Ella's Ultimate Gouache Review - An Introduction

I admit I have become lazy because I used to do all my coloring digitally. I have envied friends and people I follow because they use paint, mainly watercolors, so gracefully. I enjoy working with paper and traditional materials, but I use mostly inks and brush pens. So when I tried watercolors for the first time, I got really frustrated because I could not get the effects I intended. They came out too transparent and watery (duh!), and I hated that. I wanted my paintings to come out solid and opaque, which kind of meant that acrylics were better for me, but I hate the glossy finish.

Then I started observing my idols closely and found that most of them use gouache. I got intrigued and decided to do more research. Gouache is a water-based paint that is opaque and dries matte. People say it's like a cross between watercolor and acrylic. There are two types: the first one is "real" gouache which is sort of the opaque sister of watercolor. It uses the same binder as watercolor but is loaded with more pigment (the reason why it dries as a solid block of color), making its consistency thicker/creamier than watercolors. It can be reactivated with water. The second type is acrylic gouache, which is basically acrylic paint but instead of the usual glossy finish, it dries matte. It uses a resin binder, so it cannot be reactivated once dried.

Gouache is not so popular locally because it has the reputation of only being used by manga artists, product designers, and illustrators. It doesn't lend itself well to the current impressionistic floral and portrait painting trend because of its opacity. But I like opaque, so I dug a little deeper and tried all the gouache paints I can get my hands on. In the coming weeks I will be posting a review of paints I use.

Note: I am kind of a spendthrift so the thought of buying materials just to try them out don't really sound practical for me, but what I do most of the time is just get five (5) colors per brand I want to try: Magenta, Cyan, Yellow, Black and White. I use a CMY primary palette because it produces brighter colors than the more common RYB primaries. Since this is also my first time taking a medium seriously, I wanted to learn more about mixing colors and achieving my desired paint consistency and stuff like that. Primary palettes are not for everyone, but I find the process of color mixing fun so I've accumulated several CMY tubes. Eventually I think I'll get individual tubes of colors I use the most. 

Next week I will write about the student grade gouache brands I've tried. I'll post about their textures, the color payoff, and my favorite colors from the sets. 

Shopping around for inspiration

I've been a supplies geek for as long as I can remember. I love smelling books and paper, seeing freshly sharpened pencils all lined up, testing different pens to add to my collection, choosing a pencil case to house all my tools. As a kid, aside from Christmas, my favorite season is back-to-school, because it was the only time of year when indulging on supplies was allowed, or sometimes even required!

My student days are long gone, but I haven't outgrown my love for school supplies. Now instead of shopping for actual items, I take advantage of back-to-school season to shop for inspiration. Many of the people who support my business are students, so I always try to innovate by spotting trends at local shops and one of my favorite supplies havens, SM Stationery.

Trend #1 - Candy Colors

SM Blog-1.jpg

The first thing that caught my eye when I entered the SM Megamall store was how vast their selection of colorful items are. When I was studying I loved brightly-colored supplies because they kept me motivated, especially when I had difficult homework or a tough time at school. Up to this day, colors help me keep bad vibes at bay and are always incorporated in my work.

Trend #2 - Food

Food is also featured heavily in my work, so I was delighted to see that pens, purses, and even travel accessories were adorned with all sorts of yummy illustrations. I gravitated toward banana- and egg-themed items because I love eating them in real life (sorry Gudetama!).

Trend #3 - Patterns

I have recently gotten interested in surface pattern design, and SM Stationery didn't disappoint in this department. Everywhere I looked there were products covered in fun and cheerful prints! Seeing how patterns were applied on various items definitely inspired me to continue experimenting with my own designs.

Trend #4 - Nature

One thing I also enjoyed seeing while browsing the store was the assortment of nature-themed products. Notebooks, journals, bags, and pen cases were decorated with different depictions of flowers and foliage. As someone who prefers to stay indoors most of the time, these items are great at letting me bring a bit of outside inspiration in.

Trend #5 - Cute Animals

A trip to SM Stationery wouldn't be complete without checking out their cute animal selection! Animals are my weakness, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I brought home a couple of items embellished with ducks and bears and alpacas.

