Yas Doctor is a freelance illustrator and artist based in the south of Manila, and is a member of the Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan organization. She is also behind the zines Sari-Sari Project Vols. 1 and 2. To view more of her works, follow her on Instagram (@heypatatas).
Q: Everyone has an origin story. Could you share with us the exact moment (or moments) wherein you realized that you wanted to become an artist?
I grew up in an artsy home. My father is an artist and my mother was an interior decorator. It never occurred to me that being an artist is a profession and a way of life. I thought everyone led artsy lives.
When I was smaller I wanted to be a saint because of the travels. But all those travels were met with torture or death so I changed my mind and decided to be a botanist. I realized that I wanted to be an artist when I was in senior high school; I was lucky to meet 2 very good teachers who exposed me to art and the humanities. My father was supportive.
College entrance exams came, I didn’t make it to Fine Arts and ended up in a communications course instead. It was during this time I had to convince people that I really wanted to be an artist. It was tough haha.
Q: From that moment, and throughout your journey as an artist, what has been your biggest struggle?
My struggles 17 years ago are different from my struggles now. Back then all I wanted was to win an award and gain approval from peers. Now, I have payables to take care of and at the same time produce work.
When I was in college my drawing skills were really horrible but I was determined to start somewhere. I read a book on abstract art in my father’s studio. It was a collection of essays. This was published in the late 50s. The first one written by Michel Seuphor, is a dialogue between one who is hesitant to the new movement (abstract art) and one who embraces it. The concepts appealed to my 18-year-old self and a huge chunk of my college life was spent reading about art in the library (Kaya pala ako nasabihang boring ahaha [Probably why I was said to be boring]). This abstract art led me to representational art, first with illustration, zine making, and then printmaking. Reading and exposing myself to different kinds of art helped a lot.
I was introduced to Ang-INK by my sister. She showed me a pamphlet about the group and that made me join since i was interested in illustrating picture books. Aside from reading about art, I also saw the potential that I could learn by surrounding myself with like-minded people.
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
Still figuring things out! Maybe ask me again 10 yrs later haha.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your skills?
I think anyone comes to a point wherein they have to question the direction of their work. I do this all the time. Haha! Sometimes it can be a little obsessive and unforgiving, but the thinking somehow pays off: the more honest I am with myself and my capabilities, the more confident I become to navigate things.
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your artistic career? Why?
The money aspect. I was so concerned with honing my style, I forgot the other side of the coin: savings, taxes, loans, etc. You have to roll up your sleeves every once in a while to do admin work. I know it’s a pain but it’s very important.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue making your art?
I just want to further my capabilities. I know I can do a lot of things from picture books to prints to paintings etc.
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to create art?)
I don’t have an office job so I really should make the most of my time to create art. I do errands first then proceed with work for the rest of the day. For printmaking, I work at the AP studio because I use the etching press most of the time. Illustration work and paintings are done at home. I take a siesta when I’m really tired. One of the things I’ve learned this year is that your body will say “No!” even if your mind is still on the go. Both should be in sync to function properly.
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your art?
I seldom take breaks when deadlines are tight and just focus on finishing projects. I sometimes work with other tasks or personal projects as breather.
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
I’d bring a book in my bag or download it on my phone. I would window shop for art supplies. Sometimes I would meet up with other artist friends and just listen to them or visit the AP studio behind Folk Arts. Sometimes I’d go to this little diner in Mabini to drink brewed coffee or just walk around somewhere in Manila and think.
Having a sketchbook with you (or even a bunch of receipts in your wallet) is helpful when you need to sketch or jot down ideas.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
Not really an epic win, but it feels nice to pay the bills / purchase things with money earned from what you do. Having funds help ease your life a bit. Real world tasks and concerns humble and balance you out, making you realize, “Oh there’s a different world outside art I should also focus on.”
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
I have lots of them. Failures build your character. There are mistakes that you could just laugh or shrug off and there are mistakes that hit you right in the gut, affecting you one way or the other later on. You just have to work harder if things didn’t turn out well for you at first.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
Haha I don’t know with fans. For clients, work hard and be professional. For promoting, I’m trying to limit my use of social media and focus on what’s important: producing more work and to be away from online noise and the #s. Before I did #nightpaintings on my IG. The aim was to push myself to finish an artwork and assess its processes later on. This method worked well for me.
