Illustration, Case Study

From Building Systems
To Building Worlds

Systems thinking is a practice of storytelling. Storytelling is a form of systems thinking.

Representing characters and the cultures they’re from, whether real or lore, isn’t a two-dimensional approach. As a budding illustrator, I’ve become very interested in discovering different ways to champion and authentically represent the people and places that I get inspiration from. For me, this is a systematic approach, with lots of conversations, watching videos of plants, and driving around on Google Street View.

In telling one-shot stories, I constantly go back and forth between the people I’m depicting and the exaggerated features that I’m applying to them. Breaking rules is just another part of the practice.

The Hiker on the Hill

Inspired by Roald Dahl’s The Big Friendly Giant, I imagined what it could be like to humanize the BFG. For me, the clear translation was in the form of a hiker. This is his home, up on the top of a snowy forest hill.
sounds by pine voc. check their music out.

The Island Man

I read an editorial about people spending too much time in the bathroom on their phones. Doing what? Listening to music, probably. Could be looking at other things. I figure it’s sorta like an island paradise where it’s all you. No having to worry about anyone else. Just pure independent bliss.

Often times, creating a world starts with a survey of people and places, especially of the areas that I want to depict. I like to pay attention to people’s gaits, fashion, and how they interact with others.

People of Luzon, Philippines

The people depicted here were referenced from three sources of my research: (1) conversations with friends and family; (2) field research that I outsourced to connections living in the area; and (3) my many drives around the area on Google StreetView.

These early drawings of people were checked for authenticity through weekly video calls with my connections from the area.

I like to wonder what role myths and folktales have in developing a more sensitive practice for depicting people and the places they’re from. Think about it: folktales ooze with symbolism and local practice.

The Bird Boy, Paint Sheets

Ang lumilipad na batang lalaki. Cecil is a boy obssesed with the sky and with learning how to fly. On his journey through the forest surrounding the Hinatuan Enchanted River, Cecil meets magic fish, engkantos forest spirits, and a big blue bird that gives him wings.

Precursor to "Meeting Manual, The Bird King".

Meeting Manaul, The Bird King

In Filipino folktale, Manaul is a king-turned-blue bird responsible for producing Adam and Eve. Since legendary times, he's gazed at the setting sun, reading the past, present, and future. At night, he tours the island of Mindinao, observing the people he was responsible for creating.

In this two-panel short, the father of a boy named Cecil comes face to face with the king on his millenium visit to the Philippines.

Editorials and podcasts are another great source of inspiration for me. Stories told by the people who experienced them are always rich with emotion, political rhetoric, and, in some cases, hyperbole.

Deporting the American Citizen

In 2016, political rhetoric revolving around deportation policies led to a spike in racism, specifically towards hispanic populations. Soon after Donald Trump’s election NPR covered the story of a teenage boy trapped between law, life, and the people he once called friends.

This three-panel series is a snapshot view of his journey, from being racially targeted by his neighbors to being unlawfully restrained in court.

A sticky note a day keeps my imagination at bay—and maybe make my tendonitis worse too. All of my drawings start with tiny fragments of compositions. It’s at this stage that I create loose parts to a world.

As a budding product designer, I also consider world building as brand building. When developing an illustration suite to depict the people using your product, you’re actually depicting people from the world you’ve built. It’s the work of building the world that gives rise to considerate representations of people and their identities.