Writer’s Recap: Harnessing the fiery passion for the Arts at ‘Graphika Manila 2023’

Last February 11 to 12, Graphika Manila 2023, the Philippines’ annual premier creativity conference, made its comeback at the SMX Convention Center Manila, Pasay City. This year, it was able to make its regular two-day comeback as it featured an impressive slate of inspirational speakers in the world of art and design. 

Working for what you want

The event opened with Thiago Maia, who is more known online by his artist name, Cookie Studio. With a session that carried his catchphrase, “It’s OK not to be OK,” Maia talked about his experience with mental health and the growth of his art style during the pandemic as he brought his personal anecdotes to life and ended his segment by telling the audience that it is perfectly okay to seek the help you need by turning to others. 

The momentum from the first talk was only heightened by the second speaker, illustrator, and apparel designer Dan Fajardo. With a wry smile, he began his “Earned, not Given” story by telling the audience about his evolution from an appliance store photoshopper to a big name in the design industry through his eye-catching artwork on shirts. Through it all, Fajardo emphasized that everyone should “create the way you love, not [the way] you feel you should”. 

Graphic and type designer Jo Malinis then took the stage with her bright smile and bubbly personality. She enraptured the audience by walking them through every painstaking step of the process of typeface design, elaborating that she usually “sketches first…[then] figures out which ones to develop further”. Malinis then doubled down on the importance of education and passing on artistic skill sets to the younger generations, hoping to inspire more people to fill the lack of type designers in the Philippines. 

During the break, iconic visual artist and illustrator Kevin Eric Raymundo, better known by his artist name Tarantadong Kalbo, was called to animate his creations live onstage. Raymundo showcased the intricate and specific technicalities that go into the art of animation and encouraged the onlookers to not just develop their artistic skills but to be open to learning more and doing more with modern technology. 

Soleil Ignacio came out of the break by stirring the audience with her topic on how to handle burnout and rejection while evolving as a creator—a piece that truly resonated with all artists who were present. She shared her heartbreak after being dropped from a project that she loved and revealed that her artistic confidence took a huge hit. She was only able to rise up again by evolving as an artist and taking these failures into stride and learning from them. “Zoom out to zoom in,” she affirmed, telling the audience to first take a breath and recover before setting their sights on their goals once again. 

Contrary to Ignacio’s calm and measured tone, Super Bonfire Group co-founders Jason Kirby and Kaism Lim turned the atmosphere of the event up a notch through their energetic and lively discussion. The duo regaled the audience with their enthralling video productions that were created meticulously during the pandemic and with no small amount of innovation. Although being together at Graphika was the first time they’d seen each other physically in three years, the bond and close dynamic that they shared was evident in the way they bounced ideas off each other and held the same sentiments. 

The first day of Graphika 2023 was capped off by a journey of “self-discovery, growth, and change” told by director and designer Matthew Encina. Encina’s talk revolved around being confident in and loving your own work—a fitting conclusion to the first day of the art convention. “Art comes from the heart,” he quipped cheerfully. Encina elaborated that to become a better artist, one must “move forward and let go of the past.” His piece was then wrapped up by three nuggets of wisdom: “Listen to your gut, trust yourself, and check your ego.”

Illustrative storytelling

On the last leg of the two-day event, the renowned speakers had a common message to convey: the stories always come first. Manix Abrera started the afternoon’s lineup with a humorous recall of his best works, which included hints of political commentary exaggerated through Filipino slices of life. In the art of comic writing, the Kikomachine Komix author contended that it is not always about the visuals. “Lagi mong lagyan ng story. Kahit simple lang. Basta lagyan mo lang ng story, lalalim na ‘yung gawa mo.” 

(Always include a story. Even if it’s simple. As long as you include a story, your work will have depth.)

Marti Romances from Territory Studios imparted the essence of their work in motion graphics: “we don’t recreate stuff… we create something that doesn’t exist,” pertaining to the work they have done in visual projects with the creators of Marvel Studios, Nike, and NASA, to name a few. The creative designer and co-founder shared that they anchor on visualizing and curating what the future looks like as after all, “most importantly, we’re telling stories.” 

In a similar vein, some artists who shared the stage monologued their own misadventures before their success stories. Panelist Burton Rast shared his struggles with homelessness, addiction, and internalized intellectual discrimination before getting to where he is now—based in San Francisco as Google’s UX Design Lead. He found his way through with encouragement from colleagues and peers who found the beauty in his work. “Mentorship is everything,” Rast affirmed. 

Patrick Cabral, a famous paper sculpture artist, was even brought to tears as he spoke to the audience. As paper sculpting is a rather niche art form, the former web developer struggled with legitimizing his work. Unsurprisingly, this hurdle did not entail his career’s full stop. “You’ll make it by attaching your work to an important cause,” he declared.  

The very sought-after wedding videographer and father of “same day edits” Jason Magbanua remarked that he reminds himself that he is in the service industry, arguing that boredom is the number one enemy. He quickly reclaimed with a smile, “If my creativity is not there, I will lean on my professionalism.” Even then, he shared that he reminds himself that “it may be [his nth] time in this place, but it’s my clients’ first wedding…I have to improve constantly.” 

As the sole female speaker on the last day, Japan-based creative artist Mitsuko Ono spoke to the underdogs of the art scene: the non-degree holders. “You need to imagine where art is headed”, she imparted, pertaining to her move to teaching herself about alternative reality development. Ono has become one of the most notable figures in creating visual filters on social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram, often going viral from the unique and mind-blowing effects.

The final presenter was none other than the man who single-handedly brought NFTs to the mainstream: Mike Winkelmann. More often referred to as Beeple, he shared that “once you get that momentum, it keeps you moving forward”. Known for his unfathomable sale of USD69 million for his art Everydays: The First 5000 Days, Winkelmaan was cheered on as he announced that he would be making an artwork live on stage. Winkelmann made quite the controversy as he started with a base form of twin former President Rodrigo Dutertes and added other elements such as jail bars and bloody hands, sending the audience into bursts of laughter as he tweeted it with the caption “Twotertes”.

As the white screen rolls up

Following the tide of the Graphika conventions that have come before, this year’s event continued their tradition of bringing in some of the world’s best in the digital art scene to make their marks in the Filipino pool of aspirants. As people took their last selfies at the venue, bid newfound friends goodbye, and left the event room emboldened, there was comfort in knowing that they would unwind in their homes fulfilled and instilled with a new sense of purpose taken from the two-day convention. 

Marie Angeli Peña

By Marie Angeli Peña

Samantha Ubiadas

By Samantha Ubiadas

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