I kinda fell in love with Tagu-Taguan by Jomike Tejido (Tahanan Books, 2009). It's a counting book in Filipino, and I thought it was so refreshing that it counted backwards from 10 to 1, then reinforced the "lesson" of counting by counting again from 1 to 10. I also thought that the use of creepy crawlies for the counting was sure to be a hit with the young 'uns. Young 'uns love their creepy crawlies! =D
Jomike Tejido is an architect, artist, and illustrator. This year he won two Philippine National Children's Book Awards for writing and illustrating Tagu-Taguan and for illustrating Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub. (Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub is a picture book biography of Filipino pediatrician Fe del Mundo. It was written by Russell Molina and published by Bookmark in 2008).
Here I have a special interview with Mr. Tejido. He's revealed a lot of what goes on behind his work (his inspirations and rituals, etc.) and I hope you enjoy reading all about it!
Hi, Jomike! Congratulations on winning two National Children's Book Awards.
What motivates you to create children's books?
I’ve been creating books since my 1st year in college, and what drives me is the sheer enjoyment of creating something from concept to execution that produces a tangible output, which I know would contribute a great deal in a young reader’s experience. Aside from this, since I started in the industry as an illustrator, I did not feel like it is really work, but just doing a hobby. Since I would be drawing a lot in my free time anyway, I’d better channel this energy and talent into books for kids to be inspired with. As one of the youngest practitioners at that time (I was 18), I felt that my energy and connection to the target readers would be closer, so I also conducted art workshops and saw how responsive, appreciative and inspiring kids are when you actually see them in these hands-on sessions.
Now at 28, (and over 35 books later) I have a 4 month old daughter, so my drive to create good reads would be more than ever.
Can you please describe your studio?
My studio is all over the house. I have three main workplaces depending on the mess it makes. For the messiest of all, it's my painting carport. Living in Antipolo now, I get to be one with the cool breeze (and pesky mosquitoes that come along with it). I enjoy being free here to mess things up and not tidy up afterwards, for I am usually too exhausted to pack up and mess it up again the next day when I resume.
Next is the sala [living room], where I have a lightweight plastic desk which is large enough to make the details of the paintings, large manual illustrations, watercolor, and other indoor activities I do not get to do in a dark carport. I never work when lights are dim, for I dread having to wear glasses. In this space, I have a multilevel toy display which houses the most inspirational items, from the top is a Kaonashi (no-face) coin bank from Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. It was this character that made me like all the rest of his movies. A Totoro resin figure, and the fruit of all my designer toy collection: Robotar Artie. Behind them are 4 miniature Japanese soldier armours. The second level has Artie's box, a photo of my daughter Sophia, and a set of lucky 7 owls, and original paintings from my book, Ang Pambihirang Sombrero. The third level has the book award certificate along with art materials.
I've been based here for only a year, and the room I came from looked more like a toystore, with my vintage Transformers of 1984.
Lastly is my computer workstation with an Intuos pen that does all the magic for digital art. The 20 inch screen is also an investment for the comfort of my eyes. This is the least messy and most clinical of my workplaces, with controlled temperature. Oh, there's that window overlooking empty lots of grass and trees. This is where I can spot kingfishers, pied fantails, chestnut munias and other Philippine wild birds I wish I could identify by their call. (I was a member of the Wild Bird Club Phils. for a while.)
Hmmm. Do I detect a picture book on wild birds in the future? =D
What is your typical workday like?
I work mostly as long as I am awake, but enjoy the luxury of owning my time as a freelancer. So some days, after a long project is over, I don't work for a whole day. As a father for the last 4 months, I've kicked my late working habits and instead displace it to the mornings, which is actually better, in order to attune myself to the baby's sleeping schedule.
If there are things to conceptualize or write, I usually do those 1st thing in the morning so that my mind is fresh. I do painting during the day since I am daylight-dependent. But when it comes to the little details that won't mess up the place, I can bring them into the sala and continue on after 6 p.m.
Do you have any rituals while working on a children's book? (For example, a particular TV channel you keep on in the background, kind of music you listen to, or favorite snacks, etc.)
I usually have something crunchy like potato chips, lemon and honey juice, and coffee to keep me perked up. I enjoy playing dvds hooked up to a stereo system so that my eyes are not distracted to look at anything else but the picture I am building. I prefer dvds more than music for I get to imagine the familiar situations in the scene. Most overplayed movies are the Transformers 1986 movie, Southpark marathon, Family Guy marathon, Samurai X marathon, Ghostfighter (in English and Tagalog-dubbed) marathon, Ultraman of 1960, and all of Miyazaki's movies. I play something related to the artwork I do. For instance, when I did a set of watercolor works, I played Beatrix Potter over and over.
Back in my old place, I also placed a black cardboard on my tv screen to prevent myself from watching anything, but listen to all of the things I like. I usually tune into Nick, Cartoon Network, and Discovery Travel and Living for I love to travel.
