Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am from the Philippines and I’ve been a freelance illustrator for two years. I’m a traditional illustrator, so I do my stuff on paper using ink and pen. Most of my drawings are in black and white; I don’t do colour drawings or digital stuff. That’s why my drawings are most likely to be used in book covers. [I’m] just in time for this adult colouring trend, and I think my style is perfect for those kind of projects.
What is it that draws you to ink and paper? Have you ever thought about using colour or other mediums?
Well, actually, growing up I experimented with various mediums. I tried watercolour, oil pastels, painting – I even tried large-scale, mural paintings. I don’t know, it kind of doesn’t suit me. Somewhere in the process, I found [them all] really boring. Some people like colour, but me, I don’t like it, the mixing, understanding the colour wheel… I don’t like those parameters. So I keep to the most simple thing: black and white, pen and ink.
I do it the traditional way because traditional drawings have this kind of authenticity; it’s much more precious than digital art in that regard. So I prefer traditional. Paper art is more appreciated in the Philippines than digital stuff; galleries and art books mostly feature artists who do traditional drawings. It’s not that digital work is not as good as traditional work, it’s just the feeling of the authenticity of the craft [is lost]. It’s different when you do it by hand.
Has growing up in the Philippines played any role in your development as an artist?
I’m currently staying in Manila, which is the capital city, but I grew up in a town eight hours away by bus, and living there is totally different. In Manila, everything is fast-paced and you’re expected to get a job in the corporate world; that was what I did when I first came to Manila four years ago, I was employed in a digital agency. The first thing that I missed was the culture and art that I experienced growing up in my home town. We have a community where young artists are taught by senior artists who are good at traditional art, and [it was through them] that I had my first experience of traditional drawing. That played a really important role in me taking this path.
How did you first discover art?
Art has been with me since I was a kid. I remember my mom telling me stories about how when I started crawling, the first object I picked up was a pencil. I think it’s been within me since then. During grade school, when our teachers asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, the other kids would say, ‘I want to be a teacher! I want to be an engineer!’ and I was saying, ‘I want to be an artist!’ From the beginning, I always wanted to be an artist.
Did your family support you?
Definitely. I think they are more supportive of my art than I am myself.
Have you ever been tempted by digital animation? There’s a cartoon element to your drawings.
I love cartoons. I grew up watching Japanese animation, and I still do, because it’s a huge influence on my style. Actually, I took up Information Technology when I was at college, but my first choice was Digital Animation, but the nearest university to our town that offered it was two hours away. [But now I think that] digital is so boring. The process of digital is so lengthy – I don’t have patience for that. I might have patience for drawing the characters, but I don’t have patience for the entire animation process.
In your drawings, there always seem to be two contrasting elements: the elegant, intricate and realistic beside the playful, quirky and cartoonish; the powerful and huge beside the tiny and irreverent. What is it that draws you to these contrasts?
Before I started combining both worlds, I just used a cartoon style, and before that, I just used a realistic style. A lot of artists use the realistic style; every artist I know knows how to draw that way. I had to think of another way just to be unique, to have an artistic identity, so I started doing cartoony stuff. In the Philippines this is a big thing, it’s called ‘doodle art’, and every art student, every high school student was doing it already! I liked both styles and I didn’t know which way to go. I didn’t want to go either way, so I decided to combine them. Only a few do it, and luckily I was recognised as one of the few. I’ve adapted to that style, and it presses upon every drawing I do now.
You’re very respected for the intricacy and detail of your images, but you also have that trademark playfulness: ‘Doodle’ replacing ‘Google’, for example, and I notice today you’re wearing a t-shirt that says ‘You are the product of TV’. Do you ever try to insert little messages about the world in your work?
