Feeling uninspired? Wise words from top creatives (Rappler.com)

(First published on Rappler.com on February 12, 2014)

Graphika Manila 2014 poster | Taken from the Graphika Manila Facebook page
Graphika Manila 2014 poster | Taken from the Graphika Manila Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – What does it take to live a life less ordinary?

At the recently held Graphika Manila 2014, luminaries from the creative world shared the stage to talk about their creative process, their best work, the mistakes they’ve made, and lessons they’ve learned along the way.

We saw from their individual journeys that whatever the speakers’ backgrounds—whether they hailed from Barcelona or Bacolod, were a newbie or a veteran, worked freelance or in a studio—they all had one thing in common: they openly sought inspiration and designed their lives around what mattered most to them.

You can do it, too—regardless of your profession or passion. Here are 6 ideas to get you going:

1. Commit to your passions. Illustrator and creative director Ash Thorp admitted to coming from “humble beginnings,” and spent a lot of time drawing during his youth because he “didn’t have a lot of toys.

Thorp talked about his “year of complete potential”, during which he endured commutes every day from San Diego to Los Angeles “because L.A. is where the action is; it’s where Hollywood is.” Eventually, he got noticed by Hollywood producers, who commissioned him to do some work for the big-budget remake of Total Recall.

TOTAL RECALL. Screen shots of material produced by Thorp for the movie Total Recall. Used with permission from Ash Thorp
TOTAL RECALL. Screen shots of material produced by Thorp for the movie Total Recall. Used with permission from Ash Thorp

Today, Thorp lives back in San Diego with his wife and daughter, enjoying work and life as a freelancer.

His advice to the Graphika Manila 2014 crowd: “When there’s a trend happening, let the trend go [its] way and just be yourself.”

2. “Take your weakness and make it your strength.” New York-based illustrator and designerSara Blake/ZSO grew up near-sighted and with a “googly eye.”

Instead of looking at her near-sightedness as a weakness, Blake found inspiration in the many patterns she could see up close. Although she was a very shy child, Blake found solace in art and used her imagination and connection with nature to stand out from the crowd.

In a recent interview, Blake talked more about her creative journey and how she “embraced” her weaknesses to develop her own unique style.

Telling TheGreatDiscontent.com that she wasn’t the best illustrator when it came to drawing realistically, she said, “Instead, I decided to embrace that I use my instincts to determine what I would abstract and what I would base [on] reality.”

DON’T BE SCARED. “Skull 3”, pencil on smooth Bristol paper. Illustration by Sara Blake
DON’T BE SCARED. “Skull 3”, pencil on smooth Bristol paper. Illustration by Sara Blake

Blake tells the Graphika Manila audience, “Free yourself from anyone’s expectations but your own.”

3. Experiment. Learn. Have fun. (Rinse and repeat.) Creativity is the twin sister of experimentation. The more you experiment and learn, the more your mind stretches and makes creativity possible.

Each of the speakers talked about learning new skills, experimenting with new tools, and having fun with the process of discovery. Sara Blake even gave the audience a sneak peek into her creative process, showing time-lapse videos of her Photoshop screenshots.

In designing the typeface for her alias, ZSO, Sara Blake took inspiration from a heart, and joined the Z and the S in order to form an upside-down heart. Peacocks, owls, skulls, flowers, and other natural elements and patterns are also dominant in her work.

WEARABLE ART. Sara Blake, a.k.a ZSO, has ventured into designing fashion accessories, such as this peacock scarf. Photo courtesy of Sara Blake
WEARABLE ART. Sara Blake, a.k.a ZSO, has ventured into designing fashion accessories, such as this peacock scarf. Photo courtesy of Sara Blake

(READ: Take it from the masters: What art lovers can learn from experts)

4. Seek inspiration everywhere. Would you work with “Designers from Hell”? “Obviously, we’re not from hell,” quipped Teo Guillem and Carlos Pardo from Barcelona-based studio Dvein, but they were such huge fans of the rock band Pantera that they decided to name themselves after the Pantera album Cowboys from Hell. The word Dvein is an acronym for the phrase, DiseñadoresVEnido del INfierno.

“Ideas come from everywhere, from a mix of everything, like the Philippine jeepney,” Dvein said. “Sometimes you don’t know where your ideas will end up.”

