Ms Liza Flores came to the stage and started to prepare her presentation on the history of children’s book illustrations in the Philippines.
Before she began, Ate Ara asked us if we knew about the history. When no one showed affirmation to this, she stressed that we should all know that since that was the industry we were in.
When Ms Liza finished her discussion, we all had better understanding as to how the industry started, how many illustrators there were, limited materials and printing technology, how many publishers were there, how many books were just published…
In 1990, Adarna House, Bookmark, and Cacho Publishing were the only publishers, then in 1995, Hiyas under OMF Literature came in, along with Tahanan. Twelve years later in 2007, Lampara and Vibal entered the scene.
I remembered Vibal as the publisher of some of the text books we had in elementary school, which was a nice memory to come back to.
Presently, from just three publishers two decades ago, the industry grew, the number of illustrators increased, the published books too. According to Ms Liza’s research and discussion (and I hope I took my notes correctly!), there were only 11 books published in 1990. But as the years passed, 11 grew to 31 in 1995.
In 2007, we have published 65 books!
The need for illustrations for children was definitely felt.
Today, besides these prominent publishers, we also have Center for Art, New Ventures, and Sustainable Development (CANVAS), Anvil, UNICEF, and Save the Children. What I liked about CANVAS’ efforts too is that they’re making art accessible for the Filipinos, especially the underprivileged ones.
Art truly plays a big role in our culture: it tells of history, our vision, our ancestors, our story as a nation. It’s a time machine on paper, stone, wood, marble, canvas. When I went to Ayala Museum by myself during their Inspire Every Day event last July 2015, I got to see the paintings and drawings of our artists during their time. We got to see their view on their surroundings and their own interpretations. We got an idea what it was like before in our country or in Spain or in anywhere else they have traveled to.
It is vital for all Filipinos to have access to the beauty of Filipino art – it should not be exclusive to only a select few of individuals or class.
Besides knowing our culture, art enriches.
Art speaks to us in ways that words cannot perfectly convey.
Art is cathartic.
Art is voice.
Art is life.
So we continue making art, making illustrations for children, and yes, for us who are children-at-heart, because we need reminding of the purity, honesty, dependence, and trust of a child, especially when time, hurt, and unfortunate news turn our hearts more calloused, hardened, and unmoved by beauty and hope and joy.
Illustrations and stories also help us teach children about difficult themes to understand at their age like divorce and illness. Ms Liza cited examples for this: Papa’s House and Mama’s House and Ang Pambihirang Buhok ni Raquel, respectively.
Of course, these themes are risky, but given the right perspective and the right words, we are able to give children an idea about these things. I believe that a story has its own way of being told best. If it will not work with a plain face-to-face talk, there are other ways.
If it will work best as an animated film, then that will be the platform. If in just words, then let it be told through words. If through illustrations, we’ll go with illustrations. Whichever the story and the lesson can be best communicated with.
Because sometimes, the truth is not believed or the lesson is not learned when you say them outright. We tend to shy away from it and be deaf to it, so we read books. We tell stories. This also leads me to why Jesus probably taught in parables.
He tells us of the Kingdom of God through the stories of the mustard seed, the different kinds of soil where the sower lets his seed fall to, and the treasure hidden in the field. If I think about it, how can it be told upfront – this Kingdom Come? Would we believe in Him that fast?
Stories and imagination help place our hearts and minds in an open and welcoming perspective. That maybe this is being told so we can understand better such a complex or heavenly thing as this. That maybe, there is this kernel (or boulder) of truth in these stories we are shared with. That maybe, our pretenses fall to the ground because our desire to know truth is stronger.
I believe we do the same with art. With writings. With illustrations. We hide our own truths there, because if we told them with just facts to the people we want to tell them to, it will be difficult. But through the eyes of a different character with her big hair of pencil shadings and her dress colored in with pastel, truth may ring louder and could possibly make our reader hear us better.
Books for children can tackle common themes too like folk tales, myths, contemporary stories with moral lessons and childhood experiences, as said by Ms Liza.
She added that we must write stories too that Filipinos can relate to. By stories they can relate to, she meant that we cannot easily write stories with snow in it, because the Philippines is a tropical country – not many will be able to relate to snow. Being able to relate to something invites our emotions and memories too, but there isn’t much of a memory to go back to when we have no recollection of this phenomenon when we were younger. So we can ask ourselves: what can make us feel something? What can make a child feel joy, laugh, learn better? What are some of the experiences I had that she could relate to?
Besides this, Ms Liza said that we are also given the freedom to innovate when we are called to do illustrations with characters that deviate from the norm. Like water molecules and red blood cells! It would be interesting how one would make them alive to readers.
When Ms Liza talked about this, I was reminded of the Disney Pixar movie, Inside Out. Emotions are given shape, form, character, and life. They are also drawn and animated in abstract! I can imagine how fun the visual development was like for that.
As we progress through the years, more possibilities are pouring in. Needs for new stories. Needs for illustrators. Year by year, we grow better, while learning from the masters. Ms Liza said that there are much more opportunities now than before.
