Category Archives: Biography

Wondergirl Ilay

Wonder IlayImage copyright © 2017 May T Papa

I met Ilay in 2012. Mama Lyzeth told me that we will get along well, because Ilay loves books.

True enough, when Ilay and I met, we instantly became friends. She had just undergone a very delicate operation that took out a large tumor from between her eyes. But from her wide smile, her very quick and playful manner, it didn’t seem as if she had just gone through something very scary and painful. She was only four years old.

She must have some kind of superpowers, I thought. Amazing kid!

Ilay and her mother live in Bataan. They just come to Manila for Ilay’s treatments. Even if I wanted to visit her, Bataan was just too far away. Years passed, I was able to see Ilay grow up, through the photos Mama Lyzeth shared on her Facebook page.

“Ilay’s first day in school” Mama Lyzeth captioned one photograph. “Ate Ilay makes it to the Top 5 in class,” she captioned another. I was happy Ilay was growing up to be a happy, smart, and pretty young lady.

Last Sunday, Mama Lyzeth sent me a PM. And then I saw Ilay’s new pics. Apparently all these years, Ilay has still been very sickly.

“Things are not looking look good for Ilay,” Mama Lyzeth wrote. “The infection in her blood has reached her brain. She continues to fight, but we expect to lose her anytime now. She is already very weak.”

At age 9, brave Ilay is fighting her bravest fight yet, but her mortal body cannot keep up anymore. We are lifting Ilay up to God, in whose loving arms she can finally find comfort and rest.

Nakilala ko si Ilay noong 2012. Nasabi ni Mama Lyzeth na magkakasundo kami, dahil napakahilig ni Ilay sa libro.

Noong magkakilala kami, agad nga kaming nagkaibigan ni Ilay. Noo’y kakalampas pa lamang niya sa isang delikadong operasyon na nagtanggal ng malaking tumor sa pagitan ng kanyang mga mata. Ngunit di mo ito mababakas sa napakalaki niyang ngiti at liksi ng kilos. Tila walang nakakatakot o masakit na pinagdaanan. Apat na taon pa lamang siya.

Baka may superpowers siya, naisip ko tuloy. Pambihirang bata!

Ngunit sa Bataan nakatira si Ilay at ang kanyang nanay. Lumuluwas lamang sila kapag magpapagamot si Ilay. Gusto ko man siyang dalawin ay napakalayo ng Bataan. Sa kabila ng lahat, sa paglipas ng panahon, nasubaybayan ko ang kanyang paglaki mula sa mga letratong ibinabahagi ni Mama Lyzeth sa Facebook.

“Unang araw ni Ilay sa paaralan,” ani Mama Lyzeth sa isang letrato. “Top 5 si Ate Ilay,” aniya naman sa isa. Nakakatuwang makitang lumalaki si Ate Ilay na isang masiyahing, matalino, at magandang dalagita.

Bigla na lang noong Linggo, pinadalhan ako ng mensahe ni Mama Lyzeth. At nakita ko ang mga bagong larawan ni Ilay. Sa kabila pala ng kanyang masasayang letrato, sakitin pa rin pala si Ilay.

“Hindi maganda ang lagay ni Ilay,” aniya. “Umakyat na ang impeksyon niya sa dugo sa utak. Patuloy pa rin siyang lumalaban, ngunit ‘di na namin siya inaasahang magtatagal. Napakahina na ng kanyang katawan.”

Sa edad 9 na taon, ang pambihirang si Ilay ay lumalaban sa pinakamalaking laban ng kanyang buhay, ngunit hindi na kakayanan ng kanyang katawan. Itinataas namin ang aming pinakamamahal na si Ilay sa kandungan ng Panginoong Diyos, kung saan siya makahahanap ng ginhawa at pamamahinga.

Dream Date: Sinong manunulat o ilustrador ang nais mong makasama sa isang araw/gabí?

