Friday, March 9, 2007

Editorial Illustrations

Editorial drawings, whether in cartoon or illustrative format are always a challenge. Editors give me a precis of the story. They rarely or never tell me what to do, likewise I never interfere in their writing;-)

After studying the story, imagination flies..hovering everywhere; if I swat a few, one surely lands in my coffee.
The buzz of spinning visual elements last for a few minutes, then bingo!
Thumbnails first doodled in the mind now dance on paper. Hours later size comes in from sub-editors. The playing field is only a few centimeters square yet vast when empty. I kept saying to myself- no worries mate, she'll be right mate, a bit of hard yakka and Bob's your uncle. More than 20 years of this kind of work taught me to avoid visual cliches. Readers remember images like pachiderms and they know recycled old design if they spot one. Even as concepts are as old as marriage and divorce, a new design and composition certainly shall refresh the air while still considering social taboos and abiding to journalistic ethics. It is a marriage of form and content, divorced from stereotypes.
The dimension of the drawing is important, orientation-wise. There are only 2 anyway, portrait and landscape. Square is safe but restricts design (including circles) which work well with design of logos. Now that's a different story.
Anxiety starts my motor running, pumping images from thin air into my brain as I turn on the electric aircompressor. If penciled rough looks good enough I then mask it, cut the outline using a swiveling scalpel knife which can roll down from the inclined drawing table and might draw blood on the floor if your foot is unprotected.
The brand of ink I'm using is fast becoming a Torana or an Edsel, orphaned by a new breed of artists who are getting comfy with their Wacom pads and Modbooks. They don't know what they're missing. Manual airbrushing couldn't be duplicated by any computer paint program. Just like any high-tech Porsche or Ferrari model, the thing started with a humble medium..clay!
Drawing for "real" newspapers began for me in Manila in 1977 when out of the blue the idea hit me. I thought then it's time to impress friends! I will have a drawing printed in the newspapers! Damn it! Ah been waitin' for too long! I was determined as hell! Why? Because I pine for student newspaper work. I miss my friends. In the latter years of the 60's while John Lennon was experimenting with lsd, we experimented on radical student journalism. But the Marcos dictatorship cannot and will never tolerate us. Our classrooms were often raided by paramilitary forces eager to capture the nerdy types with the hammer and sickle tattooed on their foreheads, young and stupid idiots of the academe who have been writing awful things about the power of their civility.
Before I was free to lampoon crooked politicians and despotic college registrars in our college paper. During martial law everyone disappeared, either one became a desperado or a desaparecido. I chose the former. I was desperate for youthful social acceptance I earned by doing what I love to do. I lost my readers, no sensible college paper existed critical of the government. I had no creative outlet for the demons inside me!
I took the lift straight up the editor's office, avoiding the eyes of editorial and art staff. I knew it's the only way to skip bureaucracy. Anyway it's the rule, if you're desperate for something, go straight to the big boss.
-Mr. Rodriguez, how come there are only a few comic strip by Filipinos in your newspaper? It's sad because you call yourself the Philippine Bulletin Today. The editor was silent for awhile.
-Well there's Tisoy and Baltic & Co isn't it? Did you think we need more Filipino strips on our comic page?
-Yes Mr. Rodriguez sir, that's why I have here some comic strips I'd like you to look at.
On June 25th 1977, exactly on my birthday my first comic strip entitled SIC was published and it ran for 3 years even if I were already in Australia. In between I did editorial cartoons for other newspapers like the Philippine Daily and Evening Express and animation work with the late Nonoy Marcelo. Later on I drifted to serious editorial cartooning and got busy for Australian newspapers and Asia-Pacific magazines and still is.
Image 1: Caught Between Religions (Sydney Morning Herald op-editorial)
Image 2: Drought illustration was part of my exhibit at the National Museum of Australia (right click here)

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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Jerson Trinidad, A Voice From Woop-woop

Here's a caricature of an old friend. How shall I label it? I'll try..

Jerson Trinidad WWW.
Pioneer Filipino-Australian Idol

Even before the internet, the initials “www.” for us guys here in the Filipino-Australian community meant Wagga Wagga Wonder, period.

Can’t argue. That was a period driven by rich, patriotic adrenalin. The boy with a golden voice comes from an Australian town so far away from Sydney, people refer to it as woop-woop (Australian for the middle of nowhere).

YouTube nothing, those were the days Pinoys in every Filipino food store would greet each other “Ayy napanood mo si Jerson sa TV kagabi; naku laglag ang pantinola ko!” ..and another..“Hanep si Jerson! Lalaking-lalaki!” (affectionate + a little sarcastic laughter) That translates to “Hey did you watch Jerson last night? Oh goodness me, my garters broke!” “Jerson’s incredible, he looked so macho!”

Jerson was television’s darling when he won Star Search in 1992, a singing competition to what is now Australian Idol. Wagga Wagga locals, including drovers, crowded it’s lone pub to see on television their local larrikin Jerson make waves in the Big Smoke.

His mum is Filipina and has settled in step with his father in Wagga Wagga until he moved out to Sydney to pluck his oyster. He indulged.