Today, we have better compensation for book illustrators. Ms Liza gave clarity and tips regarding these practical aspects in the industry. Before she ended her talk, she also talked about the selection process, like how publishers would find the right illustrator for a manuscript or project.
Today, we have better illustrators, since everyone has diverse sets of styles now. More possibilities are realized and more angles surface on how to portray a story or character.
Today, we have more support as well. Illustration is being taught in schools now, and workshops and seminars are sprouting out every now and then, giving people a chance to learn more about this field.
There are recognitions and awards for writers and illustrators like the UNESCO’s Noma Concours (which had ended already in 2008) and the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) – Alcala Prize, and the National Children’s Book Awards (here’s a blog entry about it!). Some of our fellow Inkies have been recipients of many awards as well.
Today, we also have more tools. Printing before was limited and expensive. Ms Liza shared that there was a book (I wasn’t able to write the title) that had half of its pages printed in full color, while the other was in black and white.
We’ve got Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and other drawing software available for free download or for purchase online. We’ve got drawing tablets where pressure can be simulated, so brush strokes would look natural.
Today, there are also more better choices for illustrations, because we can experiment among styles, the media, and the technique. I learned something valuable about what Ms Liza said about media and technique.
The media refers to the tools (i.e. acrylic, watercolor, graphite, etc.), while the technique refers to how the material was used. Presently, a lot of people are into watercolor. At first glance, it may seem as though everything we see is the same, but it’s not. If we look closer and consider the process, there are differences to be noted. Two artists can use the same media, but they have different techniques. To further illustrate (no pun intended! Haha!) her point, Ms Liza showed us a number of watercolor illustrations made by different artists. They’re all made in one medium, but you can see how unlike one is from the other. Also, an artist can paint a different subject than another, so we still have our uniqueness as artists true to our hearts.
I’ve learned so much from her talk. Thank you, Ms Liza! I also got to ask her a question in the Q and A! (I should not write here how much courage and self-motivation I had to internally put myself into before raising my hand.) I asked if it were possible for a person to both write and illustrate the story, and she said yes! I would really really really really really love that! 🙂
As a conclusion, Ms Liza said that with all this growth in the children’s book illustration industry in the Philippines, we have better illustrations.
When I got to see my fellow newbies’ respective Tsinelas ni Inoy illustrations during the introduction, I thought, “Yes, indeed, Ms Liza – we will definitely keep having better illustrations.”
After Ms Liza’s talk, Ate Ara and Mr Rev asked everyone to stand up and stretch. Ana and I were talking to each other, sharing our fears of being asked to dance or introduce ourselves! But then, no, false alarm – we were going to play a game. Which was a funny game.
We were divided into four groups, the fourth being consisted of our senior Inkies. Four piece of paper were taped to the board directly in front of each group. The mechanics are as follows: everyone faces the board; the person at the back will be shown a figure/image; said person will draw the figure/image on the back of the person in front of him using his finger; second person needs to identify the figure/image being drawn; when she’s ready, she passes on the drawing to the back of the person in front of her, until the message is passed to the person in front of the line; the person in front will then hurry to the piece of paper and draw what he has understood from the figure drawn to his back.
I was the person in front of the person who was shown the figure/image. So, basically, I had to get it right, or else, I would be passing the wrong message to everyone in front of me!
On our dry run, I found that this was going to be difficult, because I couldn’t imagine right what our teammate was drawing. I honestly thought it was a number four, because he lifted his finger. But I wasn’t sure. So I just drew random lines – the way I interpreted his drawing – to our other teammate.
At the end, our drawing on the piece of paper was the number 4. Others had 12, if I’m not mistaken.
Then Ate Jamie Bauza declared what the picture was.
And we all had numbers as our answers!
The actual game itself was much more interesting. It was just one round, so the game went by fast. I thought that my teammates drew a flower with a stem and two leaves on my back. But then we found out that it was Mickey Mouse. Haha! Luckily, the person at the front of our line drew three circles, with the two ears elongated though, but it still did look like a minimalist Mickey Mouse! The first person in the other group, meanwhile, drew a flower, the same way I imagined it to be at first! It’s probably because of the circles. Sadly, we didn’t win – the Mickey Mouse shape of the fourth group looked more like Mickey, so they won!
All in all, it was a fun game.
After the game, Kuya Don sat on the chair and began moving slides in the OrSem presentation. Then came the slide with ‘Tsinelas ni Inoy’ written on it. One of the application requirements was to illustrate three drawings of this short story authored by Renato Vibiesca.
They said that we are to go in front of everyone and tell them about ourselves: what our name was, where we work at, and what our favorite children’s book was. We were asked to describe our works too in three words. While we would say this, Kuya Don would flash the three illustrations we made.
First to go was Ana! I loved her simple and cute drawings. Then came me.
Top of mind, I said that my favorite children’s book was Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. For some reason, I hadn’t thought about other favorites like Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time or AA Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh! It must have been the nerves.
Then Kuya Don showed my drawings.
