Very Sketchy: Filipino illustrators get their well-deserved spotlight at the Manila Illustration Fair

“This garden is unexpected, isn’t it?” developer Maya Katigbak-Colayco told Dan Matutina, the co-founder of Plus63 Design Studio, four months ago during a site tour of the newly constructed Comuna in Makati. “My mom’s marching orders to the Spanish architect was to ‘waste’ as much space in the property to make it feel communal. See, this will probably be her last project, and once anyone enters, she insists it be so interesting for them that they won’t want to leave.” 

“This is perf!” The designer said. “Creatives need to find each other again post-pandemic to encourage random interactions and spark new ideas. Surprising to find a place like this in Makati,” he added.

Matutina was referring to the upcoming Manila Illustration Fair, the brainchild that had been incubating in the designer’s mind. Matutina is regarded as a pillar of the country’s visual and communication design industry, whose Plus63 design studio counts certain top-tier clients such as Uniqlo.

As an in-demand judge at international illustration fairs, Matutina wanted an annual event that would showcase collective local illustrator talent esteemed internationally but largely unknown in the Philippines.

All that was left was a space. He realized that Comuna had built it, and he would make sure they would come. 

Filipino and other jurors based in Singapore, Thailand, and Japan, were appointed to shortlist the scores of submissions. Then the usual logistic wildfires were put out, like tickets (free, but best to register), events (talks and folio reviews by veterans of the industry), and even food and drinks (provided by incoming tenants of Comuna, fellow kindred creative spirits).

Here’s a look at four of the exhibitors at the upcoming Manila Illustration Fair.

JILL ARTECHE | 27 | residency in Illustration & Visual Storytelling at the School of Visual Arts, New York 

“When I found out I was selected, I gave my dog a big hug!” 27-year-old Jill Arteche exclaimed. The ability to convey stories from day-to-day life, as well as being natural storytellers, she attests, is what makes Filipino illustrations so appealing. 

“In a nutshell, I love to draw funny-looking people in everyday scenes. I love to transform the mundane into comical illustrations that, hopefully, people can sense familiarity with,” she shared about her illustration style, adding that she was inspired by the cartoons she watched as a child.

“Growing up, I loved watching cartoons and always found myself going back to The Addams Family, Looney Tunes, and Mr. Bean. When I go out, I observe and draw whatever amuses me in the little sketchbook that I always carry around.”

Painting is just another way to keep a diary, Pablo Picasso once said – a quote that captures her reason for making art. “I’ve never been good with words, so I turned to art as a way to record my personal experiences. But unlike a diary, nothing is kept private.”

IVEE PENDO | 29 | quiet contemplations in vintage anime style

“Making the Top 20 felt like shooting for the moon. Somehow, I stuck the landing!” said 29-year-old Ivee Pendo, who works in data science and analytics by day and illustrates by night.

She believes Filipinos are earnest maximalists: “We love expression and celebration, and this transforms the spaces we inhabit. It’s not uncommon for a Filipino household to be adorned with abubot —it demands space, and we joyfully oblige.”

From neighborhood murals to sari-sari store signages to the loud boldness of jeepney designs, Pendo believes we treat our spaces as extensions of ourselves, a facet that spills into her art style.

“My art has lots of deep reds, blues, and greens, giving it a vintage anime vibe that you see in retro Japanese manga magazines. All my personal and commercial commissions are digitally freehand drawn in gouache/aquarelle coloring treatment and chalky outlines,” she explains.

When it comes to exhibiting her work at the upcoming fair, Pendo looks forward most of all to surrounding herself with other creatives. “It just feels very cool to be around other creatives. A lot of us are quite shy and introverted, so having a space like MIF 2023 to interact with people who mutually share something so personal helps bring me out of my shell,” she shared.

KAT MELO | 26 | uncalculated and playful art

“I am an overthinker, and so my brain went into overdrive. Do I have enough work to show? Ohmygosh, the other artists are so talented! But I could barely keep myself from smiling the rest of the day,” Kat Melo shared upon finding out she was chosen to exhibit at the fair.

Melo enjoys using paper in her art because it allows her to be imprecise. “I’m forced by the rips and cuts to focus on just the impressions of things. Maybe you see a mundane thing in a new light. Maybe you like the colors, and it just sparks joy.”

Melo shares that she is inspired by a quote by Michael Beirut: “For design can’t save the world. Only people can do that. But design can give us the inspiration, the tools, and the means to try.”

“We take pride in our work as designers and illustrators,” Melo says. “Sometimes, however, our work can seem like the most important thing on earth. We have to remember who we do it for, and why we do it.”

DIDI NYUNYU | 29 | drawing people as their wenk wonk selves

“I used to major in Engineering, and exactly ten years ago, I shifted to a graphic design course. This event feels to me like the culmination of a decade after making that choice, and here I am finally after honoring my desire to find my creative path, treating my heart as a place of worship, and drawing to my heart’s content!” Didi Nyunyu narrated.

She likes to think that the stories she tells sing the same songs as the revolutionaries she holds in high esteem—Che Guevara, Angela Davis, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Walter Rodney, Clara Zetkin, and Kwame Nkrumah.

“But I’m far from being as big as any of them. I hope to be someday though,” she said with a hopeful tone. “Rarely are artists treated with care in the creative industry, and MIF will uplift us significantly as artists against that norm. Artists, most of us working class, are still at the mercy of the one percent. MIF will be one of those events that will advocate that creatives deserve livable wages (and much more)!”

The Manila Illustration Fair runs from June 24 to 25 (Saturday to Sunday), from 10am to 7pm. Entrance is free, with parking. Food and drinks are available.

Comuna is at 238 Pablo Ocampo Sr. Ext., San Antonio Village, Makati City

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