The following year Jerson became champion of the popular Bert Newton’s New Faces on Channel 10. Wagga Wagga was once again put on the map, topography of which included a proud Filipino Australian community. Soon boy wonder touched every microphone in Sydney’s night life. Session bands were desperate for him. He also sung solo, most of the time performing with imported OPM (Original Pinoy Music) artists from Manila. He was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of friends who sometimes spoilt him.

I can read Jerson like a book. He lived in a room in my house for a while, that was when I was still married to a fabulous singer. But that’s another story. Jerson banged on my piano all night long trying to capture some mysterious notes with grim determination. I told him “Jerson next life you should be a violin!”

There’s a wild and romantic man in Jerson which he longed to release via cool and expressive genres like soul, jazz and funk - yet his heart remained aloof of gender stereotypes. Then Jerson disappeared from Sydney. Mental posters were pasted all over Fil-Aus community’s nocturnal metropolitan walls—Jerson Trinidad is missing! Was he kidnapped?

Grand Hyatt Melbourne won’t let go of Jerson - that I found out when we were there after attending a Filipino fiesta where I was commissioned to do promotional caricatures for a Pinoy global media company.

Tito Edd, masaya naman ako dito. Dinadayo ang Hyatt dahil sa amin (the band) o dahil sa akin, hahaha! (“Uncle” Edd, I’m happy here. People come from afar to see our band, or maybe to see me.”) He was right. The Hyatt crowd wanted more and kept the bar busy. Fair dinkum, I heard this from a British patron sitting beside me. “Most awesome band I’ve ever heard, incredible voice that Jerson guy!”

Looking at my watch it was almost 1 a.m. and I thought drummer was tired when he rose up only to be replaced by a guest drummer who stormed in and made all our jaws drop. It’s the famous Guy Sebastian, the first Australian Idol!

Gee, I didn’t know he could play drums. However I know Guy’s a music teacher and need not be surprised. I learned he often jams with Jerson. Lots of souveneir photographs were taken after the show and with a big, white cloud of smoke as signal, I caught Jerson’s attention and finally snared the hostage:

EA: So what are you up to now, Jers?

JT: Working on an album now, Tito Edd, under Mustang Records. The album is called
Soul Dancing!

EA: Wow astig! Is that for mainstream?

JT: Of course Tito, it’s jazzy and a lot of funk style.

EA: I can’t wait. How long has Hyatt held you err…“hostage”?

JT: About 5 years now Tito and it hurts.. they don’t wanna let go of me! (giggles) although I’m beginning to like it here.

EA: Oh Jerson, that’s called the Stockholm syndrome, just like in the movie Dog Day Afternoon where hostages sympathize with the kidnapper. Ha-ha-ha, I guess it works out okay for both parties. So what do you mean there’s change soon?
JT: I’m off for Japan and will be there for 3 months.

EA: Why? You’re not gonna burn all karaoke machines there are you?

JT: Ha-ha, no Tito, I’ll be there on a social investigation mission. I’ll have to find out which big

hotel can keep me hostage and if the ransom can’t be paid by the next bigger hotel then you know…good for me, ha-ha-ha!

EA: I’m an ignorant and jealous Sydneysider, so what’s happening in your Hyatt Melbourne gigs?

JT: It’s great but regularity wears me out, except on occasions where there are international singer guests who stay at the Hyatt. Just recently I was doing a duet with
Jamie Cullum who was so gracious enough to get bored in his majestic room and came down to listen to me until he actually sang a song with us house band who are also Pinoys!

EA: That’s terrific Jers, am proud of you and the Pinoy talent. Who are you listening to right now?

JT: Frank McKomb, great jazz singer. He inspires me a lot.

EA: Who else inspires you Jers?

JT: Still the great Al Jarreu and George Benson Tito Edd. And they will be staying at the Hyatt, too this month. That means they’ll also get bored in their luxurious rooms, come down and shall jam with me (giggles again). Cough-cough.

EA: Hey Jerson, you’re smoking too much. Take care of your singing throat and leave some for me, hahaha! Seriously though, when are you coming back to Sydney?

JT: I don’t know yet Tito, but I’d love to. I was in Sydney last year front-acting for APO Hiking Society at the State theatre. There I saw again old friends. I was so teary-eyed, Tito, because they missed me so much!

EA: Maybe because you owe them money!:)

JT: Hahaha ay naku Tito mabait na po ako ngayon. (I’m a good boy now uncle.); but I’ll have to move on.

EA: Good luck to you Jerson. Does your mum still live in Wagga Wagga?

JT: Forgot to tell you, we’ve moved away already Tito Edd.

EA: Oh really? Whereabouts now?

JT: I visit mum now at Warrnambool!

EA: Huh? Now that’s even woop-woop-er!

JT: Ha-ha-ha, they love it there, the couple would never trade the vast space of land and sky for city living.

