Who knows? That’s less spending, too, for yuletide gifts
By Pao Vergara
Balancing work as a contemporary arts teacher, a master’s degree, and organizing monthly open mics hasn’t stopped Simone Sales from coming up with more project ideas. She shares how she “would always conceptualize these projects in my head and make plans for them but never put aside time to actually do the work.”
As our collective routines remain altered by extended quarantine, Sales has found the time to de-clutter her cabinets. In the process, she happened upon batches of old art materials. Sales shares, “So far, I’ve made bracelets, painted wooden beads, painted notebooks and postcards, little zines, and greeting cards for my friends.” And that’s not all, she’s also experimenting with combining textile and paint through embroidery, which, for her, is “a hybrid kind of mess.”
But there’s minimal pressure for Sales as it’s more about the process than “being a pro”: “I’m looking for the messy wildness of acrylic paint or the repetitive motion of coloring with crayons and oil pastels.”
As low-key anxiety continually thrums in the background of day-to-day life in this “new normal,” we find ways to cope. In recent times, artistic and creative practices have been increasingly recognized by the medical community as a preventive and supplementary measure against the effects of stress.
Art Plus Magazine reached out to individuals whose chosen crafts are different from their day jobs—those who prioritize the process and who see a good end product as simply a bonus. Perhaps it’s time we saw the word ‘amateur’ in a different light as sometimes, surprisingly good works sprout from modest assumptions and relaxed rules.
Here are some activities to beat the cabin blues. With the holidays in the horizon, some of these projects might also make for great handmade gifts.
Quarantine has made gourmands and pâtissièrs of us, with many attempting to recreate food cravings from favorite restaurants. Why not finish the meal with a drink—alcoholic, caffeinated, or straight edge?
Personally, this has been my “quaran-thing,” so to speak. I’ve always been fascinated by the skill of bartenders and baristas, especially in third-wave joints where proprietors encourage employees to unleash their creativity. The cliché is true: the best don’t just whip up drinks, but make consumable art.
Long before quarantine, friends and family humored my attempts at mixology during house parties and reunions, having spent free time researching recipes and techniques and trying to squeeze out hacks from baristas through small talk.
Mixology falls somewhere between the precision of baking and playfulness of cooking. Cross-referencing different recipes of the same drink helps develop one’s own signature over time, as well as working with locally available ingredients. A Taiwanese vlogger’s nai cha has notes not found in a NYT Cooking guide.
What I’ve learned is that you don’t need fancy equipment or ingredients. No martini shaker? Try a tin tumbler. A saucepan will suffice for lattes. Whisk matcha with an egg beater. Try neighborhood lemongrass as a mint leaf substitute. Almond milk too pricey? Squeeze out gata from talipapa niyog.
A corporate illustrator and designer by day, Nina Filipina melts the stress away by lighting her homemade scented candles. Candles are simple enough to make, the materials easy to source, the process straightforward but nonetheless rewarding.
What challenges Nina, however, is the creation of scents. Just as there are many ways to prepare coffee, with myriad beans to choose from, a similar variety applies to artisanal candle-making.
She waltzed into candle-making almost unintentionally, when she “was Marie Kondo-ing the house. I unearthed a few scented candles. We’ve had them for a while but I never really bothered with them. I lit one, and that’s when I realized scents can change the atmosphere. I guess you could say it sparked joy.”
Immediately, she began to research about different vessels, waxes, and wicks. Her learning curve took around a hundred candles before grasping the fundamentals. Around 400 candles and 7 months in as of this writing, she’s launched a brand whose ingredients are all locally sourced.
BaO, named after the coconut husk tool, supports local coconut farmers, bayong weavers, and beekeepers. And yes, her candles actually come in a traditional bao. Having developed her personal preferences for candle flavors and material, she encourages others to take up the craft.
For starters, aside from wicks and wax, she recommends equipping oneself with essential oils (you can also distill your own, a hobby in itself), vessels (jars will suffice, but silicone molds are best for pillar candles), syringe to measure oil, steel pitcher to melt the wax in, and a weighing scale.
While not a new activity, extended quarantine has made some re-examine how they approach organizing one’s self on paper. In our productivity-obsessed milieu, many of our basic assumptions have come under scrutiny amidst the pandemic.
Belle Mapa, a writer who used to organize bullet journaling workshops in neighborhood cafés expounds on this: “That’s where the versatility of bullet journaling comes in. It can be a task-management system, but it can also act as a note-taking system for when you want to jot down your thoughts or emotions.”
Long before the lockdown, Belle was already actively advocating for mental health, teaming up with non-government organizations to introduce bullet journaling as a self-care method.
This is all the more so during extended quarantine, where the effects of isolation and cabin fever have begun taking their toll on many. “You can also track habits, moods, sleep patterns, social media use. Use it to create a road map of your life during quarantine—see what aspects of your life need attending to.”