I described them as mixed, personal, and texture-y. I should have just said textured! I apologize – I am not funny. 😦
But yes, recently, this has been my technique. I love drawing with pencils to give my drawings texture and shading, partially color them with either watercolor or colored pencils, then add other details or background colors in Photoshop.
I sat down and listened to my batchmates. (I forgot to mention – we are the 25th Anniversary batch of new Inkies! We had great timing in applying and getting accepted!)
Honestly speaking, when I saw their works, I thought, “Why am I here? Their works are much more detailed, more beautiful, cuter, executed better…” and all other levels of comparison I thought of. I thought that maybe the panelists who reviewed our works had a mistake. But Kuya Don mentioned after the presentation that we shouldn’t think that the others are more skillful or talented, but we should think that we were there, because there was something in us. That out of the hundred applications, we were the ones chosen to be called as Inkies.
Truly, I realized something too while listening and looking at my fellow Inkies’ works. I could see how diverse everything was – the style of one, the colors, the strokes – everything. We each had our own heart and soul (like Mr. Aldy’s works!) imbibed in our works. It made me think that we all saw Tsinelas ni Inoy differently, and that’s a beautiful thought.
We get to appreciate how other people see the world through the art they make. Yes, we get to appreciate them, and to not use them as measuring sticks to determine where we are.
Personally speaking, I don’t like competition between artists like who was more popular, or who got more likes, or who had more expressions of delight or awe when people saw their works, especially when it’s a person’s heart and soul that unified that piece of art. You can’t really compare a person’s heart from another, right? Did this have more love? Did this have less love when the artist was making it?
I get insecure, I compare myself to others, but I do not want to dwell on that, because I will end up with self-pity, or worse, think that I am better or less than others. I’ve been in that state of envy and comparison, and it isn’t healthy. There will be no progress in your part. Think too that it’s not only you who feels this way – a lot of us compare ourselves to unreal standards. We think we’re not good enough, or we will simply never be at par with our role models.
My Mom and my friend Julie once said that we shouldn’t get jealous if others were progressing more than we are; we should see them as inspiration instead for us to be better in our chosen fields. Whenever I spout hurtful words towards myself, my Mom and Dad would always be with me to encourage me. Even if we’re far from each other most of the time, I am always filled with bravery and faith and hope to go on. To just believe in myself. If my Mom, Dad, and friends believe in me, then isn’t that enough reason for me to try to do the same for myself to? And in turn, I can pass on the same encouragements to others who go through the same doubts as I do, but I can’t do that unless I show it to myself first.
If we try to train our hearts and minds to raise others up, help them improve, rejoice for what they love to do is being appreciated by many or is being awarded with many projects, the industry will surely flourish and thrive from the support and encouragement and growth we inspire in one another.
As I think about us newbies and our seasoned senior Inkies who sat in the back (I got to see Ate Frances Alvarez in person (!), who is one of my favorite illustrators, and who I believe is the reason I knew about Ang InK because she posted about it once in her blog when I was in college – thank you, Ate Frances, for being the road to this new and exciting journey!), I got more inspired rather than intimidated. They didn’t make it feel like a competition but a collaboration. There was support. There was affirmation. There was shared passion. There was bonding. There was family.
Lastly, before Ate Ara and Mr Rev closed the OrSem, one of our senior Inkies spoke. I’m afraid I wasn’t able to know his name, but his words struck me the most during the event.
He said that you could be the most skillful illustrator out there, but if you don’t know how to treat other people with respect, especially the people in the same industry we are in, then you still fall short of what you could be as a better artist and person.
I wasn’t able to get fully in verbatim the words he said, but I am sure I heard these two words right.
Indeed, at the end of the day, whichever place we find ourselves in, whichever person we cross paths with, I believe in treating others well, addressing them properly, and simply being a helpful and genuine person to them. What use are these gifts if we use them wrongly or if we focus too much on them or getting father than others, rather than asking God to purify our motives and hearts?
‘Truly, if the gifts, blessings, talents, and skills given to me by God will only make me conceited, proud, judgmental, cynical, mean, indifferent, and unloving, then I ask of Him to take them all away and give them to somebody else who can preach His love better than I can.’
I would say this little prayer of mine whenever I feel proud… Pride is a word I do not like much. So is confidence, for it can lead to pride… I’d rather use faith…
I pray that we all be faithful stewards of the gifts given to us by God.
How interesting and humbling to think that these two words will be echoed to me again, three years after my favorite professor in my alma mater in college said them to me when I was about to start my OJT.
Yes, Sirs. 🙂
Thank you for the reminders.
I will do my best to be good, just as our heavenly Father is good.
Thank you, Ang InK, for this opportunity for all of us to share in your vision of creating and promoting children’s illustrations in the Philippines. May we continue forging the path that have been constantly worked hard on by our seniors and role models. May we also invite others more to this cause of bringing beauty, joy, and lessons to our youth in the gifts we have been blessed with. The future will be clear as a cloudless sky as long as we continue passing on the torch, always burning bright.