Hello, it's been a while

I was supposed to do some admin work this morning, but then I saw my website backend window and thought, "hmm maybe it's a good time to update this space" (very much inspired by my friend Kat's recent blog adventures). So if you're new here, hello! If you're an old friend, welcome back.

My last active post was dated February 2017, and even though I wrote some things after that, I felt like they're not what I wanted to express in this journal, so off to the archives they went. Housekeeping, I'd like to call it.

So, I guess this is where I give you updates, but first, a backstory. Late last year, I made my first ever vision board, hoping that it would give me direction in terms of my art career. I wrote down goals, added motivational quotes, and looked at it everyday. I also thought that the first step to achieving my goals was to build a body of work, so I dedicated the first quarter of 2018 to fixing my portfolio. That meant saying no to other opportunities and slowing down or taking a step back in other areas (like production, commission work, and events), but I felt like I had to build a strong foundation in order for my art career to flourish. 

 Lots of things happened, and lots of art were made!

Lots of things happened, and lots of art were made!

Looking back at the first quarter of 2018, I think I did a pretty solid job. I made tons of art, I learned new techniques, and I updated my portfolio with new work that I liked. That last part is really important to me because I have a tendency to be hard on myself. Now I feel like I can face the rest of the year with confidence. :)

I'm on TinyLetter!

I love writing, but this blogging thing isn't really...well, my thing. Believe me, I tried making a schedule for it so I make sure it's updated, brainstormed and listed down topics to write about, but to no avail. I figured being an introvert could have something to do with my apprehension--it felt so unlike me to share (or overshare?) online. Clicking the "publish" button on posts made me anxious in the past, and being an overthinker certainly didn't help. Did my post make sense? Would people misinterpret what I wrote? Did I say something offensive? Aaaaah!

I still want to continue writing, and I hope to do that by starting a TinyLetter account. I feel like having this platform to converse and exchange ideas will be more beneficial than an outdated blog. I will still post announcements and news here, but if you want to get a behind-the-scenes look at my process or access to unfiltered thoughts, I invite you to sign up.

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P.S. I promise not to spam you, as I can only commit to writing one letter a week.

Thank you, 2016, for all these things

2016 was the year that seemed to fly by quickly yet drag on endlessly at the same time. For the most part I hated it because of what was happening all around me, but when I take into account all the wonderful things that did make their way into my life, it's not such a bad year after all. I cannot possibly list down everything I am grateful for, but here's a rundown of things/events/people/opportunities that made the biggest creative impact on me this year.

My trip to Taiwan

Before flying to Taipei in March, there were only two items in my itinerary: to visit the 24-hour branch of the Eslite bookstore chain and to drink my weight in milk tea. But Taiwan proved to be more than just the land of Chatime. I quickly grew fond of it because of our mutual love for cute, local handmade goods. I went home full of inspiration. I'd even go as far as to say Taipei is my new favorite city (sorry, Tokyo)!

 If I could summarize my trip into four words they would be: rain, tea, books, art

If I could summarize my trip into four words they would be: rain, tea, books, art

Summer of learning

I didn't have a lot of client work and product dev to do over the summer so I signed up for A LOT of e-courses. It felt great to be a student again and to incorporate new techniques to my usual process of making. One of my goals for the new year is to carve out more time for learning and improving!

 One of my projects for the Make Art That Sells course, done with the help of things I learned from Skillshare

One of my projects for the Make Art That Sells course, done with the help of things I learned from Skillshare

The 100-day project

I think I've said it numerous times before that I work in bursts, so to stay committed to a project for 100 days seemed like an insurmountable task. But thanks to my friend and project accountability buddy, Ria, I managed to stay on track and finish my #100daysofanimalsdoingstuff. I worked on another project after that, and while it's in limbo right now, I plan to continue working on it once the holiday rush subsides.

 Group selfie for Day 100!

Group selfie for Day 100!

Parkfest

One of my dreams is to work on large scale pieces, and 2016 proved ready to grant my wish. This year I worked on multiple mural projects, starting with the very intimidating Parkfest wall for Nayong Pilipino. Why did this scare the hell out of me? First, it was a permanent exhibit at a public park. Second, it was in collaboration with artist June Digan. Third, we only had a couple of days to finish. Waaaaah panic attack! I managed to complete my piece but honestly, I wasn't 100% satisfied. That experience taught me to work better and harder on my next murals!

 Parfest mural in progress

Parfest mural in progress

Providore

I personally think my mural at Providore in SM Aura was my best lettering work in 2016. Earlier this year I was thinking of transitioning to illustration and forgetting about lettering altogether, but this project made me realize how much I enjoyed lettering. And it also taught me that it really makes physically and logistically difficult work enjoyable when you and the client are on the same page.

 One of the areas I worked on for Providore

One of the areas I worked on for Providore

Art demos with Simbalion

Being an introvert, holding a workshop for 15 people is nerve-racking for me. So when Simbalion approached me earlier this year to hold a watercolor lettering demo for them in a mall, I said yes before I could even overthink it. Aside from confronting my public speaking fears, this opportunity made me want to go deeper into my exploration of traditional, analog art so I can share more information with future students.

 SM Southmall demo. Photo by  @smstationeryph

SM Southmall demo. Photo by @smstationeryph

Common Room Rockwell

When Ate Roma and Ate Maan told us that we were opening a six-month Common Room pop-up at the Powerplant Mall in Rockwell, the thought of having another branch was just so exciting. But then in dawned on me (and maybe the rest of the partners as well), that it meant double the work of making stocks for the holidays. Looking back at how I handled this challenge, I would say I was much better at keeping my shelves full this year compared to 2015. Thanks to the constant encouragement of Ate Roma and Ate Maan, I think my business sense took a big step forward in 2016.

 Rockwell ingress. Photo by  @commonroomph

Rockwell ingress. Photo by @commonroomph

Big Magic, revisited

After completing my first 100-day project, I felt a little lost because I didn't know what I should do after. I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic a little less than a year after I first read it, and I'm glad I did because it gave me the creative boost to get on with the rest of 2016. It reminded me that the act of making should be a joy in itself, and that the results should not matter. This was just what I needed, because I was starting to feel conscious about making designs for my holiday products. To this day I keep excerpts of it in my phone to read whenever I need a little pick-me-up.

