Although they’ve had their fair share of failures and skipped classes, Bad Student aspires to bring imperfection to a positive light, balancing it out the the concept of perpetual learning. They’re enthused about the beauty of being flawed, which makes Risograph printing the perfect medium for the two artists. In Riso, not one print will ever be the same. Inked with vivid fluorescent colors, its lo-fi charm comes from the inevitable fading and misalignments in printing—the rougher, the better. As one of the few riso printers in Asia, and the only one here in Manila, Bad Student definitely have big printers to fill, but don’t fret, getting everyone’s sheets together is a huge assignment they’re purposefully acing.
One cloudy Thursday afternoon, we hit up the unlikely duo in their fortress, quaintly nestled in one of the high-rise towers in Cubao. Upon setting foot in their folksy studio apartment, you’ll be greeted by a mélange of prints splashed with blues, reds, yellows, and fluorescent pinks plastered in its walls. Sporting a purple beanie and striped orange tee, Pau Tiu welcomes us with a coy smile as a vision of Dyam rocking a khaki bucket hat and magenta Polly string top comes into view. But before we were able to ask our slam book questions, the co-founders were in the midst of printing.
There’s delight seeing them in action. The two are intuitively in sync that Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone, and Lance Bass are jealous. As echoes of machine noises and whooshes of paper fill the air, Pau Tiu teases, “Nako, tatanungin tayo nito kung ano pinaka-pinagawayan natin eh.” Vibrant giggles fill the room, which is a recurring theme during the span of our little chat. The two make their way to the table at the center of the room for the interview, and we start from the very beginning, which is a very good place to start.
Bad Student is not the absence of learning. Andun lagi yung action na gusto matuto. Our motto is simple: In order to be good at something, you have to be bad at it first.
If you would ask the two about how they met, they’ll give you two versions right off the bat—one is the truth, and one is a lie. The first one is a sweet coming-of-age tale of two teenagers meeting at a sleepaway camp called Camp Walden. They were often teased for looking alike, but the two hated each other’s guts. After being isolated together as punishment for their playful antics, the two developed an unyielding bond after realizing that they’re basically like the same person. They did not only gain a sister in each other, but one got a free piercing c/o the other one too. While that origin story leaves no doubt in our hearts, we still listened throughout the second story—the bigger, longer, and uncut version, which might or might not have been the truth. This version starts with the Visual Communications graduates’ first encounter of each other during their second year at UP Diliman at the only 7AM class they ever took. The two developed an instant connection after thinking of the same joke when they were asked what software they knew how to use as an introduction to the class. Their answer? Microsoft Word. They might’ve started on the wrong foot with that specific professor, but it was definitely *cue music* the start of something new—although it didn’t immediately start there.
Their paper dreams started stacking as their passion for knowledge outside textbooks grew stronger. “Meron kaming craving na matuto na wala sa academics setting, kasi na-realize namin na mas nakukuha namin yung learning outside,” shares Pau. Since they’ve always had the knack for DIY arts and crafts, they really did do it themselves. Piercing through the shortage of locally made pins and patches in the art scene, along came Polly—Bad Student’s sister company co-founded by Dyam and Camille Tolentino. It was only when they were conceptualizing a zine for Polly that they stumbled upon #risograph while scrolling on IG. “Hindi namin alam kung machine ba siya, or technique, or art movement,” recalls Pau. Even their former professor, who happened to be one of the greatest printmakers in the country, told them, “Huh? ‘Yun test paper? Panget nung quality nun kaya nga tayo nagla-laser ngayon.” With no home, printer, or enough knowledge in the method, the two pushed through with their gut feeling and Bad Student was born. “[Bad Student] is not the absence of learning. Andun lagi yung action na gusto matuto. Our motto is simple: In order to be good at something, you have to be bad at it first,” adds Pau.
They say you should never mix business with pleasure, but it seems like Bad Student have cracked the code. After getting their degrees, they personally felt that their choices were very limited—to work under an agency, a design studio, or as an in-house graphic designer. “Eh ‘di namin nakikita yung sarili namin dun, so nag-take kami ng risk dito sa studio, which was a viable option to do the things we want,” relays Pau. “Creative freedom ang puhunan namin sa Bad Student. Kaya namin ito tinutuloy, kasi ayaw namin mawala ‘yun sa amin.” Both growing up to very nurturing parents was a huge factor to this kind of mindset, which was, to say the least, a trigger word for the two as they uttered in unison, “My family’s role for me is so important because there was they’re, they was the one who’s…very…haha…my pamily…oh my god…” The two proceeded to give the entire spiel by the infamous 2008 Binibining Pilipinas contestant, but we genuinely felt truth behind the joke. Their parents’ support extended to housing their first year as they settled in a small cubicle at Pau’s dad’s office, pretending to be the photocopier of an insurance company. But when it was time to move things forward to greener pastures, a wild conflict appeared.
Pag nagco-confront kami, beshie bago business. Kung ano yung mas mag-papabor dun sa friendship, ‘dun kami. Okay lang samin na mawala ‘yun Bad Student kesa mawala yung friendship.
It’s hard to put their unusual chemistry into words, but once you see them working together, you’ll feel the muted harmony between the two. “Sobrang intertwined na yung buhay namin bago pa kami nagkaroon ng realization kung sino kami as artists kaya walang ego between us,” explains Dyam. Their biggest conflict to date was whether to move their studio in a commercial space or at a condo, with the two having opposing views, but they were able to work around it through an unlikely philosophy that actually works. “Pag nagco-confront kami, beshie bago business. Kung ano yung mas mag-papabor dun sa friendship, ‘dun kami. Okay lang samin na mawala ‘yun Bad Student kesa mawala yung friendship,” adds Pau. “Kasi kaya naman namin gumawa bago ulit,” teases Dyam. “May mga tao na pinag-tatagpo ng universe in perfect timing, na lahat ng past decisions nila, nagli-lead ‘dun, and hindi lang siya nangyayari in a romantic way,” shares Pau. “Kaunti lang yung mae-experience nating meaningful connections in life, so pag na-realize mo na special ‘yun, hindi lang yun basta basta madadala sa away.”
Hindi namin tinatanggi ‘yung fact na privileged kami para masimulan ‘to, kasi sobra ‘yung tinulong ng parents namin para ma-pursue ‘to, pero dahil aware kami na may privilege kami, responsibility namin na i-share ‘yung privilege na ‘yun sa ibang tao.
In a world full of cheerios, Pau Tiu and Dyam Gonzales are fruit loops that go against the whole grain. Poppin’ colors with a lucid spunk, Bad Student bring their paper dreams to life through an induced chroma. As the two continue to color with the chaos of trouble, part of their goal is to join book fairs across the globe and showcase printed works by Filipino artists, including themselves. They also aim to organize a local book fair for all the independent publishers here. While they currently aren’t open to expanding their team of two as they don’t believe in cheap labor, their studio is very open to “sit-ins” who want know more about risograph. Although, they do plan to expand their services in the near future and offer silk screen, offset, and laser printing, all for the love of independent publishing. They’ve regularly been going around schools, offering workshops to students, but the duo soon wants to paint the bigger picture and help integrate riso in art schools, to the nurture the next batch of, well, bad students. “Hindi namin tinatanggi ‘yung fact na privileged kami para masimulan ‘to, kasi sobra ‘yung tinulong ng parents namin para ma-pursue ‘to, pero dahil aware kami na may privilege kami, responsibility namin na i-share ‘yung privilege na ‘yun sa ibang tao.” As Bad Student strive to make the world a better place with hue, we can’t wait ‘til class is officially in session.