You are your own worst enemy…

Back at it again

It’s been a long while since my last blog post. Although I’d like to say life was busy for me, that shouldn’t really be an excuse. On top of job hunting, trying to put food on the table, and navigating life’s usual shenanigans, I was also freelancing online (albeit struggling). Recent months have afforded me ample time on my hands. So I thought I might as well start blogging and practice old skills. One of them being illustration.

I have very peculiar likes and dislikes when it came to drawing and painting.  I recall during my college days, life drawing was one of the many skills I had to learn in the Graphic Design course I took. Different lecturers taught us different forms. As such, we would switch between different mediums from time to time. Pencil on paper, Oil pastel or chalk pastel, and even acrylic paint on canvas. Each art medium has its own flavour, adding textures, smells, and colours. Giving each artwork a different look.

All of them were different except for one thing. They were all messy! Each time I created an artwork, my hands were sure to be covered with paint or pencil lead smudges. Fingers were a smorgasbord of colour from using the oil and chalk pastels, clothes, and even face smudged with paint. The worst thing was the clean-up. Imagine having to wash off oil paints from clothes, where you will have to use kerosene or turpentine. Leaving a brown slush of god-awful smell.

Although these art mediums are still around, as technology progresses, many young millennials have gone digital, and that includes me, a Gen X /Millennial. More appropriately called a Xennial.

For the large part of the last few decades, my go-to software has always been Adobe Illustrator, creating vector-style art or even traditional art styles with colour blends and very minimal use of Photoshop. Usually, when it came to the traditional style painting where colours are blended by brush strokes, Wacom tablets would be used alongside photoshop to create beautiful works of art. Despite knowing that, I have been stubborn and adamant about using Illustrator with a mouse, which is actually out of doubt of my own ability and fear that I could never paint by hand after such a long time. Illustrator was great on its own, but it tends to lack the speed and rawness of digital painting.

Leap of faith

Then come recent months. I decided I should practice my skills during my downtime. I’ve known in the past that people have used iPads and apple pens to create really professional artworks on just an 11-inch screen, but… it’s something out of my price range. I can’t afford one or the other. Then again, there are the lower range Wacom drawing tablets which can be more affordable but not portable for me to use while on the move. Then I thought, why not just use what I already have… A 6.9-inch phablet and some hard-knock persistence. All I need to buy now is just a cheap stylus.

A magnetic capped, disc-shaped stylus with a fibre mesh tip stylus at the end. Complete with a ballpoint ink pen. Cheap? Yes. Good? Yeah. Results? See for yourself.

That is only one part of the oh-so-complex equation, the other being the software that is available. About 2 months back while discussing a collaboration with a Filipino IT manager in a printing company I was working in. I mentioned to him in our one on one meeting my game plan and the various app development options used in designing and making apps, one being Adobe XD and Sketch. He would say to me… “Oh, how come I never heard of sketch, only Adobe Sketch (A digital art tool)”. That’s when I first heard of Adobe sketch too… The funny thing is, we both never heard of the software we both should have been aware of. Unfortunately, our collaboration won’t ever happen, and my design ideas for the company app stays with me.

Nevertheless, Adobe Sketch stuck in my head. Since I have so much downtime this month… I finally got myself a stylus for the price of no more than a two-piece KFC snack plate then installed not one, but two apps into my phone. Adobe Illustrator Draw and Photoshop Sketch. And the best part is… They are free! These are mainly drawing and painting tools that require brush strokes much similar to Photoshop brushes, but none of the photo editing capabilities, or the point, click, and curve of Illustrator’s pen tool. It requires pure analog skills on a digital medium.

Not Amaterasu from Okami, but… inspired.
Adobe Illustrator Draw user interface on my Android phablet.

First up was Adobe Illustrator Draw. True to its heritage, it is a vector-based app, where drawn images can be enlarged infinitely and still remain crisp and sharp. It has similar tools like brushes, layers, colour fills (paint bucket) and colour palettes, but that’s about it. While playing with the brushes, the strokes reminded me much of Chinese or Japanese ink wash paintings. Naturally, my mind wanders to the nearest memory of such art styles I have encountered. “Amaterasuuuu!” A friend exclaimed on my posting with the sure-footedness of a rainbow-coloured Unicorn. Yes! it resembled the Sun Goddess in wolf form from the video game Okami, a game I oddly never played. But no! the details of these two wolves don’t really match. What memory I had, was from the very unique art direction the game was presented in. Japanese traditional “Sumi-e” ink wash painting in motion was awe-inspiring during its time. Certainly unique and memorable to this day.

