Process: Lila ang Kulay ng Pamamaalam

I got a Facebook message sometime last year, from a guy I didn't know but who seemed okay--we had some mutual friends, I checked. His first novel was going to be published, he said, and he wanted me to do the book cover.  Without any background on what his novel was about, or whether he was any good or not, I said yes, because, well, there are three products/merchandise/stuff I always, always want to design or illustrate for: album covers, makeup packaging (hopefully organic and cruelty-free; this one I haven't done yet. Universe, please grant me this!) and book covers. And to be asked nonetheless by the writer himself was such a curious honor!

He turned out to be a great client: he left all the art direction to me. He just had one request, that I read his entire novel before doing any work. He sent me his manuscript. All 467 pages of Tagalog prose. Turns out, he's a spectacular writer, making me even more thankful that I took the project. I haven't read a Tagalog novel in decades, I'd say. The last one I remember was the required El Filibusterismo in highschool. Although this took me forever to finish reading (I am not a fast Tagalog reader, sadly), when I was about to be done with the novel I must say I still wanted to read more. This story, the earlier bits anyway, transported me back to my childhood. The nineties in the province, discovering the Eraserheads, cassette tapes and grade school crushes.

I won't say any more about the novel other than the next few lines: get a copy.


I first came out with this little watercolor illustration:

The protagonist--embodied by his memories. But then I found it too colorful for my own liking and started drawing another illustration, that of a girl's but then I shredded that piece of paper; I have no photo for that one.  I began drawing another girl a day or two after, when I wasn't feeling too frustrated anymore. I came out with this one:

I've been really into pencil drawings lately, as opposed to watercolor, which was always my medium of choice before.  I scanned it and did the layout this way:


I still felt that I needed to add a wash of color to the piece, and so I got a scrap piece of paper and made ink washes on it.

Ignore the middle illustration--a failed bit for another storybook I'm working on, that which I'll talk about next time, when we're done.

So I scanned all these elements together and tinkered with them via Photoshop to get this:

I sent in all the studies I made, including the colorful one, to the author and the publishers, hoping they'd pick the last one. There's something about how quiet it looks--like something grand, something intense, is about to unfold.

Thankfully, they did choose the latter, with the most minor revisions and they were set for printing.

You'll notice that I made the ink washes a bit more faded in the actual book. Also, a little red surprise at the back, highlighting the other earphone--I guess you'll have to really read the novel to get into the little details I put in the illustration. I hope you do! :)

"Lila ang Kulay ng Pamamaalam" by RM Topacio is available via the University of the Philippines Press.