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Celina de Guzman: Lucid Escapism

A Parallel Planets piece by Erin Nøir - old account

Parallel Planets presents Celina de Guzman
in Lucid Escapism
Interview by Erin Emocling


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Erin Emocling: Hey, Celina! Tell us something about yourself as a visual artist and before you became one.

Celina de Guzman: Hi, Parallel Planets! I'm a 24 year-old illustrator, who constantly experiences quarter life crises, a huge fan of pink everything, and an unintentional collector of receipts and tickets. I love viewing artworks at museums, exhibits, and on the interwebs, though I have a very embarrassing collection of artists' monographs, and books. Yoshitomo Nara is my hero and cheese is my heroine.

I've always loved art and illustration, not only 'cause I didn't excel in high school, but 'cause it came naturally to every hand gesture. Things with art started to get serious when I entered the university. I was competitive, I wasn't too sociable, and the most important thing (next to doing above average in class) was maintaining a strict diet of peanut butter wheat sandwiches, and tofu (I used to be a fat kid). I was always known as the creative one, being asked whether I was going to pursue this craft rather than joining in our family's business (dad's an engineer-- before entering college, I had this plan of taking up architecture or interior design, anything to complement his profession, anything to benefit our family's business of build-and-sell). Briefly, mom and dad tried convincing me to pursue nursing due to the high demand back in 2008, but I felt that taking it on the year of its demand would be unpractical.

To get by with illustration, I do graphic design on the side, usually creating visual identities for start up companies. I've never felt the need or urge to apply in advertising agencies, I feel that passion and hard work will always pay better (emotionally, mentally, monetarily) in the end. As much as I believe in getting into the corporate world to create better designs, and possibly steer the mass into a brighter, more visual direction, the Philippines will always go with whatever sells. whatever is more attracting to the "masa eye".

This may sound stupid/silly/cocky, I was never one to compromise style, and yet, I'm not exactly set on the idea that I fall under semi "fine art" (according to some clients). Right now, I'm just focusing on excelling and maximizing whatever amount of potential I have in me as an illustrator.

EE: When/How did your inclination with the arts begin?

CdD: The arts came naturally for me, I remember having a liking for illustration back in kindergarten. Those days, I was asked by classmates to do their homework for them, drawing non-stick figured objects. I wasn't much of a talker; expression came through various forms of communication. (Misspelled) words, doodles on story books, and random words and letters on sheets of paper. The arts was something I was fond of, but wasn't expecting to pursue in the future. Back in high school, I was categorized as the art girl-- best to have in poster projects, the last choice for math and sciences. I didn't feel bad, we cant always be wanted anyway. Days like these sculpted (as well as directed me) into pursuing illustration. I felt that I was built for this.

2007 was tough for me, I was being pushed to take up nursing for college, and that time, there was an insanely high demand for nurses. I was torn between taking up law just to please my parents (lesser evil to nursing, in my opinion), I failed my entrance exams, and I wasn't doing well in classes. While everyone celebrated their passing to to all the colleges I applied to, I spent the last few months sulking (haha), focusing on yearbook club, and waiting patiently for possible opportunities. I considered CSB til I found out about UPFA's talent test.

It was a self-esteem booster, passing and excelling in college after years of being stuck in a high school which treated the arts as something levels below math and sciences. I was a decent student, but my craft did develop after months in the university. It was only 'til after the aggressiveness kicked in.

EE: What defines your artistic style? What are your “trademarks”?

CdG: I've received a bunch of these questions and I feel the best way to describe my art is dark-cutesy. I usually play with opposing elements to sort of "even out" emotions. If I decide on adding skulls or arrows, I color the illustrations with pastels. If I do something on heartache, I make sure to add flowers. I do my best to tackle balance through colors and elements rather than form. Most of the time, I try to stay away from black. I'd like to be as far away as possible from Tim Burton, haha.

My trademarks would have to be goldfish. If not goldfish, arm tattoos with skulls or mandalas on my figures, panda eye patches, warped anatomies, and females.

EE: What influences your work? Who inspires you?

CdG: Present emotions, ongoing situations, people, and Tim, among other things. I don't own a bunch of art books, though I have a number of people I look up to (I do my best to stay away from pegs just to stay away from recreating others' styles). I'm a fan of Egon Schiele, and Yoshitomo Nara, often times Angie Wang, Meg Hunt, and Ping Zhu. Asian artists are fantastic. I strongly feel my personal style sprouted out from Asian aesthetics.

Apart from those stated above, I feel that I constantly inspire myself. It may sound silly and cliche, but I can't help but be enthralled by the potential of the human body-- the idea that we use less than a quarter of our brain cells, the fact that the universe was build, and is constantly fueled by the capabilities of men. I can't seem to explain it, but if there are people who are able in creating photorealistic paintings, and finding cures for diseases, then there must be hope for me in maximizing my potential as an illustrator.

EE: What are your most recent collaborations with other artists?