For music, I go from oldskool hip-hop (those circa 1990-2000: 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, etc.) to alternative, acoustic and metal: Incubus, E-Heads, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.
How does it feel to win TWO National Children's Book Awards? What do these awards mean to you?
I feel appreciated for the many work hours I spend doing my craft. These awards mean that there is (now) an organizing body that gives attention, support and appreciation to us in this growing industry. It will surely inspire future book creators to do their best and push Philippine book illus/writing to better standards.
What inspired you to write and illustrate Tagu-Taguan?
Just like any Pinoy [Filipino] kid in the early ninety’s, taugan [hide and seek] was a popular game for those of us who actually went outside to play. So the enjoyment of the game, plus my innate interest in insects, helped me create the lyrical and playful verses.
As a kid, my father and I always rented nature videos or National Geographic and I mostly enjoyed the macro views of insects in their natural habitats, especially the hunting and preying. We used to make jokes out of it, and drew them in funny ways (my dad is an architect-artist as well), so it was more of a fun watch than an educational thing - that made me learn easier.
As a response to my interest, I often explored our gardens, and other peoples' gardens to find my own spiders and go spider fighting with sticks. Finding a large one would mean winning a match in school the next day. My dad and I went biking one Sunday to help me find a large one in the school grounds of Ateneo, and we did. To me, an adult showing that amount of support to a kid’s endeavour is very meaningful. Also, I had fun experiences with catching fireflies in Tagaytay with friends (which inspired my 1st story with Adarna House in 2001, Si Dindo Pundido - which is about a burned out firefly), and discovering how to make salagubangs [beetles] sleep by cupping them in your hands and clapping (not crushing [them]), having dilemmas with higads [caterpillars] that go to your nape when playing outside, and playing with ants on rocks and puddles of water (I used to make ant cities by placing rock islands on puddles bridged with twigs, with a prize of a teaspoon of sugar at the end of a long trail, and see if they’ll find it). Of course grasshoppers were a popular thing to catch in the grassy prep area in Ateneo Grade school.
It was only after 2005 when my wife chanted the “Tagu-taguan, maliwanag ang buwan, kay sarap maglaro sa dilim-diliman” ["hide and seek, the moon is bright, how fun it is to play in the dark"] which they used to sing when playing the game. I never knew that coz we never sang anything, we just played! From that short verse (partially used in the final spread) sprang the whole book.
I have never worked with Tahanan Books before, and since 2001, I have admired the quality of their publications. So for something so close to my heart, I intended this creation for them, and am happy I was accepted.
As far as the technical writing is considered, I never took up formal classes for it, but Ms. May Tobias-Papa guided me in my early beginnings in 2001 for reducing my very wordy stories to an apt length. I have her to thank for the mileage that her contribution has brought to my writing career.
Can you please guide us through the creative process you used when working on Tagu-Taguan?
The process is to create the story and do sketches. Since this particular book overlapped with my architectural board exam study time, it had to wait around 2 years. But the delay was more of a blessing, for my digital rendering style was still developing when we started it. I used a digital pen for it, which can mimic watercolours, and at the same time act like a precise mouse to cut insect legs to the right sharpness and anatomical correctness. I also made sure that the pages have color themes so that it wont look too earthy.
Your illustration style for Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub is very different from your illustration style for Tagu-Taguan. Do you deliberately change styles for each book you work on?
Yes, I change styles according to need. I change according to need and target audience, for illustration, in my opinion, is all about communicating a set manuscript, and an illustrator's job is to represent that visually, in the most effective way (in contrast to painting, in my opinion, which can go in any way the painter likes).
For example, in case there's a need for a lot of detail, I'd go for pen and ink and watercolors so I can do small intricate stuff that is required, like old Manila houses or a person's face. If the story can be rendered in a more abstract way, for there are very little elements in a page, I'd go for acrylics or maybe even my banig painting style (seen here). If it's more of pop, I can also go cartoon and toy oriented for a more contemporary look, as I do for my brands, Foldabots and Robotars.
The main requirement here [Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub] was to make the doctor look like Fe Del Mundo. So traditional pencil work was my choice of style. This way, I have more control in doing the details and outlines (rather than working with a digital pen). In my opinion, there is something about a real pencil that suggests speed and natural strokes.
This [Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub] is kind of a hybrid, since I colored it digitally.
What are you working on now?
Currently working on the next installation of my cardboard robot series (K-Zone/Summit Media) called Foldabots Toy Book 3, and also a comic compilation of the Foldabots story (a first compendium of twenty or so issues from 2008-2009) with Don Bosco Press. I am also doing illustrations for Lampara Books and Anvil Publishing.
Thank you, Jomike! I really appreciate you sharing so much about yourself and your work. =)