The first time I ever heard of Graphika Manila was when it dominated my social media a few years back. It’s described as the “premier creativity conference in the Philippines,” so when it became clear that I had room for it in my schedule, I got really excited to finally see what it was all about.
I walked away from it feeling really meh.
As much as I respect the skill and the level of everyone who went on stage to speak, it was just so disappointing to see nothing but their stories and their work. If I wanted that, I can check out interviews and their portfolios. I was expecting really phenomenal talks, but it was just speech after speech with the same bits and pieces: how they started, pictures of their work, and advice that they don’t really expound on.
And maybe it’s just me. I’ve listened to so many good podcasts and TED talks that really deliver value, and they’ve completely ruined my standards. The talent in the lineup was insane, and I wish that they had been made to narrow down to certain topics instead them summarizing their careers and advice I’ve heard over and over. I didn’t count how many times I heard a variation of “Follow your passion,” but it was definitely overused.
Essentially, Graphika Manila is a conference full of great and successful people, but that doesn’t mean that they’re good speakers. Regardless, here are the notes I got for the speakers, although I don’t have anything for Industrial Light and Motion or Mr. Bingo because I had to leave early.
Genesis Design – motion design
- Benjamin Ang, the founder, is 25.
- They made the opening video for Graphika Manila, and the video was really well done. They also made the rest of the design assets, so it was a beautiful tie-in, but I got even more respect when he explained the symbolism behind different pieces of the video. It was really, really well-thought out, and that level of detail is something I’d like to incorporate into my own practice
Daryl Feril – illustration
- For him, college was the time to explore, but the real challenge happens out of college
From his slides:
- Listen to your voice. You have to feel for yourself that you’re good enough.
- The only person you need to prove anything to is yourself.
Rare Volume – Interactive and Motion Graphics
- The speaker was Benjamin Kim, and I really appreciated his story. He spent a part of his life thinking he was going to spend the rest of his life dancing, but he went to art school for college, but he ended up being unable to pay for the last year.
State Design – Visual Effects
- Marcel Zuil, the founder, tried to start his agency with friends, but that didn’t work out. He joked that it a partnership was like marriage without sex, which sucks, but his attitude towards it was really positive. He was grateful that they didn’t do it because they all went happily on their separate paths, and it led him to where he is now
- He advises to have an accountant and a lawyer as soon as possible. He learned that the hard way when he got called to do a project for a big client, and he even had artists fly in, but the project got killed.
- “You need to find your freaking voice, you need to be different, and get people engaged.” And for Marcel, this is through hiring people who haven’t been hired by other agencies before, meaning that their content stays unique
- When choosing projects, make sure that it has two of the following: money, relationship, or portfolio. If a project can’t fit into two of them, then ditch it. As for what “portfolio” means, he advises only putting things in your portfolio for work you want more of
Gary Baseman – illustration
- He had his toy Toby to be passed around by the audience. He also passed around his 145th sketchbook, which was insane to me, because 1. 145 is a lot of sketchbooks and 2. it’s so trusting of him to just pass his sketchbook around. I don’t know if I can even be brave enough to let people touch my notebooks
- It all made sense when he said, “Art, to me, is about sharing.”
- His work looks really bizarre, but there’s actually a lot of symbolism to it all, which was really interesting to hear about
John Ed De Vera
- This guy has done a lot of stuff. I can’t even put a label on him because he’s done a ridiculous amount of stuff, from paper-cutting to lettering to all the work he’s done at his agency
- Work with your head, work with your heart, and work with your hands
Rizon Parein – 3D illustration
- I love that he wanted to quit doing neon 3D work, but he just couldn’t because of all the awesome jobs that he got, from Nike to Jay-Z. He hinted that he started the trend for neon, and he definitely did have an influence due to all the work that started copying his pin. He explained that real neon lighting didn’t have one, but he added a pin to the wires to add more style. He then showed a lot of neon designs afterward using a pin
Kerby Rosanes – Illustration
- I loved that he talked about SEO. It’s awesome that he merges this part of his career with his previous marketing job. He even shows how he took over the Moleskine doodles search term, and I wished he had focused on this for his talk instead
Rocketsheep Studio – Animation
- Avid Liongoren was hilarious and so tongue in-cheek. He made all the failures they encountered while making their film, Saving Sally, really entertaining instead of being depressing
- Define and work within the limitations (so in other words if it can’t be forced, don’t force it). For example, they had to realize that they weren’t Pixar, so no fancy animation techniques for them.