Rene O Villanueva 070915

Sa liit ang industriya ng children’s publishing sa Pilipinas, halos lahat magkakakilala, at halos lahat, magkakaibigan–sa personal o sa social network–kaya halos updated sa mga buhay-buhay ng isa’t isa. Nguni’t may isang manunulat akong nais sanang maka-date nang minsan pa, sa isang Dream Date—pero siya ay namayapa na. Kaya siguro mas maganda kung araw ‘yung date namin, para ‘di naman nakakatakot.

Si Rene O. Villanueva ay itinuturing ng maraming manunulat, maging ng ilang ilustrador ng aklat pambata, na kanilang mentor. Isa na ako doon sa magsasabing kahit paano’y naging “estudyante” niya. Noong siya ay nabubuhay pa, siya ay nagturo sa UP. Minsan din siyang naging creative director ng pambatang palabas-TV na Batibot, kung saan isa sa mga manunulat sa kanyang grupong pinangungunahan ay si Augie Rivera, na ngayo’y isa na ring premyadong manunulat ng aklat pambata.

Noong unang nalimbag ang aking unang aklat pambata, ang “Estrellita” (Adarna House, 1995), sinwerte ako na ako ang manunulat at ilustrador nito. Ngunit dahil nagtapos ako ng Fine Arts sa UP, mas ilustrasyon talaga ang linya ko. Ang tangi kong edukasyon sa malikhaing pagsulat ay ang pagbabasa ng maraming akda, at ilang mga workshop na aking nadaluhan kapag nakakakuha ako ng pagkakataon mag-VL (vacation leave) mula sa trabaho ko sa advertising. Sa UP National Writers’ Workshop at sa Barlaya ko unang nakasalimuha si Rene bilang panelist namin, noong ako ay nagsisimula pa lamang magsulat. At nang lumaon, naitatag namin ng ilan sa aking batchmates sa 1995 UP Writers’ Workshop ang Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting (KUTING) sa paghihikayat na rin ni Rene at ibang mga panelists naming sina National Artist Virgilio S. Almario, Prof. Amelia Lapena-Bonifacio, at Prof. Mailin Paterno-Locsin, lagi namin siyang naaasahan maging panelist para sa mga workshop naming inoorganisa. Napaka-mapagbigay niya ng mga nakakatulong na puna sa workshop. Lagi rin namin siyang nakakasama sa maraming kaganapan sa larangan ng panitikan, gaya ng National Children’s Book Day, book launches, UP Writers’ Night, Manila International Book Fair, atbp.

Sa wakas ay nagkaroon ako ng pagkakataon maglarawan ng isang aklat ni Rene. Ngunit sing-bilis ng aking pag-oo ay siya ring bilis ng aking pagbawi. Dahil sa bigat ng trabaho sa opisina, hindi ko siya matatapos sa deadline, kaya minabuti ko nang umatras, humingi ng paumanhin, kaysa mabitin pa siya at ang publisher, at tuluyang ma-delay ang proyekto. Nagtampo siya. Matagal niya akong hindi kinausap at hindi pinapansin kapag magkikita kami. Ngunit isang araw noong 2001, laking gulat ko na lang nang tawagan ako ng Tahanan Books, at tinatanong nila ako kung maaari ko raw bang ilarawan ang bagong aklat ni Rene, ang “12 Kuwentong Pamasko.” Siyempre, pumayag agad ako!

12 Kwentong Pamasko

Ang saya ko. Tila napatawad na niya ako. At mabuti naman ay wala na akong iba pang ginawa na ikakasama ng loob niya hanggang namayapa siya noong 2007. Masaya ako at nagkaroon ako ng maraming pagkakataong makausap siya ulit, at minsan-minsan ay tanungin siya kung ano talaga ang sikreto niya sa pagsulat. Palagi, ang sagot lang niya ay:

“Sumulat ka lang nang sumulat.”