ROCKSTAR DESIGNERS. To push the boundaries of their ideas, Dvein formed a band called The Vein, and created a music video for their song “Magma.” The result: liquid genius. Photo courtesy of Dvein
ROCKSTAR DESIGNERS. To push the boundaries of their ideas, Dvein formed a band called The Vein, and created a music video for their song “Magma.” The result: liquid genius. Photo courtesy of Dvein

Meanwhile, for Fil-Am Eugene Gauran, who now works as Design Director of the award-winning, international visual effects studio The Mill, it’s important to “be inspired by different forms of media.” Although working primarily with visual effects and computer graphics, he said that he finds inspiration in design-based forms because “everything starts with design, and you work your way up.”

5. Go ahead and be obsessed with your craft. “Obsession is the secret to an exciting life,” Bacolod-born Filipino designer Isabel Gatuslao said as she related how her “obsession” with typefaces and identity led her to do work for influential people, including interior designer Chat Fores, celebrity stylist Liz Uy, and, very recently, for Nike and NBA royalty Lebron James.

THE CUSTOM LEBRON X BY ISABEL GATUSLAO. Shoes made for royalty. Photo courtesy of Isabel Gatuslao
THE CUSTOM LEBRON X BY ISABEL GATUSLAO. Shoes made for royalty. Photo courtesy of Isabel Gatuslao

Every element must have a reason for being—else, it has no place in a well-designed piece.

Jessica Hische concurred. “As a lettering person, you get more obsessed with the smaller details,” she says. This attention to detail plays a key role in her work. In designing the cover of the book The Circle by Dave Eggers, which examines the issues raised by use of social media, illustrator and letterer Jessica Hische took inspiration from “the interweaving connectivity of social media sites.” The cover, which featured a cleanly beautiful spherical piece featuring interconnected orange links, was cited by the New York Times online as one of the best book covers of 2013.

For professional creatives, what matters to a client is to show work that reflects a clear and insightful strategy, a focused mind, and a clean, disciplined hand.

6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Every creative knows that his first draft or study will not be his last.

A simple tip for those who are afraid to get started out of fear of making a mistake? Start with a pencil sketch of your ideas before committing them to ink or a digital rendering. Pencil sketches or doodles get the mind’s creative juices flowing while being clear that “this is just a work in progress.” Plus, it’s easy to erase, making it less painful to undo an error.

Jessica Hische put it another way when she said, “It’s hard to get clients to believe you’re good at something unless you do it over and over.” Make those mistakes. Assess why they happened. Note that for the future.

This applies even if you’re not an artist. Make your ideas real by writing them down, examining them, and consulting the relevant parties.

In creativity, and in life, practice makes perfect – and profitable. – Rappler.com

Jim Libiran: The social auteur (Rappler.com)

Published in Rappler.com (August 14, 2012)

Photography by Catherine So | Rappler.com
Photography by Catherine So | Rappler.com

MANILA, Philippines – Watching Jim Libiran’s movies and listening to him talk with passion about the impact he hopes his work will bring to marginalized communities, you begin to wonder if “filmmaker” is an apt word for the man in front of you, considering his past lives as activist, award-winning writer and Xerex Xaviera alter-ego.

Perhaps “social auteur” would be a better term.

Libiran, whose feature films Tribu (2007) and Happyland (2011) have revealed unique angles about urban poor communities in his beloved Tondo, believes that working on a film gives one not just an opportunity to show real people in real conditions (think “poverty porn”). To him, films offer a concrete channel to provide people and communities with jobs, with exposure and with a real shot at a second life.

He shares, “The question I wanted to ask myself was: how can a film impact a community here and now? Not after the film is made, not years from now, but here and now?”

This is an excerpt only. To read the full article, visit the Rappler.com website, HERE.

Chris Martinez: Bringing Pinoy humor to life (Rappler.com)

Published in Rappler.com (August 13, 2012)

Photography by Cholo dela Vega. Grooming by Georginna Desuasido. | Rappler.com
Photography by Cholo dela Vega. Grooming by Georginna Desuasido. | Rappler.com

MANILA, Philippines – If you’ve seen or heard of the indie film Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (The Woman in the Septic Tank, 2011)Philippine cinema’s highest-grossing independent film to date, then you will have an idea of the kind of sensibility that it takes to capture a subject so irreverently yet so truthfully.

In the film, 3 film school graduates take on the lofty dream of producing an Oscar-worthy independent film about — what else? — poverty and prostitution in the Philippine slums (in this case, Payatas).

