Karl Adrian Aguro (Uncurated Studio)

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Please introduce yourself!

Hi! I’m Karl Adrian Aguro. My friends call me Karl. I did have a nickname, but people seem to stop calling me “Kaloy” ever since I moved to Cebu for college. I’m a graphic designer from the small town Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon, where a few walks away is a pineapple plantation. I run a one-man design studio called Uncurated Studio and is currently based in Cagayan de Oro City.

How were you like as a kid?

I have a pretty much wonderful childhood. Growing up in the province gave me a very carefree life and I sometimes wish I could turn back time just to think of nothing else but playing and running in the fields. I think my favorite memory was climbing a huge mango tree at the back of my neighbor’s house. If there were no fruits to get, we would play catch up or gukodgukod while climbing and running in huge branches. I have always been the chubby kid, but I must say, maayo ko magbalance sa kahoy while mag gukodgukod sa akong kaduwa. Hehe.

Was it always this blissful?

Despite having a great childhood, growing up was a struggle. Both my parents were prominent figures in our small town—my father works in the military and my mom as an office head in the local government unit. There was pressure to be constantly in the right conduct, even if my parents didn’t force us. It was just an instinct that we have to behave well and do good at everything. When I reached 13, I noticed something different within myself. I began having crushes but not with girls, with boys. Knowing that my father was in the military, I hid it until the time he died when I was 18. I never came out because I was scared but after a year since his death, my mom (sort of) outed me. It was a moment—a very funny moment [laughs].

Has this, in any way, led you to becoming an artist?

Sometimes, I think that the reason why I’m “creative” was because I was very closeted growing up and it suppressed so much of myself that I was constantly finding ways to express myself. Fast forward today, the bitch is out of the closet. Yasss.

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How is your relationship with your family like?

I’m very close to my mom and sister. I think the reason why I never had a good relationship with my father was the reason that I was too scared I’ll humiliate him—by having a gay son. (When you’re living in a province, it will always be a huge deal) I also have a brother, but we’re not that close.

My parents gave us everything we wanted. I was basically handed with everything and sometimes, too much. I remember my father bought a basketball and a mountain bike, both things I never asked. It was quite funny now that I’m remembering it because I did force myself to play basketball, and sometime friends are surprised I know some rules.

Before setting foot in your current career, what path were you treading on?

I used to be an Engineering student and was already approaching my fourth year. I never really liked it because it was a parents’ course. It was okay, I wasn’t failing, but it just didn’t make me happy. The only good thing that happened during those four years was joining an organization called STREAMS – Pathways to Higher Education. The organization helps marginalized graduating high school students get scholarships in Xavier Ateneo. So some weekends, we would go to remote areas and conduct reviews. I was appointed as the branding officer, and even though I never really understood what the position was, I knew it involved creativity.

How was your journey like after deciding to pursue a career in the arts?

The market in Cebu where I finished my college was already progressing (in terms of art and design, like people are willing to pay a couple of bucks for you to design things), so it wasn’t that difficult for me to ease in.

When I moved from my hometown for college, I was given minimal support by my family because they already exhausted a lot of money when I took up Engineering. I also felt responsible for myself because part of me was trying to prove that I could do it—supporting myself while doing the thing I love. I worked long hours for small design gigs just to support myself while I was all alone. Then in my junior year, I was beginning to get bigger projects. It really helped with my education.

A week before my graduation, my former instructor invited and hired me as an art director for his boutique creative agency. I only lasted for a month because my mom was very ill that time that I had to go home. Going home was alright, and I guess I kind of needed my time off from school and just relax. A few months later, I felt like I was stuck again.

A friend from Ateneo contacted me and offered me as an art director for an agency based in CDO and I lasted for ten months. During my stay there, I realized a lot of things. One was that I never really liked working in an office, and second was I felt restrained and was stressed a lot of times. I didn’t even have time to do things that I really want because I was too caught up with my office tasks. Everybody has different ways of working and mine just happen to be different.

I have a lot of dream projects, but right now, I’d really want to start a journal featuring design perspectives from designers in Mindanao. I think it’s a great way to start a dialogue and cultivate a culture, not only exclusive to the island but progressive in terms of having that global perspective.

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What was one of your most challenging projects? And how did you work around that?

I think the most challenging project the studio has ever worked on was the packaging for Teacup No. 23. Anything that has to do with specialized treatments in terms of production and finishing styles will always be a challenge, especially that I live in a city that only has A3 poster printing shops and yearbook publishing houses. There’s really no variety in the kinds of paper, how hard the box will be, colors in foiling, etc. I even asked the client to fly me to Cebu so that we can work on with the packaging of the first batch. Well, ordering online or contacting a supplier were options, but then budget is also an issue. That time, I didn’t want the client to spend more on the packaging since the products were already expensive.