 I hand-lettered one of my favorite quotes from the book

I hand-lettered one of my favorite quotes from the book

#RealTalkTambay

Undoubtedly one of the main highlights of my year, #RealTalkTambay was something I didn't realize would have such an impact. It started within my group of friends, which then expanded into a slightly bigger group on Instagram. I still couldn't believe we managed to get people together to share their experiences, struggles, and stories about creativity and inspiration (or lack thereof). I hope we can continue to build a positive, creative community in 2017!

 The first ever #RealTalkTambay session

The first ever #RealTalkTambay session

The Japan trip that never was

I am ending this list with something that didn't happen this year but left me feeling hopeful for next year. I was supposed to fly to Tokyo in late November, but I decided to cancel the trip at the very last minute. And by "at the very last minute" I meant that I was already waiting to board the plane at the airport when I decided to head back home. I was worried about an upcoming art fair I had in BGC and my December stocks, and I could not possibly enjoy my time away with all these concerns in mind. I didn't even mind that I "wasted" my fare and just focused on how I could earn it back. I felt like this was the most mature decision I made this year, prioritizing by business over personal whims. One of my goals for 2017 is to be more financially and business savvy, and I can't wait to see where I can take my brand this coming year!

I know during New Year's eve many of us feel empowered to make our lives better than the year that was. I am no different, but this time I feel like I am more ready. Instead of resolutions, I have goals. Instead of dreams, I have plans. And with conviction I can declare: 2017, I am ready for you!

Real thoughts on #RealTalkTambay

#RealTalkTambay is a pet project that is slowly taking over my life. It started out as an item on my to-do list, something new to try. I'd like to think that it was an idea triggered by a random post on Instagram, but in reality the seeds for it were planted as early as last year.

 The post that started it all (sort of). I was feeling really insecure about my art and then I re-read  Big Magic  by Elizabeth Gilbert and came across this line.

The post that started it all (sort of). I was feeling really insecure about my art and then I re-read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and came across this line.

Around two months ago I was immersed in my "100 Days, 100 Desks" project and was slowly losing interest in it. I tend to work that way; my enthusiasm ebbs and flows whenever I need to engage in repetitive things over a period of time. I decided that I needed a break so I hand-lettered the quote above. It spoke to me then, because I was feeling the pressure to work on the project even though it wasn't fun anymore, and that was making me frustrated and insecure about my work. I felt like I was half-assing my project. I posted the quote to Instagram and was kind of surprised that a lot of people felt the same way. (Thinking about it now, yes, frustration and insecurity are fairly common feelings. I live under a rock most of the time, in utter isolation, so I forget these things.) On a whim I asked my friends if they were interested in holding an event where we can talk about the creative life, the fun and not-so-pleasant parts of it. People responded to our online call-out, and #RealTalkTambay was born. We talked about topics like pricing, dealing with clients, managing self-doubt, making products, paying taxes--things that aren't typically discussed openly.

Around this time last year, I had a similar but more convoluted idea: a business course for creatives. I was really tired of conducting basic lettering workshops at the time, so I wanted to create a course that would teach advanced lettering and other skills needed to run a creative business around it, like making contracts and building a portfolio. That idea needed so much commitment to bring to life, commitment I did not have, so I abandoned it shortly after its conception.

But let's go back to #RealTalkTambay. After the first event in September, I felt like we were on to something. People were...hungry (?) for something like it. For a venue where they could share their experiences and opinions without judgment. Where they could ask questions without hesitation. A safe space for information and inspiration exchange. I felt like we were building a community of creatives willing to help one another.

 The first #RealTalkTambay on September 17, 2016 - one of the best days of my year, and probably my life.

The first #RealTalkTambay on September 17, 2016 - one of the best days of my year, and probably my life.

We staged another session one month after, and by taking in all the comments from the participants, I want to keep improving #RealTalkTambay so we can reach out to more people and grow the community. But those objectives present challenges, too.

First, I am running the operations by myself. From making the posters to online promotions to booking the venues and handling registrations, it gets tiring and sometimes takes my focus off my real work. Of course, the events wouldn't be possible without my friends saying yes to share their stories, but I don't want to hassle them further by delegating admin tasks. Sure, I could probably get interns or volunteers in the future, but we'll see what happens.

Second, I want to offer the same kind of content and atmosphere every session, but I also don't want to alienate past participants by discussing the same things over and over. This is a hard one, and sometimes thinking of a new twist or a new format is even more taxing than the actual organizing of the event.

Third, I have commitment issues. Because of its (originally non-intended) community building aspect, #RealTalkTambay is looking to be a long-term thing. I don't know if I have the energy to sustain it. I know I want to, and usually that's enough to keep it going, but I really don't know where to go from here. I have vague plans of what I want to do next year, but nothing's set in stone yet.

And lastly, I want to have an open and supportive creative community, but I also want some sort of assurance that we are not becoming spoonfeeders. One thing I'd really, really hate is for #RealTalkTambay to attract the wrong kind of audience, people who are too lazy to do their own research and instead join a one-time event. And one thing I'd hate more than that is for #RealTalkTambay to turn the community we've started to build into that kind of people. This is my biggest concern, because I believe that by making information available, we are empowering other creatives to build a better career for themselves. But I also believe that self-education is important, and for #RealTalkTambay to be truly effective, people must act on what they have learned and do further research after the event.

Of course, I realize that it's not about what I want anymore. #RealTalkTambay has a life of its own now, and maybe my friends and I are only here to steer it in a direction that would make it beneficial to a larger group of people. I really have no idea what the concept will evolve into in the future, but I am more hopeful than scared.

Some thoughts on art style

Ever since the second #RealTalkTambay wrapped up (you don't have to remind me that I need to write about that!), I haven't been making as much as I would have liked, and that usually means something's bothering me. I'd say 30% of the time I am worrying about an upcoming trip, 20% of the time I am feeling the pressure to come up with new products for the holidays, and 50% of the time I am thinking about some things that I haven't had the time to think about for the past two months. That's what busyness does to me; I forget about the things that usually keep me up at night. But thanks to a couple of art tambays I had with friends last week, these issues have found their way back to the surface. One of them is art style.