CdG: I'm the worst, I'm horrible at collaborating cause I worry about clashing with other styles. The last I could remember was a collaboration with a musician friend of mine. He gave me a track, while I illustrated for it. I feel like I can contribute with artists of other mediums rather than those within my craft. Often times I worry about the artist visually overshadowing another with the use of different strokes and elements. Thus, my lack of illustrative collaborators. Before that, I remember illustrating for one of Tim's models. It was great, painting on skin was something new (and challenging) for me, and seeing my art through photographs rather than paper never fails to excite me.

EE: How do you deal with the so-called “artist’s block”?

CdG: I wait. I feel that artist blocks are the end of one phase, and the beginning of another. I've experienced a bunch of artist blocks, and each and every time, I notice a minimal change in style. Pushing grey areas, in my opinion, is a waste of time and energy. I agree with "practice makes perfect," but I value the idea of personal growth. We function on different frequencies, we  dance to different beats. I feel that the main reason we are forced to push grey areas is due to the fear of being left behind by our fellow artists. Consistency is great, working on a schedule is fantastic, but overworking a delicate mind isn't ideal.

EE: How about your creative process? From conception of ideas to execution of thoughts, how do you go about creating something?

CdG: I used to follow a ritual before starting illustrations: I'd head down to our living area a bit after dinner, play some music, switch on my aquarium light, prepare x cups of coffee (just for the aroma, sometimes for sipping. I feel that the presence of cups of coffee trigger my creative juices regardless of consumption). Illustrating (and working) felt better at night-- lower temperatures, minimal noise. I have a horrible habit of illustrating without drafts. Usually, I'd construct raw images in my head, let the lines flow from my pen (a process of trial and error), and add and eliminate elements if emotion doesn't feel right. The same goes for naming illustrations: it's usually a process of trial and error as well, constructed playfully, each word carefully paired up with other words to mask the true intention of the illustration.

I noticed that my illustrations are better when they're fueled by negative emotions rather than positive-- though it doesn't mean that a brief break from posting work online is a sign of happiness, and vice versa. Most of the time, I wait for the urge to illustrate, I can't draw with juices halfway through my creative brim. If I push myself to illustrate, I usually end up with half-assed illustrations, or semi-productive illustration sessions which die down after an hour of two. I'd rather waste days producing a good concept in my head, than waste paper, lead, and moments of execution just pushing myself to work.

EE: How do your artworks relate to your personal story?

CdG: Every illustration (most of my personal work, at least) is a reflection of current/ongoing emotions. I illustrate based on situations, possible solutions to current events, as well as regrets. I'll have to admit, my art is narcissistic-- creating figures donning the same hairdo as mine, having the same beauty marks as me, and wearing tattooed elements corresponding to my illustrative thoughts.

I constantly tackle the themes of love, loss, and longing. I feel that these emotions come naturally for me. According to my partner, I'm overly emotional, and unnecessarily dramatic. I tend to dig deep into situations, I see every downfall and failure as karma, and I constantly victimize myself. In illustrating, I create set elements per emotion-- an illustration on sadness must have poppy flowers and arrowed limbs, illustrations on repression will contain skewered goldfish and skulls, illustrations on love will have two figures. I take these set elements and apply them to fit ideas, making sure to play around with each to create a cohesive artwork.

I'm an emotional, and narcissistic illustrator, and I can't help it. Each illustration is usually moments in my life, mostly dreams and desires, rarely love and triumphs, often times personal losses.

EE: What is your mantra in life?

CdG: "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard".

EE: As one of today’s young generation of visual creatives in the Philippines, how can you “Inspire. Interpret. Express.” your fellow local artists to do the same?

CdG: I feel that the best thing to do is to work hard. When I speak, it's based on obvious observations-- the (creative) industry runs on trends, connections, nepotism, and the constant circulation of artists. Right now, I notice that there is a constant need to succumb to what audiences want to see rather than what artists want to show. There are conflicts between pursuing personal styles and selling out, and having to socialize to closed doors. Being and breathing as a struggling artist for the past two years (and counting), I've come to realize that Manila values its profit and viewership more than its artists. Manila isn't ready to take risks with people who won't sell.

Being disheartened, and finding your art to be far from marketable in a country which claims to support local is the shittiest thing in the universe, though what's a bit upsetting is the fact that you are valued elsewhere.
Since speaking up (to the public) is out of the question, the best way is to push yourself.

I've been aggressive with illustration since my college graduation, and things haven't been easy. I've given up and broken down a couple of times, asking myself if pursuing a non-marketable style was even worth the exhaustion, if the answer to everything is giving advertising a shot, or if the last resort is to help with the family business.

The best thing, is to communicate through visuals. Push yourself (I keep repeating myself, sorry), maximize your potential, illustrate what you feel our country needs, blind yourself from norms and visual trends, be a spark of hope to those who aspire to venture into the creative world. Don't waste your time on impressing the universe, your energy is better wasted on creating (or driving south for your favorite food joint).
I feel that once everyone realizes that they deserves the same amount of recognition as the effort they put in every line, stroke, and dab of color, only then will the industry take a 360.