So pag nag-date kami ulit, hindi ko na siya ulit tatanungin kung ano ang sikreto niya, kasi tiyak ngingiwian lang ako n’un. Magkakape na lang kami at magtsitsismisan gaya ng dati, pagkatapos ay ipapapirma ko na ang kopya ko ng “12 Kuwentong Pamasko.” At, bago maghiwalay, titiyakin na magseselfie, magpapasalamat ako, at magpapaalam nang maayos. May iisa lamang kaming letrato na magkasama kami, sa booksigning ng aming aklat sa MIBF sa Philtrade noong 2001, pero hindi ko na ito mahanap. Ngunit mas malala—wala pala akong ni isang autograph niya sa mga kopya ko ng aklat niya!

Rommel Joson draws out his inner child.

Rommel has been drawing ever since he could remember–he even got a Dean’s Award for Visual Arts back in college–but it took some time before he finally went into the business of illustration.

rommel

Armed with his Business Management degree from Ateneo de Manila, he got a job as an advertising account executive in an ad agency. A couple of years in the ad business made him realize that he really wanted to be in the creative field,  so he went back to school, this time at the University of the Philippines, to work toward a degree in Fine Arts. Turns out that drawing really was his first love, and it wasn’t unrequited at all. He finished with magna cum laude honors.

After that, he promptly went back to advertising, this time as a creative. But then he found out after a couple of more years that he felt more passionately about other things aside from advertising, so he quit advertising all over again to focus more on drawing and painting.

Rommel has gotten some recognition for his advertising and design work–a silver and a bronze in the Philippine Araw Awards and a silver from the 1st Adobo Design Awards–but he says that the awards he got from painting and illustration are the things that bring him the most satisfaction.

In painting, Rommel placed third in the Oil/Acrylic Category of the Shell National Art Competition and finished as a semi-finalist at the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence Competition. In comics, Rommel won third place at the Neil Gaiman-Fully Booked Graphic Competition. He was included in Rogue Magazine’s feature on Top 16 Filipino Illustrators way back in 2007. For his work as an illustrator for children, he snagged a couple of honorable mentions at the PBBY-Alcala Prize.

MTP:  How do you keep busy every day?  Is illustrating a full-time job?

ROMMEL JOSON:  

I only started to seriously illustrate children’s books two years ago. So far, I have six books under my belt with three more on the way this year (2013).

I do it part-time though.  I work three times a week at Studio Dialogo (http://dialogo.co) as a designer/illustrator. We do design for print and web. Currently, we’ve been doing a lot of annual reports, calendars and identity design for a variety of clients.

The rest of the week, I devote to my personal projects such as painting and children’s book illustration. I currently wrapped up a two-man show with Sergio Bumatay III. Aside from book illustration, gallery work will be something I’ll be getting into more in the coming months.

MTP: Why do you illustrate for kids? What’s in it for you?

I wish I could give some profound meaning to why I illustrate for children. I’ve thought about this many times before but never could get at a satisfactory answer. I don’t think “enjoyment” is quite the word I’d use. Maybe it gives me satisfaction. I think I draw to satisfy the child in me.

I grew up reading comics and children’s books and over the years I’ve come to admire a lot of people involved in making these things. I think there comes a point in a fan’s life where reading and enjoying the content isn’t enough anymore and you just want to make stuff yourself and be part of that whole tradition of making stuff up that people can enjoy. Then you realize that maybe you have a knack for it and just keep on doing it because other people seem to enjoy the work that you do. Then, maybe that’s when you decide that “hey, I’ll just keep on doing this”.

MTP:  Thank you for making time for my blog, Rommel!

See samples of Rommel’s wonderful illustrations here.

We’re in for a treat. Rommel takes us on a tour of his wonderful studio.

studio1studio3studio2

Rommel: Over a year ago, I decided that I had to have a legitimate workspace for my art projects as well as proper spaces for the books that had grown like shaky towers inside my room. So I sequestered an unused space in the house, had shelves made and bought a big, sturdy table. 

My table that can fit two to three people working at the same time. This is where I do my digital work as well as small painting projects. For large-scale paintings, I have an easel where I can prop up my canvases.

I also have a drafting table with a lightbox for projects that require some tracing.

My studio is my favorite part of the house because I love looking at my books all lined up on the wall.

