Saturday, August 28, 2010

Boxed Poetry

I got excited when I first read that the theme for this year's PBBY Prizes is on poetry. I've always wanted to illustrate a full children's book of poems, though I have illustrated stories in verse form. There are only a few materials locally and new titles could be an interesting addition. So, exhilarated by the theme, I couldn't wait to create my entry for the Alcala Illustrators Prize this year.

My strategy was to make an illustration entirely different from what I have done previously. I thought it was time to level it up by creating three-dimensional works. I got inspiration from amazing sculptural illustrators, including my fellow INKies Liza Flores and Pergylene Acuna who create delightful illustrations with layers of textured papers. Then the concept just fell everything into place: I wanted to make a visual that is encased within a box. There is something nostalgic and a childhood sense of curiosity that draws me in about boxes.


Personally, poetry for me is a paradox of precise arrangement of words limited by the syntax of a language and yet can create multiple interpretations in indefinite ways. That is exactly the effect I want to capture in my visual. So I made simple illustrations, stripped down to their essential forms and juxtapose them within a surreal composition to emit endless possible meanings. The figures, color scheme are greatly influenced by Pablo Picasso's theatrical mural composition, Guernica. I was moved by the painter's lyrical visual language and the mural's haunting meaning. Having the illustrations enclosed in a box is a visual metaphor for poetry's literal precision. It's like reading poetry, when you "open" it's meaning, either leave you perplexed or liberated. The meaning is left at the interpreter.

I wanted to introduce that concept of poetry to children, though I admit it was too much for their comprehension.

After seeing all the winners, I have to agree with the judges' pick for the top prize. Aldy Aguirre's winning colorful and whimsical interpretation precisely balanced the rhythmical tones of the poems. The visual elements are fluid and gently moving, as if dancing within the space. It was neither too deep nor too literal to grasp what's going on within the scene. Aldy's illustrations are just perfect to catch a child's interest in getting a head start into the wonderful genre of poetry.

My entry reaped an Honorable Mention at the 2010 PBBY Alcala Prize. I'm also happy that all of the winners are fellow INK members: Rommel Joson and Zeus Bascon's works are also commendable, each have their own unique vision. And I couldn't be happier that the awarding ceremony was filled with nicest friends and acquaintances.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why I love (an) Araw sa Palengke

Araw sa Palengke cover, story by May Tobias-Papa and illustrated by Isabel Roxas

When I was young, I remember my mother used to take me with her whenever she goes to the palengke (wet market). I knew that she wanted me to go with her because I was the only one who can carry her bayong (shopping bag) since I was the only strongest and most responsible boy yet in the family. I never liked going there, not only because I had to wake up very early but also her bag was so full and too heavy to carry. My hands tremblingly ache after. But I can't complain because we had to carry as much as we can because we are a very big family and buying there saves us a lot of money. As I grow older, she wanted me to come with her so I can be street smart and learn from her. Now, I realized it was more than that: I was grateful that going there has enriched my experience visually. A market is also a harvest place of inspiration: from slices of life to the exotic goods you can see around. I was positively influenced by pop culture.

That wonderful experience is very much captured in one of my favorite books, Araw sa Palengke (A day in the market), written by May Tobias Papa and illustrated by Isabel Roxas. The story is very simple, the illustrations very delightful, and yet that simplicity is what makes the book so lovable. Almost anyone can relate to it.

The literary style of the story can be likened to a Japanese verse: direct, short, and simple words fully describe the wonder of a child going to a market. Even if the main character is a girl, any child can probably relate with her as she's honest, smart, and quirky. This is probably the first local children's book I have read that mainly invests on the importance of emotional intelligence. It subtly teaches a child that being patient and disciplined yields to pleasant rewards, and the joys of receiving it through hard work and a little sacrifice are priceless. This is what kids need nowadays when the words "instant" and "push-buttons" are just a click away.

This is my favorite expression of the main character in the book.

The story is accompanied by very charming illustrations, just a warning: you won't stop looking at them. More importantly, the styling, patterns, and figures are very Filipino. The color scheme is splendid, the visual elements are coherent. Although it's a sanitized version of what you see in a real local wet market that is loud, cluttered, and shockingly bright, the toned-down renderings of each scene perfectly create an exotic ambiance. The main character's expressions are comical, the illustrator has masterfully achieved humor through their eyes.

The book is one of those few ones that you can't just put down even as an adult, I'm pretty sure a child will also truly love it at first sight. You'll probably read and look at the pages over and over again. It makes you crave for more.

Araw sa Palengke, published by Adarna House, is highly recommended to be part of your child's library. No wonder it is one of the six Best Reads of 2008 and 2009 in the first-ever National Children's Book Awards.

The illustrator has created an engaging image and achieved balance in rendering a supposedly dirty and cluttered place.


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