EE: Aside from graphic design, what other creative pursuits are you interested in? Also, what’s a typical day in your life? Tell us more about the other side of yourself.

CdG: I took an interest in baking back in high school, I got bored one night and decided to make use of our oven. Currently, I bake soft batch cookies for fun, putting on this cheery face while running out for cookie deliveries (ala Red Riding Hood/a girl scout) and writing perky updates on Facebook on upcoming bake sessions. It's a great (and productive) escape from illustration-- something that allows me to improve on social skills (I sell at bazaars at times), as well as creativity (coming up with unique flavors is tough!).

A regular day (considering I have orders the next day) consists of me running out to do groceries in the morning, seeing my boyfriend for lunch (and dinner maybe), me getting home to do corporate work/illustrations, then baking and packing cookies til 4am. It's exhausting-- I do everything from buying and preparing ingredients, having labels done, baking, packing, and delivering.

On days when I don't bake I usually get up a bit after 9am, check and exchange emails/get a rundown of responsibilities for the day, work for an hour or so, see Tim for a bit (he's my partner, and I can't seem focus on things without seeing/speaking to him), get home a bit after dinner, then work. I'm a night owl, my brain and body function better while everbody's asleep.

It's a horrible habit, but I like to work on my own time.

EE: Mention three of your favorite things in the world.

CdG: Stinky cheese, my mechanical pencils, love.

EE: It’s 3AM in your part of the globe. What would you be most likely doing?

CdG: Most probably asleep, but if there were deadlines the next day, I'd most likely be working while having reruns of The Office playing as background noise. Makes working at night a buit more entertaining.

EE: Do you have any weird habits? Strange desires? Unlikely fetishes? Surprise us.

CdG: I have three weird and awkward habits/fetishes to mention. The first in line is this strange fascination with clipped toenails. I used to be a nail bitter, and despite being over that phase, I enjoy tracing things on my skin with thick clippings. Secondly, I have a horrible fetish of inhaling my boyfriend's exhalations, the warmth brings me a great amount of comfort. Lastly, I enjoy staring at armpits (armpits of strangers in buses and trains, friends who raise their hands, etc).

EE: What project(s) are you currently working on?

CdG: Right now, I'm doing my best to build my portfolio, inserting more commercially-angled illustrations. I feel that in order to excel in personal work and self-centered aesthetics, there's a need to appeal to the masses, and clients. It isn't exactly selling out, but widening the scope of your expertise. Apart from that, I've been doing a bit of merchandising, doing some client work, and finding ways to revamp my cookie brand.

In this planet that we're thriving in—
What is your power animal? Why?

My power animal would have to be an elephant. I've been fascinated by elephants for the longest time (thank you Dumbo), collecting a bunch of generic elephant plushies as a child, swirling inside huge drums of water and waving my arm out to mimic trunks, and crying to mom singing "Baby Mine" over and over again. There was a great emotional attachment to elephants up to this very day-- though unfortunately, they aren't as evident in illustrations as I want them to be. Elephants (and/or the idea of them) bring me back to the simpler days of living. I find similarities between the us-- aggressive and gentle in nature, strong in stature but emotionally fragile, playful yet passive, silent and soulful.

Who is your alternate ego? Why?

Definitely would have to be my sister. I hear from a lot of our friends that we're similar, probably because we're sisters, but recently, I undeniably found us to be total opposites of each other. She's currently based in Singapore working a job which pays a lot but leaves her miserable and conscious of everything. I live and sleep a few steps away from my parents room, I'm doing the things that I love, I give myself at least seven hours of sleep, and I give myself equal amounts of work and play. She's rational, I've been irrational. Most of the time she knows what she wants, and half of the time, I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

Regardless of the disparities in visions, and living, I happen to get along with her. Quite well.

In an alternate universe where art does not exist—
What would your name be? Why?

It took me more than a day just to figure this question out. I feel, in a world without art, only those in government/with authority (supposing we're being ruled over by higher beings) will be allowed to be named. Regular folks like me, regardless of class and physicality would be named with numbers and letters. For example-- a man can be human173, his wife can be human173b (previously another number), their child can be human428 (depending on their ranking within the country). If twins are born, they can be 428aa and 428bb. If they're both girls and get married, they will inherit their spouse's number (538 and 628 for example), with the addition of their "bb"s (human538bb, human628bb). If one gets divorced or widowed, her name will revert to its primary number with the addition of parentheses-- human428(b).

That's the most creative I can get, haha, but it sounds a bit cool (and alternate universe-y).

I'd be human793.

What would you be doing instead? Why?

I would probably be a scientist-- a botanist, or marine biologist. I feel it's the closest thing to being an artist and observing art without having to understand it as art. Hope I made sense? Would probably be collecting and pressing flowers, have my own bee farm (have honey combs for snacks), create terrariums as a hobby, creating vegan products and fizzy bath bombs (ala Lush), living in a tree house?

In collaboration with Bratpack, a special write-up by Erin Emocling on Celina de Guzman also appears on their blog for their Remix project, which you can check out here!

More from Celina de Guzman: Website, Behance

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