Meet the illustrator documenting Philippine flora, one map at a time

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Raxenne Maniquiz has collaborated with clients such as Charles & Keith, Cole Haan, Uniqlo, and Dr. Martens. But on the side, she’s also planning to make maps of various endemic flowers in the country. Illustration by JL JAVIER/Photo from RAXENNE MANIQUIZ

Creative's Questionnaire is an interview series where artists, writers, filmmakers, and other creatives talk about their work, the challenges that they face, and their inspirations.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “They look like aliens,” says illustrator Raxenne Maniquiz. “They just look so unreal to me.” Maniquiz is talking about the slipper orchids — or Paphiopedilums — which she drew in her own style, from online databases of Philippine plants, and free publications on ResearchGate.

A graphic designer at Plus63 Design Co, in her own time, she has been working on a sustained personal project, drawing endemic flowers published as zines, or maps of the Philippines.

She got the idea after the geographer David Garcia showed her a flower distribution map of the U.S. Since then, she’s turned her hand and eye to rafflesias, which she planned to see flowering in Los Banos earlier this year until the pandemic upended her plan.

“Niyaya ko ’yung friends ko kahit na sinusuka ako ni mother nature,” she says, recalling the time she tried trekking to research something for a client before. She ended up covered in rashes. “Pero sabi ko, I want to see a Rafflesia before I die.”

As an illustrator, she’s turned her hand and eye to rafflesias, which she planned to see flowering in Los Banos earlier this year until the pandemic upended her plan. Courtesy of RAXENNE MANIQUIZ

Here, Maniquiz talks about the importance of experimentation, the role of social media in her work, and the struggles of pricing her work.

Aside from the change in style, your subjects have also changed. A few years back, your botanical subjects included a variety of flowers and foliage from other parts of the world. But now, you’re focusing on native flora and fauna. The intent to advocate for conservation is also evident in the botanical illustrations you’ve been putting out, especially with your zine and maps. Is this shift a conscious decision?

What really caught my eye was Medinilla magnifica or kapa-kapa. I drew it for the [cover of the] Keepsake Planner in 2017. I think that flower started my interest in endemic flora. And then on to 2018, I was using a newer style of illustrating, something finer and sharper. The Uniqlo project which started early May 2018, I used [flowers] for the artwork. And then for Dr. Martens in 2018, I used native flowers, which spilled over to 2019 and the Janji collab, [which is] an activewear brand based in the States. They wanted to feature native flowers in the Philippines for their collection. That's why I chose endemic flowers and it was the slipper orchids at the time. It opened up a lot of possibilities. I found out about all these amazing endemic plants or endemic flowers here. And it was, I guess eye opening because we have so much and even like weirdly looking ones, like we have an abundance of slipper orchids, which I really love, and just the whole Orchidaceaea family.

What do you think are the essential traits of a creative person, especially in your field?

I think experimentation got me where I am now artistically. I was doing a lot of different things before [that are] far from what I'm doing now, but if I hadn't really gotten all of those experiences, I don't think I won't be able to get to where I am right now.

We always get a lot of questions about style from the younger generation or fresh grads. I don't know if it's the internet or the digital age's fault that makes it seem like you need to have a style right away. But I think going through experimentation would really help with the creative process.

Also, I think it’s important to expose yourself to other things that are not necessarily connected to what you do. You know, just having other hobbies. It doesn’t have to be related to what you’re doing or maybe tangentially connected. I love following florists on Instagram. It’s not related to illustration, but parang nandon lang 'yung pag-stimulate sa brain.

What is the core philosophy that guides your work?

I haven't really reflected upon it. I think I have yet to find that. To tell you the truth, recently lang din ako naging proactive in doing self-initiated work. When I was starting out, it was really just about doing gigs, or doing what I can to earn extra cash. I guess 80 percent of my work is just really client work. The endemic zine and the distribution map are self-initiated projects. I guess moving forward I want to do more of that. Maybe I would see what my philosophy is when I start doing that. But for now, I think it's really just I want to draw what really interests me. It's just as simple as that.

Keepsake planner cover illustration. Photo courtesy of RAXENNE MANIQUIZ

Tell us about your latest project.

I’m doing another endemic zine for a client. This time the focus is on orchids. It’s part of a collab with a local brand.

What do you think is the most fascinating flower you’ve illustrated?

In terms of the structure of the plant, it's really the slipper orchids because there are just so many components going on. They really look like aliens. They look so unreal to me.

In terms of story, I really like the waling-waling. The Bagobo tribe thought it was so beautiful akala nila diyosa. I was like, she did that! Imagine you’re super beautiful and larger than life they thought you were a diwata in disguise.

Do you look back at your past work? Why or why not?

I do look back at my past work to see how far I've come. It's interesting to see how you started and see the progress that you've made for yourself.

Do you delete earlier works from social media?

Dati I delete, but, when [Instagram introduced the archive function], I archive them now.

Aside from the cringe factor, I also don't want to be associated with early works because that's not who I am. I erase it on the digital space because I still get clients who ask for something [that I don’t do anymore]. I can do it technically, but it's not something I do right now. [I delete them] to avoid those things.

How important is social media in your work?