 
 
 

Daring to Dream

Up until the time Philippine National Artist for Literature and children’s book publisher Mr Virgilio Almario offered to publish my story, “The Little Wishing Star” for Adarna House in 1995, I really did not have much of an idea how to write a story. The story I submitted to Palanca I wrote pretty much just patterned after stories I liked as a kid.  (Adarna House subsequently published “The Little Wishing Star” as “Estrellita: The Little Wishing Star” in 1995.) “The Little Wishing Star” won 2nd place in the English Division, Short Story for Children. Not too bad for my very first attempt. Wasn’t as lucky with a second attempt, though, haha.

Without a writing degree, I had thought that publishing a children’s book would be one of those things that will just remain on my dream list.

Back then, there were not much articles online on writing for children, much less, on getting published as a children’s author. All I had were books on writing I had picked up at F Sionil Jose’s La Solidaridad Book Shop which was near my place of work. I had a degree in Fine Arts; was armed with enough skills and techniques for preparing illustrations for children’s books perhaps—but didn’t know the first thing about structuring stories. Now you only have to type the keywords “writing for children”, probably like what you did a few minutes ago before you arrived at this page, and you will get pages and pages of references on plot, character, setting, point of view, conflict and whatever else you need to know—without having to take a writing course. You only had to follow your nose, of course, to discern which sites were credible and helpful. But what I did know for certain back then was that as soon as I published my first book, I was hooked, and I wanted to publish more, so I enrolled for membership with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) because I wanted to get serious about writing.

With my SCBWI membership, I was able to fast-track my education as a writer and illustrator of children’s books, by acquainting myself with the best practices in the U.S. particularly, which probably has the busiest children’s book publishing industry in the world. Through the years, and close friendships with like-minded souls, i’ve collected some tips and tricks on my own that come in handy when I get commissions for books. (I’ve been writing for almost 17 years now, and submitted a couple of book proposals, but all the books I’ve published so far are commissions.)

Age appropriateness

When you want to write for children, you need to be sensitive to children’s developmental milestones, in order for your work to resonate with your target audience. A four-year-old preschooler is a different animal from a fourth grader, for instance.

Just imagine yourself as a kid–you were just beginning to write your name, just  learning to read and count, as a four-year-old. By the fourth grade, you were already performing science experiments, writing theme compositions, learning your multiplication tables, etc.   There is a world of difference between these two kids, and so there should consequently be a difference in style and approach, and more importantly, word choice, when writing for these two audiences. But it also happens that some books, like Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”, appeal to a range of readers across all ages because they are metaphorical. In that case, if you really want to reach a wide range of readers, you will have to write your book in a way they will be understood by the youngest ones.

My rule of thumb is, the younger the audience, the simpler and more straightforward the syntax and the plot.  I steer clear of participles and progressive tenses.  When writing for younger kids, I also avoid using flashbacks, juxtapositions and other sophisticated literary devices.

I try to keep my word count under 400 when writing for picture books. More than 400 words for me look really crowded on the page, especially as local publishers like to publish parallel texts. Whenever I design my picture books I also think 16 points as the ideal point size. However, I think 14 points is still workable for wordier books.

Even if somebody else wrote the manuscript I like chopping up and numbering the manuscript into easily digestible chunks, according to the key points and the publisher’s given number of spreads. As an illustrator, I find the manuscript easier to work with when the story is divided so.

A mistake beginning writers for children often make is writing stories which are too complicated for their target audience. All too often they are adult issues expressed simplistically, or too abstract for kids to grasp. Sometimes there are books that talk down to kids, and I see this happen a lot in books that have anthropomorphic characters. (I made this mistake when I wrote my first book–it’s about a talking wishing star, for goodness’ sake. Now that I know better, I am not so inclined to write anything like it again, I think.)

I taught myself how to write books for children mostly through trial and error, by attending workshops and short courses on writing, and by reading very good books on writing as well as well-loved, excellently written children’s books. It was a good thing I didn’t let my lack of a writing degree stop me from fulfilling a childhood dream.