Masungi: Lessons I Learned from Making a Storybook

Masungi Storybook Cover Valor of Paroot Kalaw & MakedeppatHello Guys! :D

How’s your week so far? I’ve been wanting to post this but I just made sure that I’m done with my deliverables so I ended up writing down notes on my sketch book one night just right after finishing a few pages.  The notes here are dated January 3, 2017 but it’s already the nth day of February! 😀  Time & again, I would receive another humbling reminder that I still have a lot to learn.  So, I’m putting these lessons here in the hopes of reminding my future self of what I might forget. If, by any chance, you also get to pick up a thing or two, that would be awesome. 🙂

We met with the ladies from Masungi Georeserve, Anna & Anne, last August to talk about a possible storybook.  As much as I was excited that if ever, this will be the first ever storybook that I’ll be working on, I also had a lot of qualms about my workload, time constraints and whether or not I will be able to deliver what needs to be delivered. *Then again, I think I’m like that with all project and all my periodical tests growing up.*  Long story short, the project pushed through.

Masungi Georeserve is a conservation area which is basically a rock garden found in the Rizal area.  If you ever find photos of people on Instagram in suspended bridges against the landscape of mountains & huge rocks, that’s the one! 🙂

While working on this project, here’s what I learned:

1. Inspiration is everywhere:
I always say that inspiration is everywhere but didn’t realize how much I was missing out on when I finally got the assignment.  This project has everything I haven’t drawn a lot of or none at all in my life:

✓ bats
✓ snails
✓ landscapes & backgrounds
✓ monkeys
✓ plants

Ann gave me references with some questions even verified by geologists & biologists.  I realized how blind I was to have limited my drawings to my own experiences.  I suddenly had an appreciation for the passion put into this project.  I also realized how much research goes into every novel and movie just to get the details right.  From now on, I told myself that inspiration is really everywhere.  It can be anything such as the majestic 60-million year old rocks of Masungi or something mundane like that ignored industrial fan in the parking lot begging to be drawn. *Sorry, this is what I remember because I was staring at this yesterday while waiting for my turn to pay the parking fee. Haha.*

Masungi Storybook Polluted Rivers2. Process – It’s about the journey & not just the output
If you’re from my generation, then you probably found yourself singing along the lines of

There’s gotta be more to life
than chasing down every temporary high to satisfy me (ee ee eeehhhh)

*Okay. Sorry. This line wasn’t in my original notes. Hehe.*
Some 10 years ago, this was my song.  I didn’t fully understand why I felt empty even if I was doing so much work every day as just having graduated from college.  Then, I realized, I’m always so focused on the single moments where I feel I actually made it: finishing a presentation in front of board members, getting promoted, finishing a project.  I was so into chasing a certain peak in my career that I totally forgot to appreciate the day-to-day small wins: accomplishing a good chunk of my to-do list, having helpful officemates & friends et cetera.

It’s the same way when I’m working out.  I used to get frustrated because I’m only focused on that single day when I finally reach my target weight.  I always forget that it’s about the journey and not just the destination.  Working out regularly helps discipline the mind into achieving goals no matter how small or big they are 🙂 *Eez true!*

Working on this storybook has really helped me focus on the process.  Well, of course there were mehhhh days when my mind refuses to draw even if my heart and hands wanted to.  *It was internal torture.*  However, this project (all 24 pages of it) was a big reminder for me to trust that I will grow and learn something simply by working on it. When I was working on the last few pages, I actually had to go back to the first page because there was already an obvious disparity in style & elements. Hehe.  


Rocks of Masungi in Rizal TatayThe Rocks of Masungi:  The area was supposed to be turned into a subdivision but converted into a georeserve instead to preserve the 60 million year old rocks!  I didn’t even know we had this just a little outside the Metro!

3. Explore, explore. Get out of your comfort zone.
I had a couple of qualms about this project.  Inside my head, these were the repeating thoughts:

(a) OMG! I’ll be working with earth tones. I haven’t touched brown in my watercolor and colored pencil sets.  How much pastel can I actually play with??  Can I actually put pink & fuchsia somewhere? Hahahaha.

(b) My style is generally cartoony and the challenge here was: it was supposed to be a children’s book but everything that was going to be drawn had to be faithful to the original reference.  How to marry the two?

From all the watercolor workshops & especially this assignment, I finally had an appreciation for browns, grays & blacks.  I had to deal with the following:

Which gray can be paired with which shade of green?
*Sounds like a wine & entree dilemma. Hehe.*
Is this a cool or warm shade of brown?

I was definitely thrown out of my comfort zone.  I also had to stare at sleeping bats.  *May I also say that they look like a bunch of dancers with so much swag? Okay. I may have stared tooooo looooong.*

Masungi Storybook Baras River

4. Working with constraints.

I realized through the years, if there’s one thing that’s helpful when working on a project, these are constraints. Yep.  Deadlines, parameters, project brief, restrictions or whatever you’d like to call them, these are guides.  Without these, I don’t get anything done & I’m just sitting on my desk bewildered with choices.

