Owl Friends

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.




Ang Ibong Adarna

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.


Unapproved Study


Final Illustration

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.


Chapter 1


Chapter 2


Chapter 3


Chapter 4


“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.

Process: Mito ng Pagkalalaki (Myth of Manhood)

filipino myths and legends

I barely made it to this exhibit. But I managed to submit something just in time.


I decided to start with a black ground.

Mito Process


I began painting most of the elements in grisaille with the intention of glazing in the colors for the final stages.


Some flat elements were rendered in acrylic.




Here, I started to glaze on the colors.



I didn’t color in everything though. I still left some portions in monochrome.


Here’s the 3 x 5 ft. finished piece.

The Secret: Behind the Scenes

I like reading about how other artists made their works. I love how the curtain is peeled back on the finished product to reveal what went on behind the scenes. Here’s a little of what went on while working on my most recent painting: The Secret. 

The Secret



This painting went through several incarnations. The first one was more elaborate, but the main focus was always the two children holding on to something. This first sketch was more surreal, with the children burying something that reminded me of the mandrake root in Harry Potter. I tabled that sketch for a few months but I knew I was going to include it in my two-man show with Serj Bumatay.

The Secret - 1st Study

When I was finally cramming for the exhibit and feeling that I had very little time left, I redid the image into something simpler. I removed all the other elements and focused on the children. And once again, I set aside the sketch for a bit while I executed the other paintings that had more definite images.


When I had finished all the other paintings for the exhibit, I went back to this piece and tried to flesh out the sketch it out into a size proportional to 4 x 3 ft.

For some reason, I couldn’t do it. I was uncomfortable with the proportions of the image. I can’t explain it better than that.

So I redid the entire thing. Since the exhibit date was fast approaching, my mind was working on overdrive and suddenly the image of two children tangled in branches popped into my head. The children were holding something, I decided it was a box. What’s inside? Does it matter?

the_secret_3nd_sketchPreparing the canvas

I bought my canvas, pre-primed, pre-stretched and mounted on a boxframe with a plywood backing from The Oil Paint Store but I still wanted to prime the canvas with premium gesso.

So applied several layers of white gesso on to the canvas, while sanding down the surface in between layers.


Then, I used modeling paste to texture the surface of the canvas.

Modeling paste

I applied the modeling paste with a rubber paint spreader and a pallette knife.

Pallette knife and paint spreader

While the paste was still wet, I etched lines and patterns on to the surface of the canvas using this thing:

Paint scraper

When the the modeling paste dried, I sandpapered the surface. The result looked like this:


Then, I covered the entire surface with gray gesso. I had previously mixed up a batch using black and the white gessoes.

Black gesso

Gray gesso

Paints I Use

I use Cobra Water Mixable Oil Paints mainly for health reasons and convenience. I work in a small space and using solvents with traditional oils releases a powerful smell throughout the house. Water mixable paints on the other hand, can be cleaned with soap and water.

Cobra water mixable paints

Transferring the Drawing

I used a grid to transfer my drawing onto the canvas. Some people use ink to darken and permanently fix the drawing on to the surface. I sometimes do that, but I decided to go with my pencil drawing.


The Secret WIP 01

The Secret WIP 02

The Secret

Zap: Process work for the Ink Corner

My humble process for the artwork I made for Manila Bulletin’s InK (Ilustrador ng Kabataan) Corner. This piece came out in today’s issue of the Manila Bulletin.

Preliminary pencils, combination of 4H and 6B pencils on Bristol Board

Starting the tones, 6B on bristol board

Scanned file, 600 dpi

Color flats, separate layer from pencils and made through with the lasso tool

Channel selected the pencil art and changed the color

Finished piece. Added text and vector screens at the back. This is probably the closest thing to a superhero drawing I've done in ages.