Aside from admiring the prettiness of it all, what I love about SM Stationery is their different price points, so there's something for you whatever your budget is! For back-to-school season, they even have a special bundle that includes essential school supplies and a bag, all for Php 399! 

Whether it's back-to-school season or not, one thing is sure--I'll always stop by SM Stationery whenever I go to the mall to look for inspiration and to buy myself a couple of items, all in the name of "research and product development"!

Get updates from SM Stationery by following their social media accounts: Facebook.com/SMStationeryPH, Instagram.com/smstationeryph

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, but all the opinions expressed here are entirely my own. 

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!

Beating the holiday rush with cute finds

The holiday season is the busiest time of the year for arts and crafts entrepreneurs like me. From making stocks to joining art fairs, sometimes there's little time left to shop for gifts for my loved ones. Aside from supporting artists and makers by buying local, I make sure to check out SM Stationery as well because a lot of my friends are addicted to paper goods and cute stuff.

SM Stationery: they've literally got it all for you!

SM Stationery: they've literally got it all for you!

What I like about SM Stationery is the assortment of products they offer. Whether your budget is tight or you're willing to splurge, whether you're shopping for stocking stuffers or you're looking for the perfect exchange gift, I am sure you'll find something there for people on your list.

For the friend who likes all things cute and fluffy

Why hello there, Hoho Cat!

Why hello there, Hoho Cat!

There's no shortage of cute animals-themed stuff at SM Stationery. (I can tell you this for a fact because I spent almost an hour looking around their SM Megamall branch, trying to narrow down the items to be included in this picture.)  Dogs, cats, bunnies, and bears are common, but you can also find the occasional penguin, frog, and giraffe in between. From notebooks to pens to pouches, you'll find something here for your friend who can't get enough of fluffy buddies.

For the friend who likes bright, happy things

I want to get every fruit-themed sketchbook at the store. Someone stop me!

I want to get every fruit-themed sketchbook at the store. Someone stop me!

Another theme that seems popular is fruits, and their fun colors really capture that cheerful feeling. I imagine these items to be perfect for a friend who never fails to brighten up your day or make you smile. (Or it could be a great motivator for someone on your list who is trying to get into a healthier lifestyle! Tell me, would you be able to buy potato chips when your strawberry wallet is looking right at you?)

For the friend who likes minimalism

Love all the patterns here! And the cats!

Love all the patterns here! And the cats!

Even it your friend has shun all the colors, but black and white doesn't mean boring. This monochromatic palette lends itself well to textures and patterns that are just as visually interesting as rainbow pieces. Practical items like sketchbooks and pencil cases look fun yet classy when done in black and white.

For the friend who likes to travel

I really like urban sketch-y type illustrations so I've got my eye on that notebook on the right.

I really like urban sketch-y type illustrations so I've got my eye on that notebook on the right.

Don't let your friend go on a trip without a little travel-themed token for you. Whether it's a journal to keep all their memories in, or a luggage cover to protect their belongings, your friend will be inspired to make new memories knowing you support them in their adventures.

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Here are some other items I like to get myself (because you know, we need to reward ourselves sometimes haha!).

I work with a lot of paper and I file them at the end of the year, so these cute labels will make organizing all my sketches a breeze.

I also cannot get enough of pens, and these cat pens caught my eye. Aren't they adorable?

Last but not the least, I've had my eye on these fluffy creatures since I first saw them a couple of months ago. I already got myself a pouch for my phone, but their faces and the colors are compelling me to get more!

Since December is only a couple of days away (oh how time flies!) and I haven't finished my holiday shopping yet, it is comforting to know that SM Stationery will always be there in case I run out of gift ideas!

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.

Craft Haul: SM Stationery

When I was still a student, my second favorite time of the year (next to summer vacation) is back-to-school season. As a kid and even as a college undergrad, I was always excited to plan what to decorate my notebooks with or how to color-code my notes using different pens. My passion (yes, I consider it a passion!) for stationery and cute supplies continues to burn bright until now. Even though I no longer go to school, I make sure to visit bookstores and supplies stores to gather inspiration for my own products and to buy a new pen or two (or eight, as you will see later).

In this edition of Craft Haul (Marie Kondo will hate me for hoarding, but I anticipate this will become a regular series), I scoured one of our local treasure troves for cute stuff: SM Stationery.