Earlier this month I conducted four watercolor lettering demos. In a mall. With lots of people. Totally terrifying for an introvert, but I guess I have learned how to put a brave face on when it comes to these things. I have taught many workshops before, but I don't know, somehow doing demos is scary for me because 1) I feel responsible for a brand, 2) I feel accountable for all the participants, and 3) I feel inadequate and under-qualified. Is this impostor syndrome all over again?

Look, I know I am not the best watercolor letterer/illustrator/artist out there, and I do feel grateful that opportunities are coming my way, but at the same time I wonder why. Why me? There are people who are much more talented and much more skilled than me!

One of my friends has this theory that people approach me to do stuff for them because they are looking for a recognizable style and are not necessarily after the best technical execution. Now I don't really know how to feel about that because,  like I've expressed many times before, I don't see myself as having a distinct style. (Seriously, what is wrong with me?!?!?) Maybe I haven't realized it yet. When I look at my work, I see fragments of unfinished projects. My attention span is very, very short; I get bored easily so I rarely see personal projects to their end. And I like working on a lot of different things. One day I'd be painting quotes, the next day I'd be digitizing illustrations, the following week I'd be designing products. I am all over the place! I used to be really bothered by this, but I think I've made peace with this side of myself, except on days like this when I think about things too much. There are times when I feel like my distinct personal art style is playing hide-and-seek with me, and I am always kulelat. But I trust that sometime in the future a common theme will emerge from my work, make itself obvious, and tie the loose ends together.

Besides, I'd like to believe that the only connecting thread my work needs is me, that I made all of them. But sometimes the world makes me feel like that's not enough. I'd hate to think it all boils down to marketing. God, I hate self-promotion and personal branding! My friends know this; how I cringe at the thought of consciously marketing myself and building a following. I am old-school in the sense that I believe great work will market itself, that finding an audience is simply a by-product of making something that is true to oneself and is relatable to other people. But if I want to book my dream clients and projects, I must put my work (and myself) out there, and I feel like sometimes people are looking at the person and not the work anymore. Kind of like the way people are drawn to the flatlay photo of an artwork and not the artwork itself. This is all so confusing!!!

At the end of the day, I go back to my notes on Big Magic and remind myself that all of these concerns do not matter. The act of creating is what's essential, and the joy it brings should be enough motivation for me do it again and again.

Commission: Providore Mural

This has got to be one of my most favorite mural projects so far. When my friend Erika contacted me on a Sunday night about meeting for a mural project, I did not know I would be working on it the very next day. A new restaurant, Providore, was opening in SM Aura in three days, and they needed stuff written on walls. I said yes, even though at that moment I might have known I had bitten off more than I can chew. I was already waist-deep in commission work with several personal projects on the side, but I dragged my sister with me to Taguig and made it happen.

Providore had three areas: a retail space, a coffee bar, and a bistro. Each one required a bit of lettering to show what sort of items they offered. Since the kitchen staff and service crew were already preparing for their soft opening, I tackled the retail area first. The tasked seemed easy on paper (black lettering on a white surface), but being perched on top of a ladder was what made it challenging. As I did the writing, my sister checked the alignment and kerning from the ground. Thank goodness we used a black chalk marker because a lot of adjustments had to be made along the way!

 Providore has a retail area that houses a number of local brands.

Providore has a retail area that houses a number of local brands.

We finished the retail area around mall closing hours, so we went back the next day to work on the rest. We worked on the coffee bar side next, which had the same size panels as the retail area but in black. That made the process a little easier because I can draft the text in chalk before filling it in with a white marker. The most difficult part of this entire experience came when I had to work on their frozen custard menu. Aside from being on a ladder, I had to work with an additional obstacle: an ice cream machine. The blackboard was also on a diagonal so the surface was really close to my face; being farsighted, I couldn't read what I was writing.

 After hours at Providore's coffee bar. Their pastries helped keep us awake throughout the process.

After hours at Providore's coffee bar. Their pastries helped keep us awake throughout the process.

Gladly we finished in time for their soft opening. We had to leave the premises because the kitchen needed to be fully operational then. We went back at 10PM to work on the biggest project of all: the large mural on their kitchen cabinets. Providore's management provided a concept, but I am glad they allowed me to interpret it in my style. Originally we thought we'd be done by 2AM but we finished close to 4AM. We left SM Aura that morning satisfied with our work, and the client was happy as well! (And we managed to tick an item off our bucket list: to spend the night in a mall, haha!)

 The finished mural for the bistro, one of the biggest that I've done.

The finished mural for the bistro, one of the biggest that I've done.

Some takeaways from this project:

  • Stock up on chalk markers/paint pens. I've learned that mural work is easier when using pens instead of brushes and paint. I have better control over my strokes, it is easier to cover the surface evenly, and it dries faster.
  • Listen to the client's brief. Understanding what the client wants makes the execution of the project a lot smoother.
  • Say yes. Life might surprise you with fun opportunities!

Providore is an innovative concept of Raintree Restaurants. They are located at the ground floor of SM Aura. Facebook | Instagram

P.S. All images were taken with my sister's phone. I'll try to get better photos in the future!

On artistic confidence and Big Magic

Today is one of those days when I feel generally content with the art I produce. Believe me, these days do not come often. Usually I feel terribly insecure about my work, and most of my insecurities are because of age. I am twenty-seven, and that's still fairly young, but there are moments when I feel like I am too old to be making cute-sy stuff, too old to be clueless about long-term plans for my art, too old to still be struggling with basic techniques. I know that I am putting undue stress on myself by thinking about all these things, but I cannot help it; I am a serial overthinker.

I know there are a lot of people out there like me. We make stuff and we end up hating what we make. Maybe "hate" is too strong a word, but it's the description that's most accurate. For the longest time I've tried to put a name on it, like the way you name a plant or a pet to take ownership of it, but to no avail. "Impostor syndrome" may have been the closest match, but it still doesn't quite capture it. Basically, I think my work is crap.

I've wanted to correct this way of thinking really badly. I know it's unproductive and destructive, but looking at other people's work never fails to make me feel inadequate. And that's where the problem lies, I think. I look at other people's work way too much, and the comparison is what's killing me. Questions like "why don't I get opportunities like that?" or "why do people like their work more that they like mine?" plague me constantly. And because I can be very small-minded at times, I only have two default reactions. First, that the world is unfair, or second, that I am the one to blame for all the misfortune I have in my life.

