Sunday, March 06, 2011

Creation, Elucidation

In December of 2009, an anonymous commenter posted on my blog, reacting to my drawings:

“The drawings are not bad. But I think u should stick to being a critic and writer. Not everyone has it takes to do everything.”

My response was, “Thank you for preferring one skill set over the other. :) But I’ve been drawing long before I ever wrote anything coherent, so I don’t think I’ll be stopping any time soon.”

Referring to his or her final sentence, I added: “That’s probably true, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing things that make us happy, or things that help us express ourselves more.”

The person later said he (or she) “was just teasing.” It’s been a long time, and I just saw those comments again. I’d just like to talk about the topic for a second.

I do consider myself lucky that I can both write and draw. I developed my illustrating ability years before I began writing professionally. I’d say these were the results of being exposed to comic books, Pinoy and foreign, and to different forms of media available to me as I was growing up. Like any person with similar talents, I knew that I had the aptitude for them back in school, and teachers and peers saw my potential. I was mostly self-taught before I went to college, and considered comic books as my main source of artistic inspiration, although I remember doing pencil portraits of Debbie Gibson, Terence Trent D’Arby, and ALF. The X-Men were my heroes, and I drew them quite often. Here’s something I did when I was 14, scanned off a friend’s notebook.

By college, I mostly learned art techniques from friends and classmates, more than from teachers. I was exposed to more styles and forms, but was still looking at comic books for inspiration. We were prepped for ad agency jobs, but after graduating, I took time off from job-hunting and decided to draw more, getting involved in indie comic projects. One that did get published was a collaboration with writer David Hontiveros, which later became a National Book Awards finalist.

Finding good-paying illustrating jobs was difficult back then; I remember drawing Bible comics for an educational mag and cringing at the results. But Marvel comic book artist Whilce Portacio trained me eventually. It was a big deal because he taught me for free, in his Quezon City studio. He had an art school at Megamall but he had other people teaching. We focused on penciling techniques and anatomy in a span of a few months, but he had to leave for the US so the training abruptly ended. I’d continue drawing, and even joined some art contests. Below is one such entry, “Audacity.” (© Comic Quest-OLS)

Again, getting drawing assignments I was comfy with was tough during that period. But my first official writing gig came about a year later. It was a comic strip that I also drew for a music magazine. That led to writing comic book reviews for another publication. With only a few articles published, I felt the desire to keep doing it. I embraced the career shift. I submitted articles to an entertainment section of a daily. The editor wanted me to write regularly. That was a life-saver. It led to some copywriting opportunities. I became a regular contributing writer during this period, reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities for that section. I would later write for the lifestyle section too.

One thing that has remained constant through all of this is learning. Life before the paper was like I was in limbo; during the times I felt directionless, I’d watch movies at a nearby mall, and be there for the first screenings on opening day. I’d keep buying and reading comic books at Book Sale branches, and read art, celebrity and mythology books and all sorts of magazines at bookstores for hours as if they were libraries. Subscribing to a monthly comic book catalog for years helped me. I didn’t read the 300-plus page tome from cover to cover, but I did absorb the rules of grammar and different styles of ad copy. I watched cable shows from dusk till dawn (which got me scolded one time; but Dad would later be proud of me for doing just that and talking about TV shows through my articles). I became thankful to the few good English teachers back in high school whose basic lessons I was able to remember many, many years later.

I’d say that those two things—writing and drawing—continue to help me communicate my thoughts, my ideas, apart from helping me pay for things I need. I feel embarrassed whenever I see anything I wrote back in the ‘90s, and there are artworks that just make me groan. Still, there are old stuff I’m proud of, like the very first movie review I wrote, a report I did for a sibling in college. There are a few drawings that make me smile, too.

Anyway, learning doesn’t really stop; I still learn new things that I’m consciously applying to my craft. I’m glad that I’m able to express myself through these ways. No one’s stopping me from doing them. But I do know my limitations, which is why I only sing in karaoke booths, or when nobody’s around.

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