I got messages from others saying they liked what I was doing which was unexpected since I started this documentation with no audience in mind. It was just a desperate attempt to improve my style because during that time my works lacked direction.
Now that I’m typing and thinking about this question, my aim in documenting my artworks on social media is mostly just to review my process.
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
All I have are these simple goals. I just want to learn, create and accomplish, and live a life that is self-sustainable. If I inspire anyone in any way, well, that’s good!
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
I live in the south, near the coast and that area is rapidly changing. A lot of elements from my work are taken / inspired there. I like plants too, then relate all of them to the theme/s I am dealing with.
Q: What is your big “WHY”? Why do you feel the need to make art? Who are you doing it for? What’s the hidden reason behind your big dream?
I love what I do. I can work in an office; I can be a waitress and be so much more, but I’d still end up making art.
Q: What 3 stories (comics, movies, documentaries, novels, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
Lampas tatlo, ok lang?
Nick Joaquin’s Pop Stories for Groovy Kids, Stories and Poems for all Seasons illustrated by Jiří Trnka, the works of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac sparked my interest in becoming a picture book illustrator.
There’s this docu series from BBC that you can find on Youtube. It’s called “What do artists do all day?” My fave episode is on Norman Ackroyd. He’s very much in love with the process of printmaking. Makikita mo na kinikilig siya habang ineexplain niya yung trabaho. [You can see him get giddy as he’s explaining the work.] Loving the process will help you last in whatever you do. It should excite you.
Discovering Manansala (written by Isabel Nazareno)- Manansala’s Transparent Cubism has a huge effect on my style so I was glad when this book came out. It’s a good introduction to him, his work, and the challenges he faced as an artist during his time. I like about what he said about art, that it is a “…jealous thing— one must live it fully; there is nothing halfway about it.”
The Printmakers (written by Leonidas Benesa) – Published in 1975. This book introduced me to printmakers whose works I wasn’t familiar with. I ended up researching and liking their works. Namulat ako sa history at sa mga gawa nila [My eyes were opened to history, and to their work]. I like the works of Lito Mayo, Ofelia Gelvezon-Tequi, Brenda Fajardo, Lucio Martinez to name a few.
Q: What are the top books, art books, blogs, podcasts, or workshops you’d recommend that helped you level up your skills? (Feel free to plug in as many as you’d like)
Show Your Work! By Austin Kleon, Overlooked No More (NY Times), Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, the zines at StudioSoup Library in Cubao x, The Art Assignment by PBS Design Studios to name a few.
Printmaking workshops – Every year, the Association of Pinoyprintmakers (AP) holds printmaking workshops. Three whole Saturdays of intensive printmaking. The workshops are divided to 2 methods: Relief and Intaglio. Printmaking taught me patience and to be consistent.
Illustration-related workshops – Another group I’m part of is Ang INK. Every year INK holds the INKFEST and would feature Masterclass workshops. If you’re serious about creating art for picture books, you could check the schedule and the facilitators. INKFEST will be held this October at Fully Booked, BGC.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
Our house is pretty secluded, but it’s getting a bit noisy thanks to the school built across us. It’s ok, but I like quiet spaces and lots of natural light so I’m quite happy with the space I have now (used to be a frame workshop, then became a storage room, 1/4 half of it was converted later on as my workspace). Hopefully I could fix the ventilation and layout in a couple of yrs.
Q: Name ONE artist/writer that, if you could, you would pick their brain and find out all the hidden secrets behind their amazing work?
Di kaya ng isang artist lang. [One artist wouldn’t cut it.]
Q: Who do you consider your biggest mentor that helped you improve your skills?
(Doesn’t have to be someone you’ve met personally. Can be someone you look up to, or someone whose art has inspired you to get better, over the years.)
My parents, colleagues, and peers are there to teach me a thing or two. Di lang tungkol sa art [And not just about art].