The film shows the young filmmakers experimenting with different treatments, exposing the tired old assumptions and formulas of Pinoy indie filmmaking.

It poked fun at the way the industry moved and looked at itself, and it made audiences laugh with recognition. It also made them think of the way Philippine art cinema kept on presenting itself to the world.

The film broke box-office records at the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and was later on bought by Star Cinema for a wider release. It became the most successful indie film in Philippine history, and won numerous awards for lead actress Eugene Domingo, director Marlon Rivera and screenwriter-producer Chris Martinez.

This is an excerpt only. To read the full post, visit the Rappler.com website, HERE.

Adolf Alix, Jr.: On loneliness and the cinematic experience (Rappler.com)

Published in Rappler.com (August 6, 2012)

DIREK ADOLF ALIX, JR. Photography by Cholo dela Vega. Grooming by Georginna Desuasido.
DIREK ADOLF ALIX, JR. Photography by Cholo dela Vega. Grooming by Georginna Desuasido.

MANILA, Philippines – Everyone goes through periods of loneliness.

It is a universal feeling — one that does not require a common language or culture to be understood.

In the case of Adolfo Alix, Jr., loneliness has become a subject of exploration and discovery, a theme that has allowed him to stretch the boundaries of filmmaking to see just how much he (and his audience) can discover.

“I read somewhere that one (feeling) that lingers the most is loneliness — sadness,” Alix shares. “I’m not a lonely person, I’m not a sad person; but I’ve realized that many of my films have an introspective quality about them.”

“I like to do films on themes that I’m not exactly familiar with,” he points out. “I like to experiment and try different milieus, different approaches.”

This is an excerpt only. To read the full article, visit the Rappler.com website, HERE.

Raya Martin: The enigma that is (Rappler.com)

Published in Rappler.com (August 1, 2012)

DIREK RAYA MARTIN. Photography by Cholo dela Vega. Grooming by Georginna Desuasido.
DIREK RAYA MARTIN. Photography by Cholo dela Vega. Grooming by Georginna Desuasido.

 

MANILA, Philippines – Twenty-eight-year-old filmmaker Raya Martin sure seems to love defying expectations.

His debut into the Philippine filmmaking scene took industry insiders by surprise, as the then-fresh graduate of the University of the Philippines Film Institute was unsuccessful at early attempts to get a job in Manila.

What he got, instead, was a filmmaking residency at the prestigious Cinéfondation Residence du Festival de Cannes in Paris, France — becoming the first Filipino filmmaker to be selected for the program.

That opened up for Martin, like Alice in the proverbial Wonderland, his very own cinematic rabbit hole.

“It was soooo crazy,” Martin recounts. “I was 21, I didn’t know anything, but I knew exactly what I wanted.”

This is an excerpt only. To read the full feature, visit the Rappler website HERE.

Jay Ignacio: Unsheathing the bladed hand (Rappler.com)

Published in Rappler.com (July 27, 2012)

DIREK JAY IGNACIO. Photography by Paelo Bunyi Pedrajas. Grooming by Tony Dusich
DIREK JAY IGNACIO. Photography by Paelo Bunyi Pedrajas. Grooming by Tony Dusich

MANILA, Philippines – He has had no formal training in filmmaking, and his path had once led him to playing guitar for the band DaPulis and a year of culinary studies in Florence.

But for first-time filmmaker Jay Ignacio, the unspoken stories around Filipino Martial Arts became such a compelling theme that he spent 3 years of his life documenting some of the Philippines’ most prominent, living Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) legends in a full-length documentary called The Bladed Hand.

“I was searching for a cultural story to tell,” shares the frustrated history teacher and part-time improv actor. “I looked at Philippine dance, I looked at theater, but there is no other indigenous art that has had such a global impact as FMA.

This is an excerpt only. To read the full text, visit the Rappler.com website HERE.

Why We Need The Joker… and 4 Other Political Lessons I Learned from The Dark Knight (Inquirer Blogs)

(Originally published in the blog Out of the Universeand in Inquirer Blogs)

 

The Dark Knight: The Joker
Photo from Filmsketchr.blogspot.com

In his piece on Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight for Time, Richard Corliss writes, “Nolan has a… subversive agenda. He wants viewers to stick their hands down the rat hole of evil and see if they get bitten. With little humor to break the tension, The Dark Knight is beyond dark. It’s as black—and teeming and toxic—as the mind of The Joker.”