Thank goodness for Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic. (Disclaimer: this is not a sponsored post. Stay with me here!)

Marie Kondo says her book is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but nooooooooo, Big Magic is what's life-changing. I've re-read it recently and I feel just as strongly about it now as when I first encountered it six months ago. Reading it is a very liberating experience, like you are consulting an older cousin or an aunt (er, tita) about your creativity troubles and having her say something like "it's okay to feel all those feelings as long as you keep doing your thing." Of course, she expresses this more gracefully, but her point is if you like making, just make. And that is so simple, so simple that I should have picked up on it earlier, but here I am worrying about the audience or the market or my colleagues that I have forgotten that keeping at it is what's most important. You think you've created a gem? Good for you, now make something else. You think you've come up with something horrible? That's too bad, now make something else. IT. IS. THAT. SIMPLE.

Re-reading Big Magic is actually what fueled me to pursue my second 100-day project of the year, #100days100desks. So far so good. I do not feel overly critical of my work and I am genuinely satisfied with it. I feel kind of invincible, like I take on any project. And I guess this growing confidence is attracting cosmic energy or whatever you want to call it; opportunities are coming to me instead of me chasing after them.

I used to think that something's wrong with me because I do not have a definite plan for my art career, or because I am not good at networking and marketing myself, or because I do whatever the hell I like without thinking about my brand's core values blah blah blah. I am one of those people who, maybe naively, believe that good work will always speak for itself. I used to get really frustrated about this because I don't like marketing fluff, but now I realize that somewhere out there, there are still people who appreciate earnest work, and at the end of the day none of these people even matter because the act of producing earnest work is what's essential. Moments of insight like this make me feel grateful, hopeful, and happy.

Stretch, or the freedom(s) I long to have as an artist

I am sorry for neglecting this space for too long. Life does get in the way sometimes, but I assure you, May 2016 was a good kind of crazy. It was a month of stepping out of comfort zones, and even though I am entirely pleased with my output, I've learned a lot about my process, artistic direction, and motivation.

This past month, I said yes to three very challenging projects: to paint murals for a cafe, to hold a watercolor lettering demo in a mall, and to create something that will be permanently displayed in a park. I haven't done any of these things before, so to say I was terrified is a grave understatement. One project in particular taught me a lot of lessons, and that's Parkfest PH for Nayong Pilipino.

I was tasked to do a mural with a fellow letterer, June Digan (THE June Digan!), and when I first learned about it I didn't know whether I should rejoice or hide under a rock. It was an honor to be paired with a talented artist, but at the same time I grappled with a lot of self-doubt. Will I be able to deliver? Will I be able to create something worthy to be displayed in a public park alongside June's work? Will I be ready for this kind of challenge? And as with all things uncertain, my answer was a resounding yes.

The initial stages were a bit rough. We weren't able to paint on the first day because there was a problem with our primed canvas. We had to transfer and adjust to a bigger wall. We encountered intense heat and rain while working. It seemed like all of these factors mirrored the turmoil I was having inside. I kept on procrastinating and changing my design because I felt they weren't good enough, that I wasn't good enough. But eventually we finished and I was faced with this question: Ano ang inaasam mong kalayaan?

 Roughly translated, this means "what kind of freedom are you longing for?"

Roughly translated, this means "what kind of freedom are you longing for?"

In our completed mural, we had three options: freedom of expression, freedom of choice, and freedom against judgment or discrimination. But I didn't long for any of them. I wish to have freedom from self-doubt, from feeling like whatever I come up with looks like trash. I wish to have the freedom from expectations, whether from the outside or self-imposed, so I can create whatever I want and experiment whenever I feel like it. I wish to have the freedom from negative self-talk so I can continue accepting projects like this and keep on stretching myself.

As I laid down the final brush strokes and fine details, I realized that the only person who can afford me the freedom I long for is myself. So from this point on, I will do my best not to get in my own way. I am going to continue to say yes to things that will help me grow.

Lettering Tips: Layout

As a workshop teacher, I've noticed that one of the things students have difficulty applying to their lettering work is proper layout. Unfortunately, no matter how comprehensive I make my worksheets, this topic cannot be fully covered in a three-hour session because it takes months, or even years, to understand what works and what doesn't. Below I share with you some of the guidelines I've learned over time.

Readability

Contrary to what beginners may think, lettering is not only about pretty letters but also about communication. Yes, it helps to use a beautiful combination of typefaces and colors, but these things won't work unless the reader is able to decipher the message. When lettering in English (and many other languages), keep in mind the direction in which we read clusters of text: left to right, top to bottom.

See the samples below. The one on the left is a difficult to read, starting with the word "people" because the letters "e" and "o" are on top of each other. Another problem is the placement of the words "to" and "top," which confuses the eye. The flow of one on the right is better; even though some words are placed on top of others, it is easier to decode which ones to read first.

Emphasis

When lettering a longer quote, choose 3-5 words that encapsulate the gist of the entire text. Most commonly these are the nouns and verbs. Make them bigger or use a more ornate style to emphasize them. Choose a simpler typeface for the rest of the text; these are the articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and other words that do not carry heavy meaning. Tip: when looking at the whole composition from afar, you should be able to grasp the meaning of the quote just by looking at the bigger words.

On the left, we see the words "and" and "make them" enlarged; this is a poor choice because these do not capture the essence of the text. The example on the right highlights the words "3-5," "important," and "bigger," which summarize the meaning of the quote.


Styles and Scale

Unlike typography, there is no strict rule on how many different font styles you can use on one lettering piece. I like to stick with not more than five per composition, but on occasions that I go over this limit, I make sure to scale down and simplify some styles in order to deliver a clearer message.

The first example is fairly decent, but it lacks the visual interest the second example has. Why? Because the piece on the right plays with the size of the words; "with" and "and" are smaller compared to the rest, making it look more dynamic.

Punctuation and Other Decorative Elements

Sometimes we cannot help but experiment with layout and end up putting blocks of text next to instead of on top of each other. In these cases, using proper punctuation or adding decorative elements like borders help separate the text and prevent misinterpretation, especially when the words are drawn in a similar style or are the same size.

In the examples below, you will see that the first is a bit incomprehensible because the text blocks are too close to each other. At first glance, you might read it as "use to separate decorative blocks elements of text." In the second a dotted border was used to separate the text blocks, making it easier to interpret them as phrases that must be read from top to bottom before moving on to the next block.