EA: Thanks Jerson, all the best and hope to hear from you soon… and good luck to your Japan stint. You won’t be lonely with all the Pinoy musicians there. Now don’t spoil yourself too much, you’re an artiste not a Yakuza layaw, Japrox! (Sorry, hard to translate:)

JT: Ha-ha-ha. That would be a cute title for a song! Thank you, too Tito Edd! By the way I love reading your blogs! A big hello to your readers! Salamat po sa inyong patuloy na pagtangkilik sa kakayahan ng mga Pilipino-Australyano (Thank you for continuously patronising the Filipino-Australian talent).

Watch Jerson sing Stevie Wonder's classic knocks me off my feet.

this article is published in Bayanihan News, March 2007 All rights reserved

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Monday, March 5, 2007

Caricatures for World Peace

Caricatures put food on the table. People ring me up for gifts and events, both from corporate and personal clientele.

The last function I did was for a bank, I won't say which bank, but that awesome Christmas party was held at the National Museum of Australia (of all places!) with dinosaur bones hanging like orthopaedic chandeliers. To my left, watching me sketch excitedly chatty and wined up mahogany rowers, were mounted bones of a terrifying raptor, its hollowed eyes as if saying you better do a good job buddy or else!

I've probably drawn thousands of faces since 1973 outside newspaper work. Usually it doesn't take me 5 minutes to do a quick one. So in a conference or party I can draw up to a hundred people. It's a delight to draw older women; young women - gallant work but a bit tricky, old men relaxing - love those wrinkles when they smile which give instant features of wisdom; but toddlers and babies? I avoid them! They're not intimidating, they just move about too much. Anyway its pointless to do caricatures of them as they already look cute and funny;-) Parents, just allow professionals take their photo portraitures until at the age when they try to borrow your car keys.

Nuclear Crisis! India and Pakistan in the Brink of War! Shocked Sydneysiders read the morning headlines over their Vegemite sandwiches. That same morning I was in a tea party hosted by wife of Philippine consul. It was mini-United Nations of beautiful and elegant women who reminded me of classic Bond films. There was this gentle Filipino classical pianist who serenaded them while exotic hors de oeuvers were passed around. I was a guest and understood I was politely expected to sketch. No money involved but was asked to please take home a nice bottle of wine;-)

The morning fog has lifted and a gentle wind swayed the yellowing leaves of rows of potted bamboo outside the Elizabeth Bay House. Inside the temperature was much more controlled including gentle murmurs of well-dressed people at 7:30 in the morning. My goodness they must have been busy putting on their intricate national dresses at 5 a.m.!
After brief yet formal introductions I found myself ready with drawing pencils and paper in hand. Seated in front of me were two middle-aged but beautiful women each representing 2 nations mentioned in the morning papers--India and Pakistan! (top photo) I couldn't believe my luck, vividly reminescing a short conversation with them.

First allow me, I do talk to my subjects while I draw. This relaxes them and take their conscious attention away from what I'm doing.

I try to inject humor sometimes to keep them smiling. Worse one can do is draw a frowning caricature. We leave that to editorial cartoonists who lampoon our politicians. My intention here is to entertain, never at all thinking about perfect draftsmanship nor painstakingly drawing every existing line and counting number of eyelashes on each eye. Never did I want to live life as a photocopier:)

I always advise my students to be spontaneous but unabrupt; moving with confidence, working inside a parameter of wisdom and disciplines picked up from past mistakes. One never analyses the taste of chocolate ice cream, one just relishes it. The line is drawn in mind even before on paper so strokes should be quick--no dilly-dallying and one can lick it.
I suggest that they start with light strokes, getting darker as deemed right second or third time. On the spot drawings can always be tricky but can be planned ahead. One may not erase early pencil sketches and not be shy of them. They add character and say a lot about historical development of one's drawing. People know if one hesitates and ends up with an overworked drawing constructed with unnatural, jagged lines--looking like a reflection on a flat but crumpled tinfoil. Now there's always room for improvement. Everyone makes mistakes, it's part of persistent practice..then tries again until nirvana.

When drawing someone a caricature, it's best to let one's happy feelings ride on the pencil and avoid talking about matters so seriously.

Chaitali of India has deep, mauve eyes; Yasmeen of Pakistan has hair which can wear away my black charcoal pencils. I broke the ice..

-Hello ladies, your countries are at odds in the news. Wow, I'm glad you guys are not pulling each other's hair yet.

-(Laughter) Of course not. We're friends and guests of your people.

-So you'll do it outside?

-(More laughter) Don't be silly.

-You're not fighting over which brand of shampoo to use, are you?

-(More laughter, now people are milling behind us) Yes we do have lovely hair.

-So will you tell your husbands tonight that things have already been settled here?

-We will for sure (all said with chirpy accents).

-I've finished the drawings. Promise you won't nuke me?
Okay, ta-daah!

-(Charmed giggles) Thank you Edd! Oh I look so funny with a big head.

There was gladness in my heart when I gave their caricatures, hoping they treasure them for a long time for I have prayed for peace when I sketched them. That was in 1998.

Lately (Feb. 21, 2007) there was a nuclear pact (right click to open new window) signed between these two nations.

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