Please introduce yourself.
Hi, I’m Mark Magnaye. I’m a freelance illustrator currently based in the City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan. My friends call me Blok, a nickname I got in high school, which I’ve since adapted as my artist name. My usual day is well—pretty usual. I’m self-employed and I work from home, so I have a relaxed pace to my day. I’d wake up, check my social media (like any millennial), get myself ready, and seize the day—well, it’s mostly just work, if I have any.
Let’s talk about your childhood, way before you got your nickname Blok.
I’ve had a wonderful childhood set against the backdrop of a ’90s rural town. We used to live in a compound with my relatives. I grew up with my cousins and they were my very first friends. We’d play habulan on the streets, tagu-taguan in the backyard, and we’d catch dragonflies and salagubang in May during the summer. When we would get tired, we’d all head back home and hung out watching anime for the rest of the afternoon while snacking on turon or whatever our moms prepared for merienda. Life was so simple and easy as a kid. The biggest problem I ever had was probably my math homework, and life’s biggest question back then was “When can we all play again?”
We’re not wealthy, but my parents made sure we were well cared and happy. I used to throw tantrums whenever my parents, especially my mom, refused to buy me something that I wanted (I wasn’t an easy kid), but thinking about it now, it’s actually a good thing that I didn’t get everything because it pushed me to be creative and to value the simplest things. We didn’t have fancy toys growing up, so sometimes, you had to rely on your imagination, turning dried leaves into paper money, stones to tiny people, and sticks into swords. I had an awesome childhood, thanks to my parents who let me be a child—even until now that I’m all grown up and still act like a kid, sometimes.
It’s interesting how your formative years fueled your creativity. Can you recall any point during those times when you thought that you wanted to become an artist?
I have a lot of fond memories growing up. It’s hard to choose just one, but this one I’d like to share is one of my earliest memories of me drawing about 4 or 5. One of the first subjects I ever drew was my grandma. I remember showing it to her, my mom, and my aunts and feeling so proud. I was always drawing as child, but that was one of the moments I thought I’d like to be an artist.
We didn’t have fancy toys growing up, so sometimes, you had to rely on your imagination, turning dried leaves into paper money, stones to tiny people, and sticks into swords.
How was it like growing up with your family?
I have a brother who is three years younger than me. My father works and provides for the family while my mom stays at home and takes care of us. It was a rather typical Filipino family except my father worked overseas and was only with us for a month each year. I guess you could say my mom raised us single-handedly. I admire my mom. She’s the bravest woman I know. It wasn’t an easy feat running the house and raising two boys. On the other hand, it wasn’t easy for my dad too being away from the family, but this is the reality of most Filipino families—and that was mine too.
How exactly did you jumpstart of your career?
It wasn’t easy. I felt a little lost and overwhelmed after graduation. Imagine studying for the past 14 years and then that chapter of your life is suddenly over—you’re officially an adult whether you’re ready or not. It took a while to let that sink in and decide which career path I wanted to pursue. I could’ve tried graphic design or worked in an advertising agency. There were quite a few choices, but I ultimately I decided to pursue a career in illustration. It’s not easy finding a job as an illustrator here in the Philippines because there isn’t a big demand. But after a couple of months, I got my first full-time job as an illustrator for a startup company producing children’s storybooks for mobile devices. I’ve had a good experience working there. I love children’s books and I was happy that I get to do what I love. I also had awesome co-workers, also illustrators, who instantly became my friends.
I did that for almost three years until the company had to let me go because they had to downsize. I wasn’t ready for that, but I thought that it might be the time to fulfill my dream of becoming a freelance illustrator. I was very optimistic about it, but it proved to be difficult as months passed by. There wasn’t a lot of work coming in and I was starting to think that maybe I should just pursue a different path. This was in 2016, and I consider that year the lowest point in life, so far. I was unemployed for a year with work coming in sporadically. It was a tough year. I wasn’t doing financially well and the unemployment was affecting my mental health. I could go do something else, but then I would be turning my back from my “dream” and would probably end up stuck with a job that I’m not passionate about, so you see, that was my dilemma. I decided I’d give one last try, just until the year ended. I’m glad I didn’t give up on it, because a couple months later, I was picked up by an agent and was signed soon after. I’m working on my dream now and I could not be more thankful.
I like the outdoors, nature, and traveling. It’s what I do to avoid feeling burnt out. It could be a short walk outside, just breathing in air, a quick weekend hike with friends, or a weeklong adventure in another country.
As you are now working on your dream, what has been the most challenging project to date?
It’s probably the work I did with a NY-based production studio. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about this, because I don’t know if the project has been released yet, but I was asked to help them develop visuals for one of their productions. It’s not what I usually do, so I find it challenging. The tight deadlines and the time zone difference also factor in. When I’m faced in a challenging situation like this, I just try to look at it as an opportunity to learn. When you feel challenged, that only means you’re going out of your comfort zone, and that’s a good thing. It’s how you grow.
But sometimes the challenge wasn’t in the work itself but in yourself, like, I would still have self-doubts, especially when working with big project or big clients, thinking “am I good enough for this, or can I do it?” I still give myself a pep talk from time to time. I just think, “Hey they like the work you do and that’s why they hired you!”
How about a project you enjoyed doing?
My favorite project so far would have to be the series of illustrations I did for The Atlantic’s The Possibility Report, and The Guardian’s G2 cover I did last year. Both were my dream clients, and both the ADs were super great to work with!
What’s probably a dream project that you would make you say, “I finally made it”?
I love books. One of my goals is to have my own book/s published one day. I have a couple of stories and ideas in my head. I’m trying to write, but the progress has been slow. Hopefully, I can finish these stories soon!
Can you discuss how your creative process is like?
I do research and read up on the topics that I need to illustrate. I also create mood boards on Pinterest for each project. Most people like listening to music while working, but I prefer listening to podcasts instead. If you see me working, I’m most likely listening to a podcast too, either SYSK, Casefile, or Lore. For some reason, it helps me focus.
Having a name like yours doesn’t exactly grant immunity from a creative block. What usually keeps the inspiration flowing?
A song, a passage from a book, an oddly-shaped leaf…anything! I believe anything and everything can be a source of inspiration. You just have to keep an open eye and an open mind. Same goes when you’re having a creative block.
On the flip side, what keeps the frustrations flowing?
The current political climate—It’s hard not to care if it affects the quality of your life. Either way, we should still care. My neighbors singing (or screaming) Natalie Cole’s “Miss You Like Crazy” when I’m working and trying to be creative. Slow Internet connection. When my parents, especially my father, don’t get my point. Having to repeat myself multiple times. When things don’t go as I planned.
So what do you usually do when life gets the best of you?
Have a Kit Kat? No, I mean, take a break! I like the outdoors, nature, and traveling. It’s what I do to avoid feeling burnt out. It could be a short walk outside, just breathing in air, a quick weekend hike with friends, or a weeklong adventure in another country. As artists, it’s hard for us to separate work from our life because it’s our passion, and creating comes from a personal place, but we must remember that having a break is also important, even animals take breaks, plants and trees sleep in autumn, and the Sun gives way to the Moon. It’s natural, it’s necessary. We should allow ourselves some downtime, or a time to try something different.
Lastly, what’s the future like for you?
I wish I could tell you what the future would be, but I could only hope it’s a bright and happy one, with all of my dreams coming true. Hopefully, I’m still illustrating and creating!