At the end of the day, lettering is about reeling in the readers and get them to understand what you want to say. One way to measure the success of a lettering work is to see how long it takes to deliver your message; if eyes glide through the piece with ease, it gives the readers more time to digest your idea. If they stare at your piece longer, that's not necessarily better. That could mean their eyes are lost in the maze of words and the message is lost. Don't let haphazard layout be the reason for misreading. And like I've said before, learning this is not easy. Study, study, study and practice, practice, practice.

Process: Pattern Design

I love patterns and am curious about how they are made. Many of my art idols have had extensive pattern design experience, and looking at their work heightened my interest in the area even more. Luckily, there are several Skillshare classes on this subject, so learning the basics was fairly easy. I am also taking Lilla Roger's Make Art That Sells class where one of our requirements involved patterns, and below I outlined my drafting process for my class assignment.

I wanted my pattern to capture a hectic kitchen scene, and I started by doodling things that can be found in the kitchen: pots, pans, wooden spoons, spatulas, kettles, pasta, and produce. I overlapped the drawings because it added to the busyness I was going for.

When I was happy with my doodles, I traced them with a brush pen and scanned them into the computer. Since I was working on a technical repeat (meaning the images should line up when tiled), I made sure the alignment of my drawings were correct before coloring them in Photoshop. I was going for a vintage look so I opted to use a color palette that's darker than usual.

I was really happy with the dark grey version, but when I repeated the pattern on a larger scale, I noticed that there was a concentration of bigger drawings in some areas. I decided to make another draft to make my kitchen scene look more seamless and cohesive.

For the second draft I was a bit more ambitious; I wanted to integrate a bit of gouache in my artwork, so I painted the tomatoes instead of coloring them digitally. I think this touch added a much-needed brightness to my pattern. I also took out some elements from my drawing that don't fit well with my new "cooking pasta in tomato sauce" theme. I tried using the grey and navy background options again, and surprisingly, the blue worked this time, albeit in a different shade.

I was more satisfied with this pattern than the first one, but the final product still didn't feel submission-worthy to me. I felt like I wasn't challenging myself hard enough. My purpose for taking all these classes is to push myself creatively, so I decided to make another draft before turning in my assignment.

Before diving into my third (and that time I was hoping the final) draft, I did a self-assessment. What properties of my current pattern do I want to change in the next version? First, it was too crowded. Second, I used too many colors. Third, I thought the concept was not clear enough. In my next draft, I decided to leave some negative space (which was reaaaalllyyyy difficult for me), limit my colors, and come up with a simpler yet stronger concept.

My third draft showed carefully grouped kitchen items on repeat. I arranged on a diagonal so I would have some negative space while still making the pattern look like it's full of details. I stuck with the blue background and even made coordinates based on the same color palette and overall design theme.

After I saved this pattern set, I was thrilled. And when you are thrilled with your work, it is a sign that you're heading in the right direction. This draft was more polished than my previous attempts, and it's my first time making something that looks like this. I started mocking up my patterns on different products and that got me even more excited about unlocking this side of my art.

As I was getting ready to submit my assignment, another thought struck me. What if I try another color palette? Even though my draft #3 achieved the vintage look I was aiming for, I wanted to push myself even further, and in my case that meant not getting demotivated by several drafts. I kept some of the hues from my previous draft but went for lighter tints. I ended up liking this draft the most out of all the ones I made and turned this in as my class requirement.

Some takeaways from this process:

  • Never be afraid to kill your art babies. Even though you spend a lot of time coming up with ideas and making them better, that doesn't mean all of them are ripe for execution. Bring them to life, but don't be afraid to discard elements that don't contribute to your overall vision. Think of it like this: when you part with ideas that don't work, ultimately you are making more room for new ideas to come in.
  • Study, study, study. There's always something new to learn, and we are fortunate to have a fountain of resources within reach. My personal learning style is to join formal classes, but there are multiple ways to learn skills and techniques: workshops, online courses, self-study, browsing through books at local bookstores. Know what your learning style is and make time for it. You will not regret it.
  • Drafts are your friends. I have always been a one-draft person; once I have an idea, I will pursue it until the end and have nothing more of it when it's done. This pattern exercise has taught me that drafts help refine ideas and can make one better at self-critique. They also give you more insight into your process, which lets you tune in to what makes you tick as a creative.

I hope this peek into how I work inspires you to try new things with your art. Have a great week ahead!

Your early work vs. the work you want to be doing

I tend to be very hard on myself, which goes against every practical advice on art or life I've ever received. I can go on hypercritical mode, and when I am in this frame of mind, I can never get anything done because nothing's good enough. But what is "good enough?" And haven't we been taught that "good" is never enough and we should strive for "great?"

This way of thinking often delays my process. Case in point: the launch of this portfolio site. I've always thought I needed a website so I would be taken seriously as a creative professional. This time last year I started putting a site together; I even hired a web designer to do all the backend stuff for me, but that website never saw the light of day because I didn't have any work to upload. At least I didn't think my works were good enough to put them on display. This predicament reminded me of a popular quote by radio personality Ira Glass:

Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?

He goes on to say that the only way to combat disappointment with our early work is to keep at it. Now a year after I started this website project, I look at my art again and am glad to see some progress. It just goes to show that when we evaluate our art from day to day, it's difficult to see improvements and this can be frustrating. But over time, the incremental adjustments we make to my work add up to, hopefully, a more refined style. 

Let's take for example my lettering work. The images below are notebook covers I designed almost two years apart. There are similarities, like the color scheme (I really like yellow) and the general style of the pieces. But looking at them more closely, I see that the piece from 2014 has a lot of monoline details while the more recent piece leans toward a dimensional style. The 2016 version is also more conceptual, while the older cover is just straight up text.

What's even more exiting for me is the changes I see in my illustration. Although my drawing skills are not yet at the level I want them to be, it's surprising to me how much I have gotten better at detail work. The patterns below were made only six months apart, and considering I didn't pick up my pencil enough for the latter part of last year, I am thrilled to see where my art is going.

