my way to the end.

Listening
Newest additions to the playlist include Thundercat and Sam & Dave.

Watching
Re-watching LOST (!!!) with Jacob in increments. “We have to go back~~~”

Liking

MayaHewitt.jpgMaya Hewitt!

Not Liking
Nothing new: the current adm!inistrat10n. Politics and the chaotic government. The pains of being (female, a commuter, both) in Metro Manila.

Feeling
Mildly disoriented because it’s April, and my question is where did the first part of the year go? I feel like I’m still gearing myself up to start the year, but here we are. Here we are already.

talking to strangers

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The Sunday Currently, no. 5

It feels very nice to type in complete sentences and whole words, and form and read actual paragraphs. I highly suggest it, citizens of the internet.

Reading
The Tornado is the World, Catherine Pierce, and John Berger’s The Shape of a Pocket. Also Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City on audiobook when I’m working. Lately reading a real paper book feels very indulgent; it makes me feel guilty sometimes. But! I do hope I get to read a whole lot more this year than the past years.

Listening
Hovering All Night – Post-Animal

Watching
Before I dove headlong back into work, I had Netflix-binged The Crown, Star Trek Discovery, Food Wars (hilarious, highly-entertaining), the new season of The Mind of a Chef, and the Black Mirror episodes I had previously missed (I love White Bear. Unsettling but A++). Can’t wait to have free time to start the new season of Star Trek Discovery.

Liking
That part in The Lonely City when the writer talks about Edward Hopper and Nighthawks. In general, I like the book’s language so far and how it articulates loneliness. Poignant, and not pitiful.

Not Liking
Sometimes my meds just…stop working and I don’t get to sleep almost at all for days. It’s been almost a year since I first started taking them so I should really stop delaying my visit to the doctor. Along with the other kinds of doctors I need to go see according to my calendar. Age is a just number but also age is something you feel in the bones of your shoulders when you don’t get enough sleep and exercise. Things could be worse, but things could also be better.

Feeling
Float-y and light but also tired. There is so much to buy and pay for, mostly for the family, and the only way that seems to be working for me to get through this is to hit the ground running every. Single. Time.

However. I was at an art show opening last night after a long time of not going to one. I had a good time even though I started to crash towards the end. Big shows, I must admit to myself, are great for meeting old friends and new people, but get noisy for me in my head to look at the art.

It got me thinking about how it must feel like to be doing the same thing constantly, to grow and be excellent at it, for more than a decade. That being said, you must go see them 200+ works by Elmer Borlongan at the Met Museum. It’s a beautiful collection. Plus points because they were playing Eraserheads when I walked into the museum.

Along with the day job and freelance work, I’ll be part of shows in Feb and March, and I am anxious to announce because I am still sorting out all that needs to be shown. I am excited but also terrified.

I made zero resolutions for 2018, and the only thing I dragged along from the previous year/s is the hope that things will fall into place if I let them.

Cheers, and hello.