For last week’s Studio assignment, I was tasked to do a presentation that included a brief background on myself, my design work prior to entering the MFA program at BU, and my work submitted last semester.
This is the gist of it.
I’ve lived all my life in the Philippines. It’s an archipelago made up of 7,640 islands. We’re known for beaches, diving, surfing, as well as graft and corruption.
I am the fourth of five kids — although I am widely regarded as the youngest. My mom refers to me as her late bloomer. It’s an endearing way to say that I’m the last one to get my shit together.
My dad is the typical business type you see in films — on the phone all the livelong day, has a collection of neckties, shines his shoes. Most of my family is like him; all but my mom. She went to art school and was an interior designer for a long time. While I love the rest of my family more than anything, she is my guide. Up to this point, she’s seen every piece I’ve done; not because I ask her to, but because she is genuinely interested. She’s constructive in her criticism and plain brutal with her feedback. She has an educated eye when it comes to design, so I’m fortunate to have her on my side.
In 2008, I was kicked out of the first university I attended and had to start all over again. I was essentially the weird, older dude in a freshman class, sitting by the corner of the classroom.
After what seemed like forever, I finally graduated college in 2013. I never excelled in school, but I finished and I’m proud of it. Better late than never.
2013–2016 was a dark period. Mentally, I was not in good shape. I was doing things I shouldn’t have been doing, and not doing things I should have. I was stuck; I had dug myself into a ditch, and couldn’t dig myself out. My family grew concerned about this, especially my eldest brother who is somewhat of a father figure to me.
One day, he called me up from Boston—where he had been residing. He gave me a long and serious talk about my life and how I was wasting it away. I knew this was serious because he’s usually a goof. He told me he had booked me a one-way flight to Boston in five days, and that I had no choice but to go. He would pay for everything. The only thing I had to do on my end was to pick out a 2-month course of my choice. Out of the pressure of leaving in five days, with no interest or prior knowledge on the field, I chose to take an introductory class to Graphic Design at the MFA.
Thank God it worked out because I would have wasted all of his money.
The first design I ever made was a book cover of Breakfast of Champions. It may not look like much, but I was extremely proud of myself. I could touch it, I could feel it, I couldn’t believe I sprouted this physical thing from my brain. I was elated and it was a much-needed feeling at the time.
After finishing the course, I flew back home. I took a full-time job with my dad, and on the side, I practiced my ass off and read up on how to get better at design. My thinking was that before doing work for an actual client, I had to first be fluent in the programs. The way I went about it was by illustrating. My goal was to do one illustration a day, get acquainted with the programs, experiment with color. I drew whatever I wanted.
All the while, I had been posting my illustrations on Instagram. Shortly after, I received a message for my first ever logo opportunity. It was a huge deal for me not just because someone was crazy enough to pay me for it, but because it was for a band fronted by a rock icon in the Philippines.
I then asked for payment after turning in the files. They completely ghosted me, and never paid me a cent. To rub salt on the wound, the logo was all over their social media, posters, merch, and music videos. I was bummed. Lesson learned.
Branding quickly became my side hustle. When people found out I was now a designer, they contacted me because my price was cheaper than most. After all, my main prerogative was to build a strong portfolio, not money.
It was a prolific time for me as I would take on 3-4 jobs at once.
Two years had passed (2018/2019) and design was still taking up most of my thoughts. At this point, I knew what I wanted to pursue as my full-time career. I decided to join a studio to get professional experience. I view that time as my undergrad in design.
My boss, who is somewhat of a mentor, had taken a liking to me and took me wherever he went, introduced me to his associates, and such. I’d ask him about anything I could find useful, and he was eager to walk me through it. The studio essentially did branding as I did, but at a much larger, commercial scale. The moments I found most engaging were when we worked on the construction of restaurants. We would build them from the ground up, sort out the interiors, and create the entire identity.
I worked for the studio for 2 years. I was 30 by the time I resigned. That year, I was accepted into the MFA program at BU.
Below are some examples of my work for Kristen’s Studio I class. “Signs of Life”, my color study on black, was the most exhausting piece I have done so far. I illustrated each frame in a style I am not accustomed to. In the video, I attempted to investigate the subtle events that occur in life, that we often pay no mind to.
Below are some examples of my work for Grad. Type II.
Now 31, I plan to move onward with design. And when I graduate from the MFA program, I hope to get high-level work experience in the US for about 4–5 years, or however long it takes. When I’m ready, I’ll eventually go back home to be closer to my family, and start my own design firm. I expect to hire young architects, interior designers, exhibition designers, type designers, and the like.
The Philippines is a developing nation and is behind in so many aspects. Design is simply one of them. The US doesn’t need any more designers like me. So, at the moment, my life’s goal is to hopefully contribute to the growth and prosperity of my country the only way I know how to — design.