YOU CANNOT judge a book by its cover. But no one can deny that unless the writer is a best-selling author like J.K. Rowling or C.S. Lewis (or other such writers who do not even have to spell their first names out), a book will not catch much attention on the shelf with just a blank page on its front.

For this very reason, writers seek the aid of visual artists to help attract readers to their work. Consider it an icebreaker, an appetizer hinting of great things to come.

For prize-winning artist and UST College of Architecture graduate Jose Miguel Tejido, literature and the visual arts complement one another. “Art lets the ‘unsaid’ come into the scene, where the artist can put in mini elements based on his own interpretation, like little side comment jokes, allusions and even foreshadowing clues to a next scene,” he said.

Tejido’s visual interpretation begins with sketches of his initial impressions of a written piece. “I try to draw these right away after my first read since it’s the time I am most excited to put ideas into drawings,” he said.

From there, Tejido polishes the drawings by researching on appropriate clothing and other pertinent details to lend his characters greater fidelity to reality.

Creator of the comic strip Mikrokosmos, Tejido has run the gamut of visual media, from traditional clay to watercolor, acrylic, collage, and digital art, in illustrating the 25 books he has done so far.

But now he is settling with his signature look, that is, banig or straw mat paintings, which won him a place in the biennial Noma Concours illustrators’ competition in Japan last 2006.

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His expertise commonly graces children’s storybooks, but Tejido also writes his own storybooks festooned with his own art. Among Tejido’s literary cum visually artistic works include Si Dindo Pundido (Adarna House Inc., 2002) and Why Do Turtles Carry Their Homes? (Vibal Publishing, 2006).

Bridges

Citing Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Pablo Neruda’s poetry as his favorite, multi-awarded artist and UST College of Fine Arts and Design graduate Jaime Jesus “Jay” Pacena II makes it a habit to create personal artworks based on literary pieces he enjoys.

“I look for inspiration within myself when I’m interpreting literary works,” said Pacena, who also illustrated the cover for Eros Atalia’s Taguan-Pung at Manwal ng mga Napapagal (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2006).
Much like how a filmmaker pauses a scene to highlight its significance, Pacena freezes a mental image of a critical point in a story that he bases his interpretation on. He describes that point as the peak of the connection between the story and the reader.

“I try to find a certain moment in a narrative or a poem that I can visualize and show others. Sometimes, the image just comes to you, but finding a pivotal moment can also be difficult,” he said.

Pacena also makes it a point to interact with the author so he gets into the psyche of the storyteller himself.

“Meeting and talking with the writer makes me think about why he came up with the story. You get affected by him and that makes you go beyond just the manuscript,” he said.

Rather than be purely literal as he illustrates a literary work, Pacena challenges readers to think. He considers readers as the ones who “connect the minds of the writer and the illustrator,” just as the artwork serves as the bridge between the reader and the text.

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“The artwork is just like a poem that has to be deciphered. Once (the reader) gets that, something magical happens,” he said.

Acrylic, pastel, and oil are Pacena’s choice media when he is aiming for an “organic and natural effect.” When he is under time pressure or when he wants to capture the image in his head immediately, he uses an old-fashioned pencil, enhancing the artwork with digital programs like Adobe Photoshop to give it a modern effect.

“It really depends on your mood. Don’t limit yourself to just one medium. Explore and experiment,” he said.

Convergence

However, there are writers such as poets Cirilo Bautista and Manolito Sulit who prefer not to have artworks accompany their writings, saying that the illustration can negatively precede, and even oppose the text’s meaning. To this, Pacena responded: “Sometimes, that happens. The artwork might not be in synch with the book or sometimes, it’s so accurate that it preempts it. But if done correctly, the visual art can really help the audience relate with the scenes in the story. They are no longer lost since the story becomes clearer.”

Tejido explained that he also wants to satisfy a writer’s visual ideas for a work, and to make a writer feel that “he has achieved what he has envisioned through my art.”

He still prefers to read things for himself, but Tejido does not leave the writer out of the picture: “I prefer reading the literary piece, but the writer’s inputs are always welcome since he may have certain ideas that convey the scene more clearly.”

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For Pacena, visual art and literature are both media of expression since they both have the same purpose in mind: to express something new and beautiful about life and the world. He advises aspiring visual artists and book cover designers to be involved “from start to finish,” to always be innovative, and to stretch their limits and imaginations.

“Don’t just do what others did before. Your design must be updated and must challenge the viewers to think,” Pacena said.

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