Monday, July 9, 2018

Illustrator of the Month: Ara Villena

Because the 2018 National Children's Book Day is a week away, the blog will be featuring the Alcala, Salanga and Wordless Picture Book Prize winners. Here is the interview with Ara Villena, the 2018 Alcala Prize winner. She is also the blog's Illustrator of the Month.

How did you learn about the Alcala-Prize?

I first learned about the Alcala Prize when I was applying for Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang
INK) back in 2014, because Ang INK’s application process is often, if not always, based on the PBBY-Alcala mechanics.

I remember, back then, I also submitted my Ang
INK application artworks to the contest, just for the heck of it. I mean, the requirements were the
same, so why not, right? Obviously, that didn’t get noticed at all, but I got into Ang INK anyway, so, hooray!

What is your creative process for May Alaga Akong Bakulaw?

May Alaga Akong Bakulaw is a beautiful story – I fell in love with it as soon as I read it. I think the story was something like a journey: an uplifting journey towards the rediscovery of love, towards hope, towards light. So, more than anything, I wanted my artworks to be able to radiate that feeling too.

I began sketching the three artworks side-by-side, trying to create cohesive story that could somehow stand on its own (I’m not sure if it does, but I hope it told its own story, in a way).

I also wanted to illustrate the journey that the Bakulaw went through using color and composition, as well as through the Bakulaw’s physical form. From a ragged, hairy creature, he eventually turned to the smiling Tito Robert, who crossed from his dark yard over to the little girl’s colorful world. And of course, the little girl was instrumental to this transformation – constantly reaching towards Robert like a little source of light.

And then so, after figuring this all out, I began to paint!

Ara Villena's rendition of May Alaga Akong Bakulaw

Who are your role models in your discipline or community?

I’m not sure if I have any particular role model but I definitely take
inspiration from a variety of illustrators.

First and foremost, however, is the artist who got me into children’s book illustration in the first place: Shaun Tan, an illustrator from Australia. His books, such as The Red Tree, The Lost Thing, and The Arrival, catapulted me into the children’s book world.

The Red Tree, in particular, got me through some difficult times in my life, and it was through this book and Shaun Tan’s work in general, that I sort of found where I want my works to go: in a world of journeys towards hope. And the magic of it is, I believe children’s book illustrations transcend age – just like how Shaun Tan’s work did!

From there, I made conscious effort to find out more about the local industry: I took a class in Panitikang Pambata under Eugene Evasco, a children’s book author, who introduced me to a whole spectrum of children’s books in the Philippines. This was before I became part of Ang INK. And then I became a part of Ang INK, and I got to know even more artists!

Ever since then, my awe for Filipino talent grew exponentially. Artists like Beth Parrocha, Kora Dandan Albano, Sergio Bumatay III, Aldy Aguirre, Aaron Asis, Jericho Moral, and the late Jason Sto. Domingo, are just a few of the brilliant artists I admire because of their great techniques, wonderful storytelling, and their ability to capture the hearts of their viewers, (including mine). Our country is brimming with talent, and that’s enough to inspire me to continue illustrating.

Villena's bright eyed view of the world is reflected in this art work.
Who are you as an artist?

I’ve always believed in the power that even the littlest of lights can bring to a world of darkness. I’d always say, if you could just cling to that glimmer of hope, cling to it, no matter how small it is, then things will be alright.

Of course, the concept is disputable, but, I’d rather believe in it than give up.

So, if I or my artworks could bring that little bit of light, if I could be that light then that already fulfills much of who I want to be as an artist.

Ara Villena will be awarded a medal and cash prize on Tuesday, July 17, 2018 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

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