Unboxing: A Behind the Scenes Look

Recurring Boxes

I keep coming back to boxes.

In 2005, my friends and I made a short film for our Electronic Media class about a boy and a box that took him to different places. The short stars Joel Torre (On the Job) and Elijah Castillo (Pisay).


There’s a scene (SPOILERS) wherein the boy finds his box mangled and discarded in a trash can. I took that scene directly from my own childhood, wherein a box that I had played with and imagined as a submarine was mangled and discarded when I got back from school. A few years later, I revisited the idea of magical traveling box for a little comic strip I did for an Ang INK Catalog.






Now, I’ve made a painting featuring another box.

Pasalubong Final

Balikbayan Boxes

My father worked in Saudi Arabia in the late 70s and early 80s back when they still called them OCWs (Overseas Contract Worker). Many of my friends also have parents or relatives that have worked and continue to work abroad. The idea of having at least one OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) in the family is a common Filipino experience.  The promise of a better life by working abroad is a well-worn cliché, but it nonetheless continues to pull families apart.

Part of the experience of having a relative abroad is receiving a balikbayan box – a package of gifts and goodies ranging from chocolates to gadgets. Sadly, in the same way that gifts arrive in boxes, sometimes loved ones arrive home in the same way – a body in a box, a victim of violence and tragedy.

Ideas Arrive at Odd Places

The image of body parts stuffed in a balikbayan box struck me while I was driving along EDSA. As grisly as it sounds, gore wasn’t what was on my mind. I held the image in my head until I got a chance to draw it.

Pasalubong Study

But when I got around to putting it to paper, the image I drew didn’t live up to what was in my head. So I left it unfinished.

Revisiting Old Boxes

When it was time to make paintings for my exhibit with Sergio Bumatay, I revisited the balikbayan box sketch and made some adjustments to the composition. I ended up with this:


When I was satisfied with the sketch, I transferred the drawing onto canvas.


Then the painting began. I decided to go a bit monochromatic with the painting, using more desaturated colors and dull hues.



I started with the figures, although in hindsight maybe I should have done the background first. I honestly don’t know.





And here’s the finished piece.

Pasalubong Final


The Filipino word baon, in different contexts, either means “packed meals” or “provisions”. 

“May dala akong baon,” could be translated to “I packed my lunch”.

On the other hand, using the word baon in the context of packing provisions for a trip is all about being prepared for whatever situation.

Pinabaunan mo ba siya ng payong/jacket/kapote? (Did you have him pack his/her umbrella/jacket/raincoat? “Pinabaunan” being a conjugation of “baon”)

lunchboxI like using the word in a creative context when referring to ideas. Back when I still worked in an advertising agency, my team mates and I often used the word when we had a  scheduled brainstorming session with our Creative Director. We would ask each other:

“May baon ka ba?” (“Did you bring your ideas?”).

Or sometimes satisfyingly declare: “May baon ako” (“I have my ideas tucked in here, thank you very much.”).

So, in the context of creativity, when you never know when an idea drought will occur or when creative constipation will strike, I’ve begun to learn the importance of having ideas stowed away for instant access. Yup, may baon ako.

I’d like to share the ways in which I stow ideas or images for days when I need them the most.



More often than not, I bring a sketchbook wherever I go. I use the Moleskine Carnet de Croquis. Moleskines are expensive . Too expensive in fact, when any notebook with similarly creamy and acid free pages will do. But believe me I’ve tried other notebooks. I just keep sticking to my moleskines. This, of course, is a matter of preference as much as routine.

The Moleskine Carnet de Croquis has thick, smooth and creamy pages. Emphasis on the smooth. I like working on pencil for my studies and rendering my drawings on the Moleskine sketchbook allows me to see every stroke without smudging the graphite too much. The thick pages can take a lot of punishment from erasures or even acrylic paint, gesso, or from sticking it with all sorts of junk for collages.

And so far, a lot of the images I made into large paintings came from my Moleskine notebook. So if it works, why change it? The point is though, it’s nice to always bring a sketchbook to capture images wherever you go and for me, it’s a place where I can unselfconsciously play around with images.



I tend to fill my Moleskine with pencil drawings so I like keeping a separate smaller (and cheaper) notebook to jot down notes and do writing on the fly. I tend to fill these notebooks with all sorts of things, from lists, meeting notes, doodles, computations, essays and diagrams. Despite having digital devices, I still like writing in longhand and these notebooks are a dumping ground for anything that comes to mind so they tend to be ugly and unintelligible to other people.



An Idea Box is like a piggy bank, except instead of coins I drop in pieces of paper with statements, words and idea fragments in them. When I need a random starter, I just pick out several pieces of paper from the box and mash them together.


evernoteIt’s a digital world and not everything can be easily recorded with a pencil and paper. Evernote is handy for keeping track of all sorts of information. The app allows you to separates topics into different notebooks where you can clip web articles, photos, and voice recordings.

I use Evernote for saving articles, links and ideas from the internet and clipping reference photos  or even pages from books and notebooks. I have dedicated notebooks for topics that interest me and projects and ideas that I’m working on. So far, the app has been a handy way to bring in the digital references into my workflow.

So there. Whatever tool you use, it’s important to record or note down ideas as they happen because chances are, you’ll end up forgetting them. Also, waiting around for ideas to pop out of the ether is pointless. One should always schedule time for just pure creative play and ideation or as Todd Henry in the The Accidental Creative calls it, “Unnecessary Creating”. It’s about making stuff up for YOU without thinking about a client or deadlines.

Well, that’s it. I hope that was useful to somebody.