The next app I tried was Photoshop Sketch. Almost a clone of Illustrator Draw, except that it has better blending brushes and capabilities. Colours meld together well, and looks more like traditional painting but there’s no colour fill. You will have to paint it stroke by stroke. It has also similar features of being able to export the artwork to Adobe’s creative cloud, to its respective PC counterparts for further editing. The subject of my digital painting this time was a character I created over a decade ago. Leia of Aravia, the female Hashashin (Assassin) who could physically “shift” her face to look like anyone. This time in modern attire and the same badass attitude.

A painting done in Adobe Photoshop Sketch. Leia of Aravia, in modern attire with the same badass attitude.

You are your own worst enemy.

Now back to the title of my post. Why this title? Exactly as worded, you are literally your own worst enemy. Every enemy you have in life is insignificant. In fact, how others judge you doesn’t necessarily affect your capabilities. It doesn’t matter if someone tells you that you are worthless, not good at what you do, or you can’t do this because they themselves aren’t capable of doing it. Only you can stop yourself from being the best you can be. A politician may take away your tools by placing policies that oppress you but benefit themselves, but you still can draw on sand and come up with a new form of art. People may say you aren’t capable and get others to listen to them. Prove them wrong by showing off your work and even documenting it on video. Most importantly, do not tell yourself you are not capable.

Being realistic about your abilities and how it compares to other great works in your field is the first step to see the goal. The next step is to get out of that comfort zone and reach for the goal. As long as you can realistically see a glimpse of talent or passion in yourself, then you can reach for the skies and go further than the rest. A great leader is one that knows how to recognise those capabilities and nurture them further. They know it will only benefit them all in the end. Because… when it comes to the “real deal”, no amount of politicking and smooth-talking can help you produce great work, only constantly refining your skills will. If there’s no one to be that, then you can be your own great leader, lead yourself to be better today, tomorrow than you were yesterday.

I guess writing this has more to do with being a reminder to myself to drown out fear and self-doubts, as I intend to get more refined. I also hope that it can help those who have been thru the same thing I have. If there are those that want to see you fail then just do as Leia does. Trust yourself, be your own friend, exceed yourself!

Teaming a Dream

There’s no doubt anyone who has started their working life would have been in a team. All working together towards common goals, experiencing the inner workings and politics that hold them in place. It’s a common situation worldwide, but has anyone ever noticed how some teams from the biggest companies in the world seem to mesh so well? Companies that bring in high talent individuals, who manage to churn out the biggest innovations and services to the world stage and earning the company billions in revenue. Sometimes when you have so many highly talented individuals in a team… clashes in opinions and viewpoints happen. Individuals will often opt for their point of view and getting others to see the same. That is often termed as individual ego.

How well does one control that ego?


Everyone has an ego. It’s their sense of self and belief, their sense of reality and pride. An ego is often selfish to a degree, it can’t be denied because even people working collectively is working for the benefit of oneself too. An ego can be big or small, it can be kind and nurturing or destructive. Destructive and big egos are arrogant, it doesn’t genuinely care for the point of view of others and downright volatile to opposers.

Flashback to fifteen years ago, to the memories of a person I used to work with. A loud-mouthed individual who would publicly berate and shame anyone whom he dislikes or believes to have crossed him. At a point in time, I was even publicly accused of being a politician because I’m often too quiet in the office. I often wondered back then how someone could conclude another as a politician when they were quiet and not at all, influential…. Someone who wouldn’t even partake in office pantry gossips. Perhaps all the politicians he knows doesn’t speak publicly in rallies, and has great influence despite rarely talking to people. I simply had to applaud his astute observations.

More than a decade later I have the unholiest luck of having to work with the same person again. Humans are flexible and adapt to strategies, and this time around he uses more covert strategies. Amongst other things, I would be accused of being a hacker when I could figure out some of the things they were secretly talking about behind my back. (Read further to find out more). It dawned on me then when people aren’t open to discussions with the accused, their truth is all they care about. When an individual or collectives’ action are not meant to resolve problems or differences, in turn causing dissent and disharmony to an individual or more. That’s often a destructive ego at play. That’s what can be coined as ‘destructive office politics’.

Dream Team

I thought to myself, is it really me that’s the problem? I mean, if it happens often enough then it might be me. Yet, throughout my time working in certain companies, I have met teams that I have worked with harmoniously, whom I could really put my trust in. A racially diverse and talented team of individuals who gathered topics that were inspiring to the youth and to me as a Graphic Designer. They trusted me with art direction and allowed me the freedom to create . On top of daily tasks, we would produce our best pullouts week after week. Some in the team would even advise and help me on eliminating technicalities I failed to see, and I in turn would try to help point out any misspellings and discrepancies I found. What else do you call that but real teamwork?

Youth Speak 67. Click here to view more.

