Photo By Miguel Bugarin
Photo By Miguel Bugarin.

Brewing creativity: Graphika Manila 2024 promises a bright year for creatives

Graphika Manila 2024, Asia’s largest creative conference, was once again lined with the creative greats, each sharing personal anecdotes and parcels of wisdom from their creative expeditions.

By Kara Co | Wednesday, 6 March 2024

Graphika Manila 2024, the 19th edition of the creative conference, drew the participation of over 4,000 creatives from around the Metro, presenting an impressive 12-speaker roster that has electrified audiences with their vitality and insights on creativity and design on Feb. 17 to 18 at the SMX Convention Center, Pasay City.


Headlining the event was Lauren Tsai, an internationally renowned artist known for her eerie yet mesmerizing art style and collaborations with brands like Marc Jacobs. Her array of works, which spans multiple mediums, make her a role model to budding artists. Participants also heard from Pixar Animation Studios; artist, Benjamin Su, a powerhouse animator with movies Turning Red, Elemental, and Toy Story 4 among others lining his portfolio. Similarly, Filipino-born Ryan Serrano, a WETA FX 3D artist, displayed their creative journey and vast portfolio. Also expanding the international list of artists is Art-Zoo designer and curator, Jackson Tan, sharing his shift from punk rock designs to child-friendly installations. 


Straying not too far from home, Graphika Manila 2024 presented a manifold of local artists, once again highlighting the stores of creativity and talent in the archipelago. Resident host, Margaux Sue, shared in an interview with The Benildean her thoughts on the growth of the speakers and the beauty of the next wave of creatives. 


“Having people you can look up to and hearing stories of people who used to be attendees who are now speakers [...] encourages people and allows attendees to elevate their game… they’re able to see that their dreams are just a reach away if they continue to stay consistent and disciplined and go after it,” she explained.


Let your inner artist play 

Jethro Olba, the mind behind this year’s Graphika logo and branding, opened the conference by sharing his story as a designer—which is closely linked to his personal life. Reminiscing his earliest influences found in troves of cartoons, comic books, and action figures, Olba shared how drawing was a form of play for him that eventually translated into pursuing an art degree. As time passed, his love for experimentation and the act of play did not wane; instead, it manifested itself as passion projects. 


Olba also shared with The Benildean some words of encouragement for aspiring creatives. “Passion projects are good because there is no pressure on it, you just create what you want to do and attract the brands [that] you like.”  


A notable point in his career is his collaboration with Nike, an opportunity that presented itself after he personalized an Air Force Max for fun and shared it on his platform. He used his example to encourage the audience to have fun and experiment with their art quoting designer Paula Scher, “Always put yourself in a state of play”… ‘wag tayo tumigil maging bata.


Besides that, Mark Deutsch, one half of the visionary duo, Happy Garaje, recounted the process of establishing their studio which started with a dream: to be artists who created everyday, “Not even rich artists or famous artists. Just an artist who makes art everyday.” Expanding this vision, they dedicated themselves to creating “a space to play, make, and tell stories.”


Acid House’s Ivan and Pauline Despi detailed how a small sketch breathed life into an unexampled exhibit fueled by their experience library—a collection of inspiration from encounters outside the studio. “Keep your hobbies,” they urged, “the things you do outside of work are just as important as what you do in the studio. You just have to trust that those experiences and those ideas will come into play.”


For Risa Rodil, a Benildean Multimedia Arts alumna, letterer, and illustrator, allowing her inner artist to play is synonymous with unleashing her inner fangirl. "My main outlet for my fangirl tendencies is art, particularly fanart. Being a fangirl played a significant role in finding my voice as an artist..” From creating layouts of her favorite book titles and quotes, the book lover now creates official covers and posters for companies like Disney and Penguin Random House. 


While Rodil was anchored to her interests, Tan also recalled how an encounter with a little boy in Taiwan who shared his ideas and sketches renewed his childlike wonder—the same wonder that once filled his textbooks with doodles and his tests with rock band logos. The serendipitous meeting translated itself into the development of Art Zoo, an inflatable playground that tours the world lighting awe in adults and children alike. 


Dreaming for your kindred 

By improving and sharing one’s art, artists often build a sphere of influence. New York-based illustrator Timothy Goodman shared his conviction that art is a form of activism and how contributing to the community around him holds an important place in his heart. 


“Making art for New York about New York is really important to me. Community is really important to me… it’s more than a place to consume,” he said.


With this conviction, he started questioning why large advertising companies dictated the visual landscape of the city when the city was booming with artists prompting him to take on large spatial projects. Now, Goodman collaborates with companies like Apple and Uniqlo with his works littered around New York decorating hotels and spanning basketball courts. 


Likewise, Happy Garaje encouraged the audience to pursue their dreams by shifting the scope of one's goal from a personal ambition into a community dream. Leading by example, they conducted multiple projects for the community like branding for a local egg supplier and a collaboration between designers and local weavers. They also fostered a safe space for creativity believing that, “If you make a space where people are not afraid to be ridiculed, people will come.” Their studio space is constantly filled with professionals in non-creative careers eager to share their talents and ideas proving that “the creative spirit is in everyone and everyone has a story to tell.” 


Furthermore, animator Mark Mendoza shared his works centered on Philippine culture. “We have a rich and diverse culture and I think the world needs to learn about it.” His talk was ridden with clips of short films and work-in-progress animations mostly centered on phenomena around the Philippines like toxic tourism and crippling congestion while still showing the rich culture and humor of the country—striking a balance between appreciation and criticism. 


Additionally, Studio Dialogo’s Liza Flores, Abi Goy, and Fran Alvarez talk “Drawing for Design” explored the possibilities of illustration and materials in various projects and shared their works made of paper all with the heart of innovation to preserve and share the culture. They continue to cultivate the youth as illustrators in the Philippines’ sole organization for children’s illustrations, Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan.


Leaps of faith and commitment

Tsai delved into the fine distinction between passion and commitment as a self-taught artist. “Commitment for me was just as important as passion. Because passion is something that I  don’t think you lose [it] for something that you truly love. [...] but [the] commitment is ‘I will show up every day for my dream regardless of having a passion for it’ so I decided to commit to this.” 


Likewise, Anjo Bolarda, founder of Studio Bitto, detailed his journey as an illustrator landing on the main point “incredible things require hard work and patience.” Acknowledging the core of commitment, Serrano, an integral player in rendering fan-favorite movies like Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and Avatar: The Way of Water, emphasized the value of grit and facing your fears.


In the same breath as facing your fears, Su shared a pivotal moment in his life when he decided to take a risk and pursue his long-held dream to illustrate for Marvel; the change was ushered in by a sickness that left him wondering about his potential career regret. “Don’t wait until you think you’re on your deathbed [...] if you have a dream, go for it sooner than later.”


A mosaic of ideas filters a bright future

Throughout the two-day conference, the energy of the room fluctuated with each speaker—some brimming with nervous energy, others quiet and reflective, and then some flowing with advice. Coming from diverse backgrounds, they converged to weave a symphony of ideas and tales, all with a common thread of encouragement for budding artists to pursue their dreams and strive towards realization.


Graphika Manila 2024 certainly welcomed the year with poignant reflections on the speakers’ journeys and a ray of hope for its attendees teasing the vivid future of the industry. As the creative landscape continues to thrive, one cannot simply sit and watch. The charged energy of eclectic artists, bouncing ideas, and ripe expectations that filled the hall will only abound promising a reality like no other.

Last updated: Wednesday, 6 March 2024