After that, it was clear that it would be a challenge if I was going to have another packaging project. I always ask my clients if they’re down with finding other ways of packaging things. I have to make necessary adjustments and consider the materials before starting with the design.

How about the memorable ones?

My favorite project so far was branding Chingkeetea. Branding restaurants and cafes will always be fun but challenging at the same time. I really love it when everything isn’t just about the logo and stationaries. You get to extend and have that sort of command in terms of experience, so you get to have a touch in the interiors and the environment to make everything cohesive.

Doing the project for Chingkeetea definitely made me realize that what I’m doing has always been multi-disciplinary and there are these embedded skills that add charms to what I’m doing, which is primarily graphic design.

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Sometimes, I think that the reason why I’m “creative” was because I was very closeted growing up and I suppressed so much of myself that I was constantly finding ways to express myself. Fast forward today, the bitch is out of the closet.

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What’s a project that you’ve been dying to work on?

I have a lot of dream projects, but right now, I’d really want to start a journal featuring design perspectives from designers in Mindanao. I think it’s a great way to start a dialogue and cultivate a culture, not only exclusive to the island but progressive in terms of having that global perspective. Another dream project I have in mind is to start a design conference in Cagayan de Oro. It would be a great avenue for the youngins who are considering to pursue art and design.

What usually gets you in the mood to start working on a project?

The first thing I do is walk! When I was still studying in Cebu, before I start a plate, I would always go out for long walks. It helps me think and I usually find inspirations and ideas in the most random areas and places.

Is there a specific process that you follow?

Leveling and setting expectations are really important for me, so I usually would want to meet up with the client and talk. Sometimes, I don’t even start talking about the project but listen to some personal stories. I learned that the best way to start any project is to build trust because that way, the client won’t have to micromanage you when things are progressing with the project.

After every project, I meet again with client and ask if they were satisfied with the product and if the product hasn’t made such an impact during the launch, we would brainstorm again on ways to improve it.

Are there times when you get stuck on an idea?

When I have creative block, I usually go outside and walk. I always make it a point to not force myself when it’s not there (inspiration/motivation), so the easiest way for me to do is just walk. I also like watching movies. Or just sleep. Work when your body is energized and your mind is free and relaxed.

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Apart from taking long walks and long glances, what else inspires you to do what you do?

Cliché but traveling really inspires me. A huge chunk of what I have for the studio were because of the things I see when I travel. I’m also inspired by drag queens! I love the idea that you can be anyone you want to be and you get to express it through your creativity. I don’t want to be a drag queen, but they really make me happy. They’re also great source of inspiration!

Let’s talk about frustrations.

I’m a frustrated singer [laughs]. It’s true! Joke’s aside, I get really frustrated when people say to me, “Unsaon na nimo? You still do it maski walay makasabot.” Especially here, some people find a good laugh when they see some weird typography. I always had a thing for ugly typography because with the right tweaking, it could have had a potential to say a statement.

Since we’re talking about ugly type, I get slightly pissed when people say “I hate comic sans”. It’s like it’s their default answer to make them a ~design-savvy~ of some sort. I’m a firm believer of doing work with the right context. And with the right context, comic sans still works. (Even to unbothered and clueless pre-school teachers!)

Do you have any tips on getting more motivated?

Travel. Eat. Watch movie. And just recently, digital detox. Staying away from your online life and just be anywhere you can think or get lost to is exciting and fulfilling. I always get energized after some detox.

Lastly, what’s the future like for you?

The future for me is boundless. Black Mirror episodes are happening in real life (not sure if it’s good/bad/alarming). Sophia the robot became a cover girl; Rupaul’s drag race is hitting mainstream; Mocha Uson is running for the senate—everything is possible.

Aside from Uson, I’m really excited for what could happen in the future, especially in the creative community. It’s a great time to innovate and leverage the platforms we’re being introduced to. So that’s it, the future for me is limitless.

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Born and raised in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon, Karl Aguro is a graphic designer with beginnings as an illustrator. After spending his first few years of college in Engineering, he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts at the University of San Carlos, Cebu City. He studied and majored in Advertising, where he was introduced and got his curiosity in visual problem-solving through the discipline of graphic design.

He won the champion prize in the students division of the 6th BluPrint Magazine Design Competition – 2016. He has been featured in publications and websites, and just recently in design magazines, such as BranD Magazine. In 2016, he was the illustrator to be asked by Mubi and Stackmagazines to create a portrait of Lav Diaz.

He currently runs the design studio and is working with identity and print design projects.

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