So what am I driving at here? Many people who want to pursue artistic endeavors give up way too easily. The creative process is not easy; it is a daily struggle against doubts, dreams, questions, intentions, anything and everything we tell ourselves to stop us from making art. It means showing up everyday in spite of laziness, illness, internal conflicts, and external critics. The only way to get better is to respect the process and not demand too much from it, especially if we don't intend to keep our end of the bargain and actually produce something. Making art is not magic; it is work. And once we put in the hours, one day we will be rewarded with art we can be proud of.

 Another excerpt from Ira Glass's longer quote, with can be read  here .

Another excerpt from Ira Glass's longer quote, with can be read here.

Throwback: Book Portraits

I've said time and time again that if there's something I love more than making art (and food), it's books. In 2013, armed with colored pens (my medium of choice then) and my limited lettering and sketching skills, I decided to draw every book I'd read that year. I ended up doing only about seven book portraits, but I definitely read more than that! Here are three of them.

So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport. One of the best books I've read about balancing passion and skill-building in life. 

Breakthrough! by Alex Cornell. This is the first book I read on the topic, and it has a combination of sensible and wacky suggestions from creatives around the world. 

The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle. Spoiler alert: talent = hard work = hours of deliberate practice. I am actually re-reading this book because I want to learn new skills this year. 

Some ways to get through a creative block

I am one of those people who work in bursts of creativity; one moment I am so energized by an idea but once that concept sees fruition, I tend to take a rest and recharge until its time to execute another idea. This makes me prone to the "blank canvas effect" (I am sure there is a better name for this somewhere), which means the longer the time I spend away from making, the harder it is for me to actually start working on something again. To prevent impending creative blocks, I keep myself busy by doing other things to keep the inspiration going and to make it easier to get the ball rolling once new projects come in. Here are some of my techniques:

1. Work with a different medium or subject matter

I am used to drawing letters and cute animals with various pens and inks, so from time to time I like to exercise my creative muscles by learning how to use a different medium. For practice I try to paint flowers with watercolors. This is totally out of my comfort zone because 1) I don't know how to use watercolors properly, and 2) realistic painting is not really my style. I find that aside from helping me understand a medium that I am not accustomed to, this exercise develops patience and further reiterates the fact that creativity is a journey and not so much about the final product.

 I bought a step-by-step watercolor painting book from Japan and I use that as a guide.

I bought a step-by-step watercolor painting book from Japan and I use that as a guide.

2. Focus on routine tasks

Whenever I feel like my creative batteries are running low, I shift my focus to things that require my attention but not a lot of mental energy. Running my business alone, this means I always have to do administrative work or product packaging duties. These assignments seem like they can be delegated to someone else so I can direct my attention to major tasks, but I set aside time to do them because it's when I am doing routine work that my ideas have time to "marinate."

3. Do a little bit of de-cluttering

It's a debate whether messy workspaces negatively affect or actually contribute to creative output. But as a recent Marie Kondo convert, I would say that I feel more comfortable working in an environment that is tidy. The process of putting things in order somehow detangles my thoughts and gets them ready to be released on paper. I guess part of the logic is I don't have to think about cleaning up anymore so my time for creating becomes uninterrupted by chores.

 Current desk situation. And yes, I keep an extra brain in case I need double the mental power.

Current desk situation. And yes, I keep an extra brain in case I need double the mental power.

4. Get writing

More often than not, my tendency to procrastinate disguises itself as a creative block, and when this happens, I know there is an issue bothering me that's begging to be released. Whenever I catch myself in this predicament, I bring out my journal and write all thoughts that present themselves, good or bad, logical or irrational. My journals are for my own eyes only, so I can write about what I'm thinking or feeling without the fear of being judged. Once my thoughts are on paper, I feel like my brain has been freed of emotional clutter and I can get on with my work.

5. Become a student again

Sometimes my creative slumps last for weeks, even months, so when things are this bad I submit to scholarly instruction. Being a student makes me feel like it's okay to make mistakes and to experiment, things that are very easy to forget once you've been doing something for a long time. There are days when I feel like my work comes out of templates, so having assignments and coursework that force me to consider other ideas and techniques brings the fun back into my creative pursuits.

 My output for Julia Rothman's Skillshare class. 

My output for Julia Rothman's Skillshare class. 

6. Have a change of scenery

Change of scenery doesn't always mean travelling to a far-off place. When my budget is low or my schedule is full but I feel the need to shake things up, I get up from my desk and go to the mall to drink milk tea or visit a public park where I can soak up the crowd's energy and get inspired to draw. Sometimes it's even as simple as changing the prints hanging on my wall; it tricks my mind into thinking that I am in a new place, triggering the influx of new ideas.

7. Surround yourself with pretty things

Getting back on track is sometimes as easy as flipping through a book illustrated by my favorite artist, or reading a magazine with inspirational tales, or looking at my collection of postcards and prints from art fairs and travels. Having these resources at hand make it fairly easy to keep the motivation up and get the wheels turning again. And besides, who doesn't like to be surrounded by beautiful things?

 My weakness: books, magazines, stickers and prints. This is only about 5% of my entire collection. I am a hoarder of cute stuff.

My weakness: books, magazines, stickers and prints. This is only about 5% of my entire collection. I am a hoarder of cute stuff.

8. Have something to remind you of who you are

Admittedly, most of the time, my creative blocks stem from my fear of being insignificant or from envy of other people's success. There are days when I think "what's the point?" because I only see what my ego sees. Whenever this situation arises, I like to go back to the UP Diliman campus because my alma mater reminds me that I am just a small speck in the universe and that I am very lucky to have come across opportunities that remain elusive to many others. Sometimes the way to push through a creative block is to get some perspective, and UP has never failed me in this respect. 

 Still my favorite picture of UP. Oble, the sunset, the feeling of being small yet capable of greatness.

Still my favorite picture of UP. Oble, the sunset, the feeling of being small yet capable of greatness.

The idea for this post came to me because I've been trying to figure out what's preventing me from drawing. Writing this list actually motivated me to make art again, probably because I felt the need to test the effectiveness of the tips before sharing them. Hope they also help you get out of your creative rut!