One of them, a Copywriter. A dark-skinned wheelchair-bound woman, who’s very creative in writing. With just a title she came up with “Today vs Technology”, she could fuel my imagination of what the theme and page should be like. I immediately imagined a technological war within ourselves in modern society upon reading the content. They were a true dream team whom I liked and trusted, I was truly happy! They were people who made me look forward to the next issue for the coming week. There were no destructive egos within this group… it was mostly kind and calm energies I felt. Unfortunately… being me, I have failed to convey my feelings of trust and liking for them back then. Nevertheless, they were a team I’m proud to have shared my name in the credits with. Despite the odds and obstacles placed in front of us by certain decision makers, we managed to produce a good run of pullout issues that I treasure forever.

The question now is… why would people be harmonious and friendly to some but yet be destructive to others? Mostly… it’s down to insecurity and fears. The preservation of self, rumours as well as the identification and creation of an ingroup vs outgroup. Toxicity in workplaces can permeate from bottom up or vice versa, a lot of times due to unhealthy competition, the perception of rewards inequality and the intentional disruption of other teams. Essentially…. It’s workplace culture. We have now identified that workplace culture is a determining factor but is it all as simple as that? Perhaps not…

An interesting insight into evolution and human behaviour.


I recall my days as a kid, how often I felt different from the other kids in the neighbourhood. As an only child, I couldn’t help but notice the immediate difference between us. They were highly social and often got together to play, making lots of noise outside. I would at times be called out to play as well to join in their fun and games. Hopscotch, water battles and Super Soakers, dodgeball and such. After sometime it would occur less often, as I wasn’t that particularly outgoing as compared to them, mostly just preferring to imagine superhero scenarios in my room, fighting the bad guys and playing with toys and video games on my own. This particular personality trait of Introversion hasn’t really left me even at my current age.

Many years back, while trying to understand more about myself and the people around me, I read up a ton on Psychology. Basically anything I could find that explains human behaviour and the pains I faced. I came across one particular personality test, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Being curious, I tried out the online test, not once but twice. I answered as honestly as I could, based on present and past. Both times it indicated me either as an INTP (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Prospecting) or INFP ( Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Prospecting). I couldn’t confirm which. A year later I gave the test another go, and it resulted in either INFP or INTP, which I forgot.

Both are actually almost identical types except that INFPs are more driven by personal values and feelings as opposed to logic in INTPs. So I could conclude that I am a INFP. INFPs are known to be more of a feeling type that also uses intuition and logic a lot to make sense of particular situations. It makes sense now as I would often observe and absorb moments I experience and rewind the memories without losing any detail, then analyse them in my own private time. Sometimes I don’t need as much clues or input to figure out the bigger picture as I often read people’s emotions and temperament quite well. That’s where the accusations of me being a hacker came from… I would figure out what’s going on and and people I confide in would in turn repeat it back to them, then they would all start being really quiet around me. Though my intuition and analysis may not be 100% accurate all the time but when it’s accurate , it gets scary accurate. Despite me being rather quiet and reserved, I actually feel a lot deep down inside and only really close friends and family could see that in me. Although flexible, I have always found certain personality types that I am fully comfortable with. They were often like-minded as well as open-minded, non political or volatile.

Types and characteristics defined.


So how does personality types and tests fit in with an organisation…? As discussed above.. sometimes it just takes some bad apples who are at odds with one another to ruin a team or even a whole company. The wrong fit can prevent the best talents from performing to their best potential. Not to say personality is set in stone. It can be flexible too and people sometimes go out of character as strategies to cope with situations they are facing, but usually at a cost. It’s up to management to determine or fix the culture within but it’s also up to a company’s management to fit the puzzles together. When they mistakenly or knowingly place the wrong cogs together, they just won’t turn smoothly or turn at all. Ill-fitting cogs eventually crack or break. Depending on which country, it turns out that 80% of Fortune 500 companies employ the MBTI tests to match employee personalities for winning teams.. and it is still being used now. Other companies like Facebook have used some other form of tests and indicators. Though there are more accurate and fluid tests like the Big Five that has gained more credibility than MBTI, there’s no denial how these companies are still using it and manage to churn out talents that makes the company what it is… Fortune 500. Even though something may not be 100% accurate but manage to bring the understanding gap so much closer. Isn’t it worth considering?

Revelation from my creation

Working mainly in the print and news industry throughout my career, I have mostly adhered to old ways of doing things in the past decade, where printed resumes and portfolios were the norm for a working designer. It still is, although to a lesser extent for designers in this digital age. I came to realise in recent years, the increasing number of online portfolios, showcasing the best of a person’s work. Seeing and experiencing these change of times finally woke me up. I told myself… It’s about time to get out of my shell.

I cracked my brain open and recalled my early days in college, how I would tinker with Adobe’s Dreamweaver software, cutting up pages into buttons and panels in Photoshop for quicker loading in a pre-broadband era. Linking images and videos by inputting addresses and links in the assigned button parameter. I was cutting and pasting huge chunks of HTML code just to setup a web page. It was a mammoth task for me back then, as it was tedious to look through code I don’t really understand and it was equally cumbersome to create different panels and flash based objects for menus and interactive visuals.