Yeah, I guess so. Each piece is actually a huge, huge work composed of complex elements. If you look only once, you probably won’t see everything; you would have to look twice before picking up the message. But most of the time, there is no message at all. What fascinates me the most is when I post a piece that is totally random, no message at all, and some people email me and say, ‘This piece of yours reflects my life right now’, or ‘I created a poem out of this piece’. I mean, that’s just amazing! I used to believe that art should express a message, but when you solicit messages from your audience instead, that’s fascinating. That’s why I like doing random stuff.
The adult colouring-book craze has taken off. What do you think the appeal is for you and your audience?
When I was in the corporate world, I always wanted to find a way to de-stress. I was doing computer work every single day, so I had to find a way to remove all that stress, and I returned to drawing, doodling, which I do every night. To be honest, colouring is so stressful for me; I tried colouring my work, but it’s so stressful! I think the idea is: if you’re an adult dealing with a stressful day, you have to reconnect with that creative spark that we have always had, since we were kids. Someone told me that most of us start learning to draw, like learning to write, as kids. Now some people are finding ways to reconnect with that creative spark; it doesn’t matter if it’s colouring or it’s doodling. I think that’s what’s made this global phenomenon.
You define your pieces as ‘doodles’, but someone looking at your work might very well think, ‘I have a very different idea of what a doodle is!’ How would you define a ‘doodle’?
When I was first introduced to the doodle art community in the Philippines, I thought, ‘Oh, come on, these are not doodles. My doodles are unfocused, quirky drawings on my college calculus notes.’ They call it ‘doodle art’ in the sense that it retains the unfocused aspect – you don’t care if you make a mistake, there’s nothing technical involved. That’s the difference between doodle art and other art forms, where you have to consider perspective and colours. In doodling, you draw whatever you want, either focused or unfocused. I’d probably be more on the focused side; when I start doodling, you can’t talk to me anymore. But some are on the unfocused side and still make some really great work.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Most of the time, my imagination. Sometimes I’m inspired by experience, or a film, a song. Inspiration is everywhere.
When you begin, do you know what you want to get at the end?
No. I always look forward to that ‘aha!’ moment right after you finish the drawing, because you are not expecting anything, any message – you just draw whatever you want. It also fascinates me that after an hour of just pure drawing, you end up with this awesome work.
You’ve collaborated with some big brands in the past. What have been your favourite collaborations, and who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
I did one for Nike, which is one of the coolest companies I’ve worked with. I’m currently collaborating with BucketFeet, a shoe company; they’re releasing a shoe based on my work. That’s one of the coolest things I’ll be doing in the coming months.
I would probably pick Studio Ghibli or National Geographic, because I’m a huge fan of the channel and the magazine. I do a lot of nature stuff, and sometimes I even do work depicting climate change.
You do far more animals than people. Why?
Animals are the easiest subject for me. When you draw the faces of people, it’s a totally new world. It’s difficult for me. I go for animals because everyone loves animals. Also, I grew up in a house next to a rice field, very close to the river. We have a volcano, foliage everywhere. I think I got that inspiration from there.
When I look at the characters in your work, I often feel like they have this whole life, and I’m catching them in the middle of a big adventure. Would you ever work on a storybook?
I don’t think I could do one right now, because I don’t want to be dictated to by a story. I was offered to do a comic for Marvel, and I like Marvel, I love comic books and their movies; but I don’t see myself doing something from a storyline or a script, an idea from another person.
The colouring-book format makes the reader active rather than passive. How do you feel about the act of collaborating with the reader?
I considered Animorphia to just be another project; I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll do this and put it out there.’ When people started tagging my Instagram account on pieces they’d created, I was blown away by how much talent we have for the colouring industry! The artwork totally changes; it’s not my work anymore. Just to think that I started the outline for this beautiful colour drawing – I think it’s an honour for me.
I’m not the kind of person who plans out things. I want to be surprised by what the forces of nature will give me next. These [colouring-book] projects have given me a lot of opportunities, so I’m really just excited to see what happens next. I’m not a person who plans out the entire year – that’s so boring! I just wait and see.