Fact: I only carry three writing implements at a time: a pencil, a regular ballpoint pen, and a drawing pen. I usually stash them in one of my bag pockets, so it remains a mystery (to me, at least) why I feel the need to check out pencil case and pouch selections whenever I go to the mall. Imagine my delight when I saw fruit- and animal-themed cases and purses at SM Stationery! Why do you all have to be so cuuuute? T_T

Another thing I am always on the lookout for is patterns. As an aspiring surface pattern designer, I am interested in seeing what prints work with different types of products and what color palettes draw the customers' attention. SM Stationery didn't disappoint in this department as well.

I am also a self-confessed sticker addict, so I make it a point to always check shopping destinations for stickers. Aside from using them for my scrapbooks, I collect them as drawing reference and inspiration. SM Stationery in Makati has a particularly wide selection of local and imported stickers.

We all have something we cannot get enough of. For me, that happens to be pens. I guess that's understandable because I draw for a living, but I certainly cannot explain why I need to have LOTS of cute pens aside from the regular fineliners I use. For signing documents? Maybe. For adding charm to my workspace? Could very well be. For giving me joy? Definitely!

Of course, this wouldn't be a proper craft haul post without showing you my actual haul. I went a little bit pouch-crazy this time. I mean, who could resist cute drawings and fun colors??? Clearly not me! I got a couple of cases for my tablet and hard drive.

Big pouch, P79.75; small pouch, P59.75. Both from SM Megamall.

Big pouch, P79.75; small pouch, P59.75. Both from SM Megamall.

I also went home with a banana-printed pencil case and several pens and mechanical pencils. I was attracted to their patterns and didn't notice they were color-coordinated until checkout!

Pencil pouch, P 149.75; pens and pencils, P 24.75-29.75. All from SM Megamall.

Pencil pouch, P 149.75; pens and pencils, P 24.75-29.75. All from SM Megamall.

Tell me, would you be able to resist these yummy colors and cute patterns?

I also got a sticker label pack with lovely illustrations, sticky notes in tape form (I can't believe I found out about this only now!) and more pens!

Sticky note tape, P 79.75; pens, P 24.75 each; sticker labels, P 49.75. All from SM Megamall.

Sticky note tape, P 79.75; pens, P 24.75 each; sticker labels, P 49.75. All from SM Megamall.

Barely six months into decluttering my room the konmari way, I probably should've stopped myself from picking up too many stationery items. But as Marie Kondo advises, it always helps to ask yourself if something sparks joy in your heart, and cute things definitely bring me joy! Until it's time to hoard again, I can comfort myself with the thought that Megamall is only one ride away and I can window-shop at SM Stationery whenever I need a dose of cuteness. :)

Win a Lomo'Instant Camera and have it customized by me!

When I went to Japan last year, I had a fun collaboration with my friends from Lomography JP. They loaned me a Lomo'Instant Camera to shoot with and let me doodle memorable parts of my trip for a one-of-a-kind "Tokyo" edition camera. You can read more about that collaboration here.

Photo courtesy of Lomography Japan

Photo courtesy of Lomography Japan

Now I've partnered with Lomography Philippines for a cool giveaway where you can win a customized Lomo'Instant White camera, hand-designed by me! The giveaway started last Tuesday, but we're extending it for another week. Woohoo!

Here's how to join:

  1. Like the Lomography Philippines Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/lomographyphilippines/
  2. Like my Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/EllaDoodles/ and follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ella_lama
  3. Like and share the contest on Facebook and/or like and repost it on Instagram. Your account and the share must be on public view. Links to shareable Facebook posts here and here, and Instagram posts here and here. Important note: please share these official contest links and not this blog post.
  4. Answer the question and fill out the details in this Google form: http://bit.ly/1sYvg5N

In case the idea of having a custom camera isn't enough, let the features of the Lomo'Instant entice you to participate:

  • Has three (3) modes to cover all kinds of shooting situations: flash-on auto, flash-on manual, and flash-off manual
  • Comes with a built-in wide-angle lens and three lens attachments: fisheye, portrait and close-up
  • Capable of shooting long and multiple exposures
  • Includes blue, red, purple and yellow color gels for creative flash photography
  • Has a tiny mirror beside the lens for picture-perfect selfies
  • Shoots with Fuji Instax Mini film

We will announce the winner next week. Good luck! :)

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.