Same goes for the parking lot where I find it easier to park when the carpark is full versus when I’m the first car to arrive. *Yeah. I must have spent too much time at the parking lot yesterday.*

Since I can’t play so much with the characters (such as make their faces bigger & put lashes on their eyelids), I experimented with clouds and skies instead.  I figured, even if I incorporate geometric elements & lines here and there, it will still be identifiable. 🙂  I also included with lots of teal, light blue & mint green to cover for the dealing with browns & grays part. Haha.  I’m so grateful to have been permitted to do these! 😀 Hihihi.

I also played with feelings.  Okay. I didn’t mean it to come out like that.  What I meant is, to communicate what was happening in the scene, I assigned colors for the protagonists & antagonists & played with waves & lines to communicate the general FEEL of what was happening.   I always tell my workshop participants that one of the very few instances that you’re allowed to play with feelings is when you’re drawing & coloring.  Haha.

Hornbill Illustration

5. Illustrating is a problem-solving exercise.
The scene above is where the hornbill gets caught.  Birds are usually caught by flying into fine nets that are not visible to their eyes.  We figured this is not a common visual and that even if I draw something similar, it will just end up unidentifiable or worse, AWKWARD.  I had to think of a common visual: in this case, a letter X.  The nets had to be in the background.

Challenges like these would pop up throughout the process.  The whole thing was a problem-solving exercise: from making sure the text fits to deciding who gets to occupy the foreground.

In the illustration below, the people caught the villain and instead of drawing twenty people in a scene, I tried focusing on pointing fingers.
Drawing Hands from Sketch to Graphics

Above: Digitized Illustrations from Sketches.  Just in case you’d like to learn this, we will be having a Digitizing workshop soon. Check out 🙂

I was so worried about composing scenes.  Most of the stuff I did in the past few years only had to deal with elements in the foreground.  I was so intimidated by the process of to the point that I delayed it until this assignment.  When the task suddenly fell on my lap, I just had to trust that as someone who loves taking photos, I apparently compose scenes on the go.  Now I just had to put in on paper.

Daranak Falls Illustration Masungi Storybook

6. Certain days will be unproductive.
I read that tiny breaks are healthy when working just to reset the mind.  I used to punish myself: I won’t sleep, get off my seat or eat until I’m done with a page / lay-out or a task. *Wait.  Now I know why I lost so much weight in an ugly way while doing another assignment last year. Oops.*

For this project, I acknowledged the fact that I was in for a marathon and not a sprint so I really had to take mini breaks in between pages or everytime I reach a bottleneck.  Some days, I would attempt to draw, sketch & research and nothing really happens.  I really hated it when that would happen.  Then again, it was just a message for me to pause and refresh.

A lot of the problem-solving apparently gets done AWAY from my desk.  Also, by taking breaks, I get to analyze and observe my work & workflow from afar and makes tweaks here and there so I’m more efficient and effective with my process.

I realized that getting to talk to people and getting out of the house helps a lot when working.  I suddenly find an inspiration for the general lay-out of the leaves on branches, general shapes for trees, people’s gestures or a color combination.

*OMG. I need to cut this blog post before it gets longer!*

The process is far from final.  I’m still learning every day and even when it was time for submission, I wanted to redraw so many things but time was up. *Oopsies!*

All in all though, I’m very grateful to have gone through this process and help in communicating the issues of the Dumagats–the original residents of the area and the challenges of doing conservation work: facing illegal loggers, quarries, water pollution, politics and more!

Thanks again to Masungi Georeserve & National Geographic Explorers for entrusting yours truly with this project.  I couldn’t have done it with your contagious passion & energy towards working on something for the current and future generations!


Tippy 🙂

Learn more about Masungi from their website & social media pages below.
Book a visit too and see the place for yourself! 🙂

Map of Masungi


Instagram: @MasungiGeoreserve
Garden Cottages, Kilometer 45 Marcos Highway,
Baras, Rizal, Philippines, 1970
E-mail Address:
Read more pensive posts here:
On Learning & Unlearning
Focus on Your Own Breath: Of Art & Exercise

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7 years ago

Damang-dama ko ang lahat….and it’s the universe’s way of nudging me *wink wink* you got your wish of illustrating a storybook! Congrats. 😀

7 years ago

I always love these posts Tippy. I don’t care how long they are. It’s so insightful and with so many learning points scattered throughout the entire text that one barely notices the time. I can’t help but nod after each line. The part about punishing oneself hit the jackpot the most. 🙂

On a different note, I’m so happy for you and this project. Your art has really evolved and it’s getting better as it takes different forms and variations. Also, Masungi! I’ve been wanting to go there ever since they opened but I got sick and was ordered zero workout/strenuous activity for an entire year by the doctor. *cries* But once it’s over, I’d make sure to tick Masungi off the bucket list.

Cym Marzan
7 years ago

This makes me want to read that story book. And visit Masungi Georeserve. Is it kid-friendly? 🙂

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