- Hard drives are cheaper than hard work, which the studio had to learn through a lot of lost files
- Marketing is just as important as art-he even said that the production was just 50% of the work for the movie. They had a lot to learn about the movie business, and they had to do it so people would watch the movie
Artgerm – illustration and design
- Stanley Lau’s username came from his desire to make art so infectious, other people would want to draw. It sounds silly, but when you’re famous, the name sticks
He broke his talk into two, about building a fan base and fan art.
Building a fan base
- Why is a fan base important? When it comes to branded products, fans aren’t being logical anymore, they’re being emotional
- Don’t belittle a ten year old follower. That person is going to be a working adult in ten years companies who’ll ask you for work. This has seriously happened to him. He’s been contacted from companies because someone was a fan of his in their college years
- He doesn’t believe in deleting everything and starting over. Take your fans along your journey
- Let your fans grow old with you. Besides the opportunities your fans can give you, nostalgia is also a really powerful force, and you want people to care about you
- It shows your love for the property and show to the property owner what you can do for them
- Respect the creator, though, and he firmly said that he would never sexualize Wonder Woman. When you respectfully create fanart, the original creators would be happy to ask you to work with them, instead of the other way around
- Always choose to serve yourself first. You could grow, but you could also start being influenced by what your fans want, or being really affected by haters. So serve yourself first
- He shared the time that a video game company (Streetfighter 5?) asked him to work for them, and it was a dream job for him, but he refused because the budget and the deadline was really bad. He ended up replying two days later, though, with some designs for them to use, free of charge. The company was so happy that in return, they allowed him to sell prints of any of their characters. I loved this, because it reiterated my favorite way of pricing: full price or free.
Artgerm was definitely my favorite talk. He teaches, and he really stood out to me because it was clear he had practice on giving talks. And his whole talk just showed that he understands what people starting their creative career want to ask about, and I left feeling truly inspired. Honestly, I wished we could have gotten his whole 3-hour talk.
And also, since I was really nervous about going, I wanted some tips for attending it. I didn’t find any, so here’s my tips for anyone else nervous about going to Graphika Manila.
Tips for attending Graphika Manila
1. Food and drinks aren’t allowed in the venue.
Graphika Manila is a long event, but you’re better of eating outside. The SMX Convention Center forbids food and drink, and I even saw the guards stop someone from entering because they were carrying a soda and some fast food. They allowed my water bottle in my bag, though, and if you want to bring a snack, hide it in your bag.
2. Don’t try to fight for a center seat if you arrive late.
When I got there at almost 12, the seats at the center column were already half-full. Definitely check out the area near the screens instead, and you can use the conference goodies to save a spot, if you’re paranoid about people stealing. I also wouldn’t advise going too close, though. I went home the first day with a really stiff neck.
3. Bring extra money/notebook
Graphika was selling books from previous speakers as well and current speakers, and there was even merchandise from Rocketsheep Studio. And there’s also a signing session after all the talks, and having a signed book by a famous artist is always good bragging rights. But if you’re broke but still want them to sign something, you could always bring a notebook or some other thing to have them sign. If you plan approaching them outside of the signing session, though, have a pen or marker handy
4. Check out the booths during talks
There was a booth that had a raffle for a drone, and Artgerm was also selling prints and signing them at another booth. Of course, there were a lot of people in the lines before the event started (Artgerm’s line was ridiculously long), but it was smaller when the talks started. Go line-up during a talk you’re not particularly interested in
5. Plan your meet-ups
This probably goes without saying, because it’s the conference for creatives in the Philippines, and a lot of people attend. But also, do check out the hashtag or search for other people on social media who are attending that you’d like to meet. If you know one of your idols is going to be there, try to bring a small gift, which is also a great conversation starter. Don’t be like me, who prepared nothing.
6. It’s not an Introvert Hell
It’s a really tightly packed schedule and there’s so many people, and mostly everyone was with their own friends. I didn’t try making new friends because I didn’t think I could handle it, and I honestly spent most of the time listening instead of talking to my friend, and that suited my introvert self just fine. It did take some energy out of me, but it wasn’t completely draining like I was afraid it would be.
Have you attended Graphika Manila? What did you think of it?
Small note, but I think it’s important. As a friend pointed out, the whole lineup was men, and from what I can remember, last year’s was dominated by men. Maybe it might be a scheduling problem, but I sincerely wish Graphika Manila can present a lineup with more women next time. There are plenty of amazing, talent women, both international and local, who I would attend the conference for. So if you also care, fill out their feedback form and suggest some awesome women for them to invite. It does need a ticket number, though.