Ready, Set, Hoard!

Nothing gets me more excited than paper and art materials, so when SM Stationery announced that they will be holding Art Fest in SM Megamall, I jumped at the chance to join. Not only was it an opportunity for me to try tools that are different from my usual creative weapons, it was also a reunion of sorts with artist friends I haven't seen in a while.

Upon entering the event premises, I was greeted by loads of cute stuff at the SM Supplies Station area: coloring books, pens and sketchpads. I was particularly drawn to the erasable fountain pen with baby animal designs and went home with one. I plan to use it to get some texture in my drawings.

My friend Andrea and I arrived pretty early so there weren't a lot of people yet. It was fun to see the freedom walls in pristine condition and then later on witness the collaboration among strangers when it was time to color the walls. Pentel Philippines' wall was my favorite because I love architectural drawings. Guests were encouraged to hang out at their booth to try oil pastels and paints and get the chance to have their works displayed at Pentel's mini exhibit.

I was looking forward to visiting the booth of International Fine Paper Exchange (IFEX) because aside from being a fan of their Canson line of sketch pads, I was also interested in inquiring about their wholesale options for my own line of paper goods. Their very accommodating sales staff (hello Kath and Mela!) were very helpful in discussing which paper stocks I should look into. IFEX also started to venture into the retail market last year when they released the lettering and calligraphy pads designed by local talents Abbey Sy and Alexis Ventura. As an added treat, they offered free custom papercuts by Wednesday Sambile for every purchase of Php 200 and above from the IFEX booth.

Titus Pens' probably had the most activities going on during the launch event. Aside from having their ambassadors demonstrate doodling on their booth display and freedom wall, they also had an exhibit of winning artworks from their past doodle art contests and several contests running. Be sure to check out their Facebook page for more details.

The most exciting thing that happened to me throughout the event probably took place at the Faber Castell booth. They had a mandala coloring activity and I got to try their premium Polychromos colored pencil line on my piece! These pencils glided so smoothly on the paper and had a texture almost similar to oil pastels, which makes blending easier.

As if hoarding is not a reward in itself, there's another incentive to visiting Art Fest this week. A minimum single receipt purchase worth Php 300 from partner brands entitles you to a free workshop slot on April 16-17, Saturday and Sunday. There will be workshops on illustration, lettering and calligraphy, coloring, and many more. I was looking forward to joining Sir Harvey Tolibao's comic book illustration class, but I have somewhere else to be on that day. :( Please see the poster below for more details.

SM Stationery Art Fest runs from April 13 to 17 at the SM Megamall Mega Fashion Hall. This event is in partnership with Faber Castell, Pentel, International Fine Paper Exchange and Titus Pens.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, but all the opinions expressed here are entirely my own. 

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.

Event Alert: SM Stationery's Art Fest

When I started getting involved with arts and crafts, there weren't a lot of avenues to connect with people who gush about cute stuff and paper products with the same level of enthusiasm as I did. That was in 2012. Workshops were very rare and art markets were few and far between. It was very difficult to get materials; they were either sold locally at steep prices or had to be ordered abroad.

I was so happy when things started picking up in late 2013. The arts and crafts community generated a lot of interest, and people started getting into different hobbies like rubber stamping, papercutting, and more recently, typography and watercolor. Tools became readily available and events popped up everywhere, making it easier for beginners to learn new skills and meet people who are excited for craft and creativity.

Next week SM Stationery will hold such an event. They will launch Art Fest, a creative gathering where you can hoard materials and participate in workshops on doodling, coloring, fashion sketching, lettering, calligraphy, and more. This event is in partnership with Faber Castell, Pentel, International Fine Paper Exchange (IFEX), and Titus Pens. Art Fest will run from April 13-17, 2016 at the SM Megamall Mega Fashion Hall.

A minimum purchase of Php 300 from the participating booths entitles you a free workshop slot on April 16 and 17, Saturday and Sunday. For more details, see the poster below.

Here's the official event teaser to get you excited. You might also want to check out SM Stationery's Facebook page for more updates. See you there? :)

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, but all the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.