Craft Haul: Taipei

I must admit, I started my Taipei trip on the wrong foot. I did no planning whatsoever, so I arrived on the night of March 7th expecting what I've read on several blogs--that it was like a tiny version of Japan. It's not that I was disappointed with what I've seen; it was more like my experiences of Taipei were tainted by my memories of Tokyo. I kept comparing the sights, the food, and the activities that I failed to appreciate Taipei's charm. Totally my fault. Around the beginning of my third day there, I decided to reset my expectations and really see Taipei independently of what I've read about its Japanese influences, and that was when this city started to grow on me. I flew back to Manila last Monday already thinking of things I wanted to see and do there the next time I visit.

Aside from my undying devotion to milk tea, I considered Taipei an interesting travel destination because I've heard so much about their flourishing arts and crafts scene. When I was there it was raining hard every day so I spent most of my time indoors at museums, craft stores, creative markets, bookstores, and tea shops. I thought I would run out of things to do, but there was always a new exhibition to check out or a different pop-up to visit. I spent more than half of my initial budget on cute stuff (which came to me as a surprise because I was sure I'd be splurging on food and tea), and made an additional ATM withdrawal for books and magazines. It reminded me of the old Mastercard ads. Cute stuff, thousands of NTD. Happiness, priceless.

Here are some of my finds:

1. Ounce food illustration zine

 Follow her on Instagram:  @ouncemag  and  @ouncestudio

Follow her on Instagram: @ouncemag and @ouncestudio

Ounce is a self-published zine by food illustrator Leslie Wong. She has released five editions so far: Lisbon, Taipei, New York, London, and Copenhagen. Her zines, postcards, notebooks, and stickers all reflect her love for art, food, and travel.

2. Prints and pins by Drunk Bambi

 More art on her Facebook:  www.facebook.com/DrunkBambi

More art on her Facebook: www.facebook.com/DrunkBambi

Abby, more popularly known as Drunk Bambi, is the artist behind these quirky and colorful illustrations. She works with different materials like colored pens and acrylic paint. Her product line includes (but is not limited to) stickers, art prints, bags, shirts, notebooks, and pins.

3. Kraft tape by Rooftop's Life @ Taiwan

 They sell their stuff via the  Taipei Fine Arts Museum webstore .

They sell their stuff via the Taipei Fine Arts Museum webstore.

I am very fond of urban sketching but can never do it properly, so I am drawn to artworks that evoke a similar feel. This tape by Rooftop's Life @ Taiwan perfectly captures the urban landscape of Taipei with its tiny yet detailed line drawings. They have mugs, coasters, bags and postcards with the same rooftops theme as well.

4. Postcards by Dalizzy

 More cute illustrations here:  www.facebook.com/Dalizzy

More cute illustrations here: www.facebook.com/Dalizzy

I like anything with animals doing people things, so I was instantly hooked to these postcards by Dalizzy. I also love the color combinations and how the seemingly simple drawings tell a story.

5. Prints by MoriShu

 Give her a follow on Facebook:  www.facebook.com/MoriShu.tw

Give her a follow on Facebook: www.facebook.com/MoriShu.tw

Sheep, llamas, bunnies, cats, desserts, colors--all of my favorite things are present in MoriShu's art. I absolutely adore her drawing style and sense of humor. She offers notebooks, stickers, prints, shirts, pouches, and many more.

6. Postcards and tape by Smohouse

 More art here:  www.smohouse.com

More art here: www.smohouse.com

Yu-hsuan Huang is the artist behind Smohouse. I like the playfulness of the illustrations and how the colors make the drawings pop. I really have a thing for anthropomorphic animals haha!

7. Cat prints by Chen Yu-Lin

 Check out more of her work here:  www.facebook.com/bramasolo2

Check out more of her work here: www.facebook.com/bramasolo2

Probably two of my favorite acquisitions from the trip, Chen Yu-Lin's drawings elicit an emotional reaction. (The bottom print makes me a bit sad.) Her color sense is amazing, too. 

8. More nicely-illustrated things

Ella_TW Cute Stuff 1_white.jpg

Clockwise from top left: animal postcard by BaNAna Lin, sticker pack by Yohand Studio, felt pin by Loopy, fishcat stickers by 5mins, dinosaur stickers by Ghost Shop

 

What stood out to me about the Taipei craft scene is that many of their product offerings are very Taiwan-centric. They are proud of their heritage and as a maker, this is very inspiring. The quality of their self-published stuff is quite remarkable, too; from the product to the packaging, everything is impeccably made. Looking at my art haul from this trip made me realize that I should try injecting local flavor into my work, as well as continuously look for improvements in my production to make sure I am offering the best products that I can. 

It's now been a couple of days after my trip, and even though I am missing Taiwan so badly, it comforts me to know that there will be a next time, and by then there are new exhibitions to see, new artists to meet, and new inspiration to take in. Xie xie, Taipei, and see you again soon!

26 things I've learned so far, part 2

Albert Camus once said, "life is the sum of all your choices."  The second part of my list includes more abstract lessons I've learned about life and making deliberate choices to make sure I live it with a clear conscience and a grateful heart. 

14. Travel solo at least once.

By the time this post goes live, I will be on my way to Taipei on my third solo traveling adventure. I'm a bit scared because I don't speak a word of Mandarin, but that's part of the thrill. And when I say "travel," I mean really travel. Not just take pretty photos, not just visit postcard destinations, not just line up for the popular attractions. Engage with the locals and live in normalcy among them. The thing I like best about going at it alone is you get to go home with a greater grasp of you who are: what types of activities you like, how you deal with getting lost, what you spend the most money on, and other things. It's a scary experience, but once you get past that initial fear, you will find it liberating. 

15. Read, read, read.

When I filled out my college applications, it wasn't clear to me yet which major I wanted to pursue and ended up selecting English literature. I wasn't planning on becoming a teacher or a lawyer or a writer, so why did I choose to immerse myself in books? Because I hated reading! It was so ironic, but since I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life, I knew with conviction that if I learned the discipline of reading I'd be able to learn anything I want in the future. For the most part that assumption was true; I was able to get jobs in marketing without taking a single marketing class in school, and I learned the lettering craft all by myself. Now I love reading different genres: classics, art and design, business, children's lit, self-help (my current favorite).

16. You don't have to like the same things as other people.

Last year I watched in fear as people moved away from their inks and pens to watercolor and brushes. I felt terrified because I didn't know my art style would still be relevant when people were already shifting their focus to a new medium. Would they still like my work? Would they still attend my workshops? I spent a lot of time thinking about what my next step would be, and I decided to keep doing what I was doing no matter what the trends are. It's okay to be different. Just because everyone is doing something doesn't mean you have to do it as well. Peer pressure comes into play sometimes, but you just have to be confident in yourself and your preferences and you'll be alright.