Having watched the film twice—first on Imax and next on a regular theater—I can’t help but agree that The Joker is a better reference for the film than its real protagonist, Batman. Spawned right from the center of Limbo, with all the qualities we find loathsome, pitiful, and yet terrifying, The Joker is a reminder of everything we DON’T want human beings to become. Quoting Corliss again, the late Heath Ledger’s Joker “observes no rules, pursues no grand scheme; he’s the terrorist as improv artist.”

But I’d take it a few notches further and say that The Joker is the film’s “inverted social conscience,” the dreaded, deadly disease that makes society work together to find a cure. It is he who asks the hard questions, he who challenges the taken-for-granted assumptions, he that pushes humanity to see how low they would really sink—or how far they could really rise. He is the ultimate “necessary evil” that forces us to see just what we’re really made of. A composite of everything that is wrong, perverse, and twisted in our society, it is he who nonetheless shows us our true potentials for greatness.

It just goes to show that, in the movies—as well as in politics and the rest of real life—there’s a lot we can learn from the bad guys. We cannot simply turn our eyes away from them, or pretend they’re not there, or make believe that they will simply go away. They will not—for they are here to stay. But instead of ignoring them because they’re such “bad examples,” we should study them, dissect them—even if we don’t understand them—and see how we can stop the rest of the world from joining their ranks.

Crooks (trapos included) DO have a purpose. They’re there to show us what can happen if we let ourselves slide too deeply.

Which brings us to Lesson # 2: Harvey Dent.

The Dark Knight: Harvey DentGotham’s fearless, charismatic new district attorney is the ultimate tragedy of human potential. He starts out as everyone’s hero, Gotham’s “White Knight” who has come to save the day—except that when he collides with the dark forces we find that his foundation was too weak to stand against the very forces that ultimately subsumed him. This is what happens when we depend on one person to be our Messiah. People are people—even in this age of celebrities, icons, and “modern-day heroes”—and they will slip, or slide, or sink (sometimes very, very low). When we pin all our hopes on just one person (or one entity, or one ideal), the results can be tragic. The solution is to empower everyone to be the source of the solution. (Which, ironically, is what The Joker attempted to do in the hospital and ferry scenes—regardless of his twisted definition of the “solution”.)

Lesson #3: When push comes to shove, trust people to do the right thing.

Speaking of the ferry scene, another point the movie made very well was that everyone, even the lowest scoundrels of society, has some emergency button of goodness within them that they can access and activate even at the most desperate times of their lives. Just give them a compelling reason and just enough time (but not too much) to think through their decision, and people will almost always gravitate toward the good. I’m no expert in human behavior and so I cannot vouch for this as truth, but I believe that when we put our faith in people—and they know how important their choices will be for everyone else on board—they will do their best to make the right decision. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible, even outside of Hollywood.

Lesson #4: Sometimes, the “right thing” (or person) is difficult to understand, or even recognize.

How will you know that you’ve done the right thing? How will you know that you’ve chosen the right person? You won’t—not at the onset, or not always. Because, sometimes, the person whom you thought was the answer will leave you disappointed and asking more painful questions. If Harvey Dent had lived and had been allowed to unleash the fullness of his newfound glory upon Gotham, what would have happened? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that we cannot allow something like that to happen HERE. We cannot allow ourselves to be bought by the winning smile, the boy-next-door look, or the Messianic pronouncements. Even when looking at one’s track record (as in Harvey Dent’s case), we have to go over every detail very, very carefully.

Conversely, we also cannot simply discount the “dark horse” as a nuisance entity or a subversive force that must be stopped. It’s possible for the totally misunderstood rebel to be exactly what we need. Sometimes, collective understanding arrives so slowly that we are not able to recognize a hero when we see one. So we cannot trust our gut or our intellect alone. When looking at people we need to understand the context of their actions, and also the context of the decisions we need to make. In Gotham, as in real life, nothing is truly black or white.

Lesson #5: Sometimes, we need to live with lies in order to find our truth.

The Dark Knight: BatmanNobody understood this better than Batman himself. He has had to perpetuate a lie in order to allow justice to prevail, even allowing Two-Face to be seen as the Knight in Shining Armor that everyone needed him to be. Sometimes, we need to live with a lie in order for truth, justice, and goodness to prevail—so that the delicate threads that weave our social fabric do not disintegrate and explode into chaos.

The challenge, then, is discerning which lies we need and which ones we should never entertain.