I have to thank social media for getting my work out there and for getting clients. I was able to get all those gigs like Charles and Keith because they saw my work on Instagram. I think it has been very pivotal. A lot of work that I really loved doing happened because of Instagram. It’s a blessing, but it's also kind of a curse. There's this pressure that you have to put out work always. I think it's a bad thing that's affecting my perception of my art or how I make them.

Maniquiz's collaboration with Dr. Martens. Photo courtesy of RAXENNE MANIQUIZ

Do you have a mentor? Do you think it's important to have one?

I consider Dan Matutina as my mentor. I mean, what he does from what I do is super different, but he has really helped me on the technical and practical side of work including talking with clients and pricing my work. He has also taught me how to look at projects to find the most effective solution for certain problems. He has helped me a lot in that regard. I’m not sure if my process would have been the same if I hadn’t met him.

What skills do you wish you had?

I wish I had the skill to do anatomy because super hina ko in drawing people. I also wish I could write. Parang ang laking effect niya when you can write down your thoughts in a very cohesive, nice way.

What do you think are the biggest challenges faced by people in your field today?

'Yung napansin ko na laging nag-co-come up talaga is pricing. It's a challenge for a designer or an illustrator to price their work. Not a lot of clients out there can pay you the right amount for the work you do. I think it's been a challenge na I don't know if there should be like policy-making para hindi ma-exploit lalo na ang mga fresh grad. At this point in my career, I still have trouble pricing, so what more pa 'yung mga younger artist?

How do you overcome that?

Meron akong standard rate and I base everything from there. I also really have to know what kind of client I am working with. Is it a really small mom and pop? Or is it a huge corporation? I also try to gauge what kind of clients they are based on their emails. Usually, may mga red flags na doon. Nandon din 'yung isang question na, do I need money? It's either I get this or I don't have money at all.

Sobrang daming factors talaga when it comes to pricing. If you really value your work, this is how you price it. If I price low, it's going to affect the [others]. Clients would be like, “Ay, bakit si ganito, ganito lang 'yung price?” For me, mas dapat na pinagsasabihan 'yung client because they have the money, they have the power.

How did you come up with your rates?

Honestly, I just based it on the rates of my peers through the years. I ask friends who have more experience in dealing with similar projects and clients. This pricing guide by Jessica Hische also helps. The rates are of course different but the things that we have to consider when we price are the same, like licensing. She also explains how it's different for logos since it's going to be used in perpetuity.

What have you learned from work that you've applied to other areas of your life?

Maybe multitasking. I guess not what I learned but what I would avoid. (Laughs) I wouldn't want [work] to spill over my daily life. At work, I'm just always busy and super focused on these things. But then when you step outside of it, everything becomes so trivial.

Various Paphiopedilum up close. Illustration by RAXENNE MANIQUIZ

How has the pandemic and the quarantine affected your work?

It really affected how I work. Up to now, it's really unbelievable that we live through something like this. To make things worse, we have a government that doesn't seem like they care. Parang they don't want this to end.

Before the pandemic, kaya ko talaga magsiksik ng work. As in after Plus 63, I would go to a coffee shop. I would stay there and do freelance work until they close. It's much harder for me to finish work or even start work, especially in the first few months. The pandemic has really affected the way I think about things. I was asking, what's the point of everything?

Ngayon, instead of saying it's harder for me to work, the other side of that is, I'm learning to take it slowly. At first, I thought it was a bad thing to slow down. Now, upon reflection, I thought, isn't it much better to work things out than burning yourself out?

In what ways have you had to adapt to the situation, work-wise?

You really just have to push through because you don't have a choice. It's my responsibility to finish the work that I got paid for or they're going to pay me for.

At the start of the pandemic, we were still renting the condo in Makati. Nandon 'yung pressure of paying the rent. Kapag hindi ko tinapos 'to, hindi ako mababayaran. How am I going to pay my bills? Nakakatawa lang kasi naisip namin makakabalik naman siguro tayo. And look at us now, October na.

I already moved out of our condo in Makati in August. Now, I’m based in Bulacan, and I’ve been building my small space here because I know I’m going to be here for a while. I have to make a space for me here where I can really work. I used to go here every weekend if I can, and I never brought my work here. I just wanted to relax and be with my family. All of that has changed when I started working here. Parang dahil nandun ka lang sa bahay and then you’re forced to work there, nag-cause siya na mag-stall ‘yung process ko. Kasi wala eh, parang relax ka lang sa bahay. ‘Yung answer ko doon is to build a studio space for me. Doon siya sa backyard. Sumabay siya sa kitchen ng mom ko. She gave her storage to me. It’s really small. Like, two by two meters; just big enough for my table and a shelf, but it’s better than nothing.

How safe do you feel about going back to work as usual?

I don’t think it’s safe to do it yet. I think we’re going to be here [longer than we had imagined]. I’m scared to say this, but I feel like we’re still going to be here ‘til next year. It really depends on the response of the government. It’s really that. I have friends in Korea, Thailand, and Tokyo, and it’s like they’ve moved on to the “new normal.” With what’s happening here, I don’t think it would be safe to go to work as usual. Our boss also doesn’t want to risk it.