That is not how most people do it nowadays, it is in fact made much simpler in the advent of Content management systems (CMS). It’s pretty much a non-coding designers dream come true. CMS like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla turned a coding intensive work environment, to a more visual friendly environment through their system. Although some coding is still needed, it was made minimal and only used for more advanced pages and functions. It also requires quite a bit of systemic thinking.

More than a decade has passed since I have built a proper website and I thought I never could again. After having been exposed in recent years to UI/UX design, designing interfaces and websites. Managing posts and placing up digital assets on website and app. It felt familiar as it hearkens back to my college days doing multimedia. I decided to roam the world of CMS and teach myself the intricacies of building a website using it.

A review on top portfolio website designs from Flux

First thoughts while learning was the ease of use using preset themes and frames, not having to build one from scratch. It was like a simplified version of Dreamweaver. Not to say it was easy, but it was easier than what I learned in yesteryear. About half a year ago, I started reviewing the portfolios I have seen online. Trying to see their approach in UI and UX for creating their portfolios. I’ve seen the great ones who created unique, animated, and highly dynamic, impactful sites. I have also seen some of the common ones bearing similar frames but with different visuals. I noticed a formula they have been using, often showcasing their work and client logo with large aligned photos smack right in your face from the home page. I thought to myself…is that what I want? Smack people in the face with huge pictures. Should I make another generic website that has similar formulas or should I think outside the box? Being me, I just had to explore. To get one step closer to the great ones I have seen, I decided to be different.

In terms of the UI, I looked back upon ideas from recent printed CVs (Curriculum Vitae) I had. A secret elite agency with classified personnel resumes wrapped in an envelope. I built my website upon these concepts. Brown paper envelopes, brushed metals. Mysterious dark grey and orange colour schemes. It is minimalistic yet it shows complexity through my displayed work. Something that looks compact and not overwhelming on the computer screen and the phone. In terms of UX, the use of sliders and masonry panels provided ease of viewing and navigation. Basically… I provided a lot of art and design works for people to see with options for viewing, catering to those with short attention spans and those that pay attention to every detail. Contact can be made with ease and access to portfolio visuals is a breeze. Perhaps this approach will work wonders…but as a disciple in the world of UX. I probably could improve it over time.

Although certain pages are still in construction at the moment, I will get there soon enough. I aim only to show my best work through them and nothing less of me will do. Meantime…stay tuned.

What makes a great design?

To some designers, they might often think a good design is something that is functional. Something that sells and something that is visually pleasing. They aren’t wrong but it just isn’t as simple as that in my book. For a design to be great, it has to virtually break boundaries and ignite a trend. Something that is groundbreaking, yet… familiar.

Now…. as designers, we are taught fundamentals in the principals of design, like color theory or other design elements such as balance and emphasis, all of which are good practices in design., but…that’s just it, they are just rules and guidelines to follow. What it doesn’t show you is how to be innovative and have novel approaches in a design. In the world of design, rules are not always absolute, and anything can be an exception. As the experts say, children started out creative, but as they grow up with the rigid rules in society, they start losing that instinct. So…how do we preserve that instinct?

A showreel of design trends of last year.

Design for the masses nowadays are often dictated by trend. Such an example are the clinical approach of minimalist designs. Where everything from the font to the images must be justified, clean and balanced, which is honestly… cliched and quite boring. Strictly sticking to a particular style just shows lack of ideas and conceptualisation. These design styles has of course proven its effectiveness and worth, but that doesn’t mean that it cannot be mixed and matched or taken apart and put together in different ways.

Rather than having oneself limited by trend and peer pressure or just plain rejection, It’s better to have a free flow mindset, to be fluid and versatile. Just as a child would when drawing on an empty piece of art paper, and that is how we preserve that creative instinct, free flowing and not afraid to be wrong. Not to say that we should just crayon on a piece of paper naively, but it should be applied with certain fundamentals in mind and some slight restrictions. I could say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but liberation leads to the highest form of creativity.

A showreel of design trends of this year.

To be able to follow trends requires us to upgrade current skills and techniques , or even having a versatile team where each individual have their own specialty. Of course, it helps to be versatile yourself, to help better understand the processes involved and better put things together either with a team or by yourself. I have seen great designers move to a trend and yet be able to put their signature color scheme and flavour to it and make it work. Their very own identity mixed in to form something new.

Most importantly, for a design to move beyond imitation, to the realm of creativity and innovation. One must think outside that box, connect the dots and have the ability to visualise it. Being able to picture the design in your head before it even goes on paper, and being able to execute it without losing that vision in mind. That, to me is what sets apart those that do good design and those that do great design.