To the Struggling Artists of Lahug (and nearby) , Merry Christmas!
If you are just starting out or struggling, I hope you know that it gets better.
I say this as someone who in the mid-2000s wrote all day and hardly had enough to pay rent. Or as it became years later — someone who who tried to build a design studio in a garage. Johanna and I had to make do with one old laptop then, which we called the “the laptop of death” because it would randomly give out a painful electric shock and I honestly thought it would kill either one, or both, of us one day.
In 2018, the studio will turn 9. We’re still a small core group of people focusing on communication design and illustration but also having had the chance to make sculptures and even production design work for brands like Disney. There are some projects lined up, there are dusty trophies given to us by respected organizations, and the space is a little bit bigger and better lit now. But I do not know if you can call us a success, that’s not something for me to say.
So far we have survived by going through the necessary pains, including self-promotion. I know how that almost sounds like a dirty word and it might make you uneasy but it is vital to survival, my friend. We’ve done this by doing tried-and-tested simple things like giving postcards to potential clients, submitting work to publications, and doing the modern day chores of the Instagram thing and, once in a while, crawling out of our shells to public events, like conferences (yikes, strangers).
We’re much more comfortable at just working really hard and being open to clients about the process of work. I think they appreciate all the effort more. Get things done. Good work leads to more work. Communicate well and set clear expectations so that there are no great disappointments.
By far, word-of-mouth has been super helpful. I don’t think we could have survived this long had it not been for other people talking about us to help us get work. Because why else would the office of a crown prince call a garage in Salinas Drive, Lahug when there is an ocean of talent everywhere else? ( I still remember the deep voice of the man from the Middle East, “Hello, I am calling from the Kingdom, is this the happy garage?”). If you believe you can get by through your talents alone then you might have fallen into a dark and common pit. Seeing how people help you grow keeps you humble because for every big project or new paycheck that you receive, you’ll realize all the steps that you’ve taken to move forward and that somewhere there is someone else who was once like you — in a small room working hard just trying to get by.
It’s okay to be thankful and, every now and then, to stop and see where you’ve been and where you might go. This is important. The more we learn the more we can figure out where and how we can take our art to places we never thought was possible.
In fact, don’t be an ingrate and a know-it-all because no one likes that. The life of a Lahug (and nearby) artist is hard. It will take some time to find your voice and a niche market and you’ll perhaps need to support yourself by doing other jobs. But when you do figure it out, the sweet consolation is, well, you can live by making creative things every day.
I hope you do not lose track of what it is that makes you special as an artist or a maker of things or a teller of stories — and that is your view of the world. No one else can see through your eyes.
And I hope you don’t feel that the unceasing feed of foreign art on the internet is a more interesting source of inspiration than your life in Lahug (and nearby). An everyday thing to you is a fascinating world to someone else. Besides, what is there to be bored about? The street in Salinas Drive alone, for example (where I am writing this) is ever-shifting in all its tourist-island-paradise-meets-developing-city cyberpunk inter-weavings. The giant buildings that are rising to cast shadows on little tin-roofed houses might show you the drama in the inequalities of progress. The sound of nearby slaughterhouses can be heard from inside call-center booths is somewhat of a reality that is true to you. The night-time, rush-hour traffic stops to show people in their cars and in jeepneys, their phones lighting up their faces just enough so you can see how they might look as portraits emerging out of darkness. And then there are actual conversations that open up vistas into other people’s opinions and feelings and ideas and these dance around with your own thoughts and create new perspectives.
Work really hard at becoming better at your craft so you’ll be able to show the world your vision more clearly. The more you create things the more you’ll develop nuances and in the end, you can steer your message and deliver it in the way you desire — tender like a lullaby or cutting through guts like a machete. And if you are brave enough to be honest then you won’t be bothered too much by anyone who tells you that your work sucks because it is different from everyone else’s.
And lastly, price well. Don’t undervalue your work. You deserve to be paid, to live comfortably and to take your family to vacations. Learn to pitch and to talk in words that your clients will understand and appreciate — I’ve been there, you are ranting to yourself saying the client doesn’t get your genius but, hey, if you can’t convince them you’ll have a hard time convincing their customers or anyone else. Words are powerful. If you string them together just right, in a tone that is sweet, people will appreciate you. You can do it, stand in front of the mirror and practice these words: “pay me for my genius.” Now point at yourself. That last bit was a joke but you know what I mean.
Merry Christmas, my creative friend. I hope we see each other in the streets and maybe we can talk about making things or just life in general. I hope you have a good 2018.
P.S. Some studio snaps below: