I was invited to participate in a drawing exhibit at the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum. I don’t think I’ve ever drawn something this big. It was fun and liberating not having to worry about color.
I’ve always wanted to do book covers, but I don’t get that many opportunities to really make them. I was lucky enough to recently get a simple redesign project from Anvil Publishing for one of their young-adult novels – Owl Friends written by Carla Pacis.
The novellette is set in the aftermath of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991 when residents were forced to flee their homes and relocate to safer areas. The story centers around the unlikely friendship between a young girl and an Aeta boy despite the prejudices against the Aeta triebe. The Aetas are one of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.
Here’s the original book cover illustrated by Yasmin Ong.
In developing the studies, I tried two approaches – one similar to the previous cover where it focused on their faces, and the other used a wider shot that included the book’s setting.
Here’s the final render of the cover spread.
The Ms. Universe Pageant was held in the Philippines this year, and during the commercial breaks, Boysen Paints aired a series of Koreanovela inspired Permacoat TV Ads. I was tasked by the production team handling the TVC to create the design of the mural artwork that was going to be used as a main plot point in the story.
The design went through several iterations before it was finally approved. Here are some of the studies along with the final design.
The story of Ibong Adarna – the mystical bird whose singing cures an ailing king – is part of any Filipino’s childhood storyscape. The epic was written in the 15th century during the Spanish times as a corrido, or a narrative song in the form of a poem. The story has been popularized by adaptations in film, TV, and other media. I confess that I may not have read the actual poem, since we discussed a different epic poem when I was in high school.
A couple of months ago, Adarna House, one of the Philippines’ children’s books publishers asked me to illustrate the cover and provide chapter breaks for a new edition of the book edited by National Artist Virgilio Almario. I finally got to read the entire text for the first time.
The initial direction for the cover art was more in line with 60’s Marvel Comics covers, that’s why the initial type treatment was more bombastic.
But after a couple of iterations, we settled on the direction below.
Before rendering anything though, I made some rough character studies for the main characters. The character studies served as a guide when I was making the comic page style chapter breaks.
Here are the chapter breaks for the book rendered in comics form.
“Masasabi na ang Infinito Dios o ang Nuno (katutubong Bathala ng mga Tagalog) ay ang henyo o galing ng mga Pilipino na napasok sa bato o anting-anting, na kailan man ay hindi nakapamulaklak at nakapanaig dahil sa kahirapan at kawalan ng kapangyarihan.”
– Nenita Pambid, “Anting-Anting: O Kung Bakit Nagtatago sa Loob ng Bato si Bathala”
I grew up listening to stories about anting-antings, sacred amulets that gave the wearer powers and protection. In movies, the actor Ramon Revilla popularized the idea of the anting-anting. I saw the old Ramon Revilla flicks on afternoon TV after coming home from school. There was Nardong Putik, the hoodlum turned folk hero in Revilla’s movies who became invisible when in contact with mud. I remember Kapitan Inggo, Kumakain ng Bala who made snacks of bullets. There were stories that you had to stand underneath a banana blossom (puso ng saging) at night while waiting for it open and eject a droplet of magical juice. The supplicant must catch the droplet in the mouth to receive magical powers.
My grandmother gave me a rosary and told me to keep it close like a sacred amulet. She had an old prayer book bound in black cloth, pages yellowed and smelling of age. And I imagined it to be an object of power, like an ancient book of spells. I took it to school and kept it in my pocket and I imagined it had magic.
In Quiapo, vendors sell amulets beside the Catholic Church. Supplicants touch the statues of saints with their handkerchiefs and rub it on their bodies as a kind of benediction.
The Filipino revolutionary Macario Sakay famously wore a vest with inscriptions as an anting-anting to ward of danger and harm. It didn’t work though; he was hanged by the Americans.
The idea of magical talismans permeates Filipino popular culture, even in our superheroes. Whereas, American superheroes were born out of science experiments, many Filipino superheroes possess magical objects that grant them powers. The superheroine Darna, who in her civilian guise is a crippled girl named Narda, accesses her powers by swallowing a rock that fell out of the sky. Then there’s Captain Barbell who transforms from his scrawny alter ego by lifting a magic barbell.
In the mythological landscape of the Philippines, it seems you can possess God through objects.
While preparing for my painting “Bathala sa Bato” (24 x 48 in., Acrylic on Canvas), I turned to Nenita Pambid’s book “Anting-Anting: O Kung Bakit Nagtatago sa Loob ng Bato si Bathala”
Scholarly research into anting-antings can be difficult to find. That’s why Pambid’s book is a gem.
Although it could have greatly benefitted from better production values and colored photos, it remains an interesting glimpse into the world of these mysterious amulets.
Books are receptacles of stories. They’re like sculptures of information – words and stories made into tangible objects. Books are also metaphors for people’s identities and memories. The pieces revolve around the idea of the breakdown of these identities and the slow dissolution of memories. Specific stories and personalities dissolve and run together. Singular identities lose cohesion until they become anonymous. The books try to depict that moment before all identity and story dissolves. In that moment, the object is in flux and becomes something new and different.
Our collaboration with Fedrigoni Asia arrived a couple of weeks ago. It’s an artbook / catalogue featuring the various special papers Fedrigoni offers.
All artworks contain or feature different paper elements.