Bullet journaling at its core is not so much about the creative layouts and doodles, but a note-taking system. That simplicity, Belle explains, is also what allows it to be a safe space. We all have experiences of judging ourselves for having thoughts which, if expressed, are not often socially acceptable. This happens even in our most private journals.
It was realizing this struggle that motivated Belle to share her practice: “It took a while for me to overcome perfectionism. The blank page will never judge or hurt you. So all that pressure to look neat or perfect comes from the self, not the other. The journal is a safe space, always welcoming your inner voice to play.”
It started with a 500-peso sewing machine. Said machine is well-worn, but so thorough has Fiel Flameño’s learning and practice been that she’s now saving up for more serious, heavy-duty gear.
“I’ve been wanting to learn how to make clothes for years, but I was under the impression that I needed to invest a lot of money,” the corporate project manager-by-day shares.
As retail fashion moves online, one major drawback is the hassle and potentially hazardous return-and-exchange of ill-fitting garments. Amidst this backdrop, when Fiel saw a top that she wanted online, she decided to try her hand at crafting it and sought out online tutorials.
She gained more than new wardrobe pieces as “it improved my problem-solving skills.” Her first sewing machine often broke down, and half the time went into troubleshooting it. Starting out with minimal technical skills, the process of learning from mistakes gave Fiel a deeper appreciation of the science behind sewing as she learned “why certain rules and techniques are in place.” She is now able to recycle other fabrics lying around at home, like blankets, turning them into clothes.
For Fiel, process is primary, product secondary as “I would look at clothes online and deconstruct and reconstruct them in my head, sometimes sketching them on paper. It isn’t so much about ‘fashion design,’ I just love the process so much and everything feels like a puzzle waiting to be solved.”
What to do with all those fabric scraps? Don’t let a single thread go to waste!
Working in a museum before returning to her art practice full-time, Laura Abejo finds that her chosen medium is perfect for a domestic setting.
Knitted sweaters and handkerchiefs are clichés which nonetheless carry affectionate undertones, given each piece’s imperfections. Many of us might also have a basic grasp of the loops owing to home economics classes back in grade school.
“I didn’t like it too much as a kid,” Laura confides, “but it was comforting to do as an adult.” It’s interesting how things that were once chores, requirements to pass, later become a passion embraced.
Laura echoes Fiel in highlighting the accessibility not just of materials and technology, but also techniques and community, tips, tricks, and hacks one finds in interacting with fellow enthusiasts.
Perhaps social media used in isolation is bad for our psyches, but social media playing a secondary role in forming a community around a hands-on craft is where the medium shines. Her interest peaked when she regularly tracked the hashtags #slowstitching, #patchwork, #boro, the last being Japanese decorative stitching. She suggests “starting with a project that is simple, and you can build fancier techniques as you build your practice.”
Additionally, fiber art has also taken a communal dimension, as it has given her a chance to commune with her relatives over the production of pieces. Her largest piece by size, featured in ManilArt in 2018, was a collaboration with her titas at home.
As media outlets increasingly go digital, the press cycle never seems to pause. Nonetheless during off-hours, magazine editor Pau Miranda still finds time to simply spectate. With her note-taking goggles taken off, she becomes an audience member, avidly following the local theater scene.
She acknowledges that while digitized shows are accessible, the “energy exchanged between audience and performer is really different” and that while theater’s dynamism lies in that no two productions of the same show are the same, a sort of finality happens once a performance is recorded and uploaded.
But most of all, that very accessibility has also proven harmful to the livelihoods of performers. Citing many companies that closed and actors who began lying low, she mentions a few who organize e-ticketed shows. The rest continue to produce, but without tickets. The ability to act full-time is on shaky ground.
Amidst all this, Pau, together with other fans, devoted more time to Surely, podcast reporting on news and ways to help the scene, with in-depth features on companies, individuals, and industry goings-on. What started out as a hobby before the pandemic has gained new urgency for Pau and friends.
Podcasting is easy to start—quality mics can be had for under 3000 pesos, and free editing software can produce content that matches their paid counterparts. Sometimes, your hobby doesn’t have to be different from one’s day job, or in this case, advocacy.
Though the tragedy of the pandemic mustn’t be glamorized, there is nonetheless space to refresh ourselves mentally for the rebuilding to follow, and creative therapies are one such corner in said space.
There is stress, and there is tiredness. The two are similar but not the same thing. One can be tired without being stressed, especially if it’s the tired that makes for long, restful, and cozy sleep after an afternoon of exclusive focus on a craft of choice; mind and body engaged, all while one’s phone stays off or is relegated to the task of providing background music.
From simply enjoying the process, to discovering how a hobby can eventually help a larger community, we see that leisure and purpose, rest and mission, are complimentary spheres.