17. Be willing to try new things.

My friends know me as someone who doesn't like a lot of things (Ben Affleck, the smell of fried isaw, attending formal events, to name a few), and sometimes I feel like this trait makes me dismiss things or people or experiences that would otherwise help me grow as a person. I am bold when it comes to mundane things, like trying out weird food combinations (puto bumbong with gravy, anyone?) or doing things alone (I love watching movies in the mall on weekday afternoons), but maybe from now on I can extend this adventurous spirit to other aspects of my life. There are days when I feel like I am holding myself back, so it helps to ask "what's the worst that could happen?" If the answer is anything but "I'm going to die," it may be worth a try.

18. Let go of the old to make room for the new.

I was eating baked rice for lunch one day when I noticed myself scraping off the side of my bowl for melted cheese, when in fact my dish was still half full. While I was doing this I realized something: I always get caught up with remnants of the past when I could be relishing the possibilities of the present. (Wow, so deep!)  I was falling out with one of my closest friends during this time, and I was so focused on getting us back to our "golden days" that I failed to recognize that things have changed and years have passed and we're just different people altogether. Instead of attempting to fix the unfixable, I thought it may be more constructive to shift my focus on enjoying and developing my relationships with other people. It turned out to be a good decision; I feel like I've found my tribe. It just goes to show that letting go is not necessarily a bad thing if you think of it as welcoming something new.

19. Be thankful for everything you have (and don't have) in your life.

I keep a gratitude journal where I list down all the things that I am thankful for each day. The items on my journal range from the most banal like being able to set aside time to read, to the most amazing like getting my photo taken with my idols. I especially like rereading my journals when I am having a bad day because they remind me that things will turn around if I focus on the positive. It cheers me up almost all the time. Of course, there are days when I feel so emo, and that's a reason to be grateful, too. (Thank you, universe, that I feel I wide range of emotions like any other human being.) 

20. Comparing yourself to others will not get you anywhere.

When I see other people's work online, I tend to feel jealous because I wish that I was at the same skill level or that I was showered with the same opportunities. Combine this penchant for comparison with being my own harshest critic, and I've got a confidence killer duo in my hands. What starts as wishful thinking snowballs into negative self-talk: I am not good enough, I am not talented at all, I am too lazy, and the list goes on. Whenever I catch myself in this train of thought, I remind myself that comparing myself to others is a good way to gauge how much I need to improve but should never dictate my self-worth. Sometimes taking a step back to look at things objectively helps to get me back on track and honor my own journey instead of wishing for it to be like someone else's. 

21. The more you share, the more you have.

One of my biggest concerns about teaching workshops is my students getting better at lettering than me. Do I teach them e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g I know, or should I include only the most basic things and let them learn the hard lessons themselves? I crafted my syllabus and included a list of all the people whose lettering styles I like, a directory of websites I visit for inspiration, a list of my favorite lettering reference books, and a couple of my own works that my students can copy for practice. I never imagined giving away all these resources will impact me the way it did. It motivated me to improve at my craft, try out various styles and materials, and be more in tune with my own process so I can share new knowledge in class. Sometimes I feel like I am learning more in the process than my students, which is proof that being generous with time and information reaps more benefits than keeping everything to yourself.

22. Don't get caught up in the busyness of life.

Around two years ago I experienced the busiest phase of my life yet: I was juggling a full-time job, a side gig, volunteer work, and art events. Everything was moving so fast; most of the time I am awake I need to be at a certain place, doing a certain thing, catering to certain people. It was tiring but exhilarating, which is why I kept it up. One day I realized that I was spending all of my time preparing for the future that I wasn't enjoying the present. I wasn't making time for my family and friends, for rest and recreation, for breathing and taking it all in. I was more concerned about ticking off all the boxes in my to-do lists and getting on with the next set of tasks. When I went freelance last year, I was able to slow down and reevaluate how I've been spending my time and I couldn't be happier with the results. I have time to create art from morning until nighttime, to hang out with friends without needing to rush off to another meeting, to go to the mall and drink my favorite cup of milk tea, to feel the sun's rays on my face while doing the warrior pose. It's not as exciting as it used to be, but I can say that I am living more mindfully.

23. There's life outside of social media.

A lot of people now can't imagine life without their phones and other gadgets within reach. Every meal must be documented on Instagram. Every destination requires a check-in notice on Facebook. Every activity, no matter how unexceptional, is recorded on Twitter. It seems like many of us live to (over)share what is going on with us on social media. Every post should be properly composed, but we don't realize that it prevents us from savoring the moment. Strive to live a full life, both online and offline. You don't want to wake up one day to realize that no matter how many followers you have or how pretty your feed is, you feel empty inside. Memories are meant to be created, not curated.

24. Have your own definition of success...

Using other people's accomplishments and status as the basis of your success is inviting frustration into your life. Everyone is on their own journey; you cannot measure your progress against a person who's running a different race. Set your own benchmarks, and try to go beyond the overrated markers of success--fame, influence, and wealth.  At the end of the day, success is what you want it to be. Whether it's holding a headstand for more than five seconds in yoga class or achieving your lifelong dream of traveling to all the nations on earth, be sure you're doing it for you.

25. ...And happiness.

With the volume of people chasing after happiness, you'd think it's a limited resource. I've learned that you are only as happy as you want to be. Eating a triple chocolate cookie can give you as much joy as getting promoted at work. That's okay. Just because society values certain things over others doesn't mean you should.

26. Above all, be kind and stay humble.

I believe that before someone can be considered good at something, s/he must have a good attitude, and by "good" I mean gracious, kind, and most of all, humble. Why? Because truly talented people know how to handle attention, influence, and all the trappings of success. No one likes to be around people who think they are the center of the universe. I feel grateful when I meet people who have already made their marks in their respective industries but remain down-to-earth. Remember: we are just flavors of the month; once our turn in the spotlight is over, let's make sure we don't leave a bad taste in people's mouths.

Bonus lesson #27: always leave room for dessert, whether it's actual cake or some other thing you think you don't need but could be good for you. Welcome life's surprises with open arms. :)