01 July 2016

A Discussion With. Martin Diegor about being a Modern Creative

There are a lot of factors that make us who we are. The influences to our individual identities are neither far nor in between but whatever strikes close to our heart. With the advents of technology bridging several gaps in the form of free educational resources and communication, the world seems smaller and smaller. Collaborations are made thousands of kilometers away. Reaching out to someone is almost instantaneous, and the same goes for looking for an image, a phrase, or even whole documents.

But nothing is as impactful as walking out of the door and into the streets we pass through in our daily lives. The serendipitous feeling of enjoying the world through walking on your own feet may pass only through our peripheral visions, but the sights we see and the experiences we have are part of what slowly molds us to who we are and who we can become.

And what more can these daily happenings mean to the observant creative? From being the art director for youth magazine Scout Magazine straight after graduation to finding his way in the streets of New York and New Jersey, Martin represents a new breed of creatives backed by the power of the Internet, yet still grounded in their roots. Purveyr takes a stroll with budding creative Martin Diegor in the city of Manhattan to talk about growth, different cultures, and being a creative of today, whether in Manila or now in the east coast of the United States.

I wanted it to be visually unique and cool and smart. I wanted it to be different. I wanted it to be great, so that if a kid picks it up, he can say to himself, "This is what I want to do in life."

Interview by Lex Celera, Portraits by Sundae Cruz & Other Works by Martin Diegor

Can you give us a little background about yourself?
As a kid, I had very strange ambitions—at some point, I wanted to be a cashier, paleontologist, artist, interior designer, [and] Harry Potter. Today, I've done three of these things already, but never in my childhood did I say "I want to be a graphic designer." It's not like in music, where a song can give you an epiphany, or in filmmaking, where a movie can move you so much it sets your mind on making more movies like it. People just don't stare up at a cool poster and say, "This is what I want to do in life."

I grew up being encouraged by my family to pursue my hobby of drawing and sketching. I was told I was good. One time during art class in third or fourth grade, we were asked to draw a place where we want to go to someday. Some of my classmates drew the beach and some went for the traditional mountain range with matching bahay kubo. When we were told to submit our work, I handed in a drawing of the Grand Canyon. I wouldn't say I'm exceptional, but I did my best and won myself a few awards.

By the time I was in high school, my interests had shifted. I was into journalism and theater. My "art" stayed as a hobby. I was appointed editor-in-chief of the school paper on my senior year, where, besides writing and editing, I actually had to learn how to layout because we only had one other person who knew how to use Pagemaker.

Because my dreams shifted as frequently as Twitter timelines, choosing a degree in college became problematic. My writing pointed me to communications or journalism while my art pulled me to take fine arts. You can also add the pressure of people who think there's no financial security in any of these industries.

After some research considering the things I like and the things I can do, I took up Multimedia Arts under a talent grant in Benilde. Back then (and until now, actually) the program had all the hype. "Multimedia" was a magic word that sounded nicely during orientations. High school seniors imagined their future resumes with it. Some people went with MMA because they were convinced that's where the money's at. For me, I went with it because it was code for "try everything until you find out what you're good at." Four terms and frustrated web and interactive projects later, I realized it was print media. It didn't matter if I wrote or made art, I discovered that I loved the physical, printed matter.

The hallelujah moment was when I applied for the college's school paper. For me, the paper wasn't just an afternoon club—it was real work with real, very talented people. Our creative director, Carl Graham, was very passionate about design. He could talk about font choices, eye direction, and design thinking with so much insight and wisdom. The editor-in-chief, Junne Grajales, was the best teacher I had in writing. She wouldn't give up refining my work, even if she has to haul my underage ass to Cubao X to experience life beyond books and theories. The organization formed most of what I know and what I do now. By the time I was in junior year, I became EIC again, and by senior year, creative director. Our work won awards, too.

My thesis was a documentary film on the relevance of print media, which got me into the office of Rogue Magazine, one of my favorite local titles. I contacted its senior designer, Patrick Diokno, for an interview. After we talked, he offered me an internship. I declined; I wanted to prioritize finishing my thesis. But another opportunity came when I attended an art event at The Collective. I saw Patrick again and he reminded me about the internship. I sent my portfolio the same night.

With Rogue, my knowledge in design doubled in two weeks with Patrick. What I learned in theory from school was partnered with his knowledge of principle and technique.

This continued until I graduated. Rogue had no actual openings, but Patrick told me there was a new magazine coming out and they were looking for a new graphic designer. He put in a word for me and I got an email back. I was being invited for an interview with Scout Magazine.

It was my first, legit real-world job. I expected to be at the bottom of the corporate food chain, but when I came in for the interview, I sat down with the EIC, the creative director, and the publisher. I was being interviewed for the position of art director.

After a few weeks of deliberation, I got an offer.

Of course, I was happy and excited about it, and at the same time, I felt unsure if I was actually ready to be the art director of a magazine at 21. People and money are on the line if I do a bad job. But I saw the chance to create something important and more importantly, relevant. Scout was a youth magazine, and it had the potential of talking to a lot of kids. I realized, cheesy kung cheesy, that whatever we will create and publish will influence some kid's ambitions, so I told myself to suck it up and just jump at this rare opportunity to design a new look for youth media and publishing. I wanted it to be visually unique and cool and smart. I wanted it to be different. I wanted it to be great, so that if a kid picks it up, he can say to himself, "This is what I want to do in life."

How are things so far after you've migrated? What projects are you currently working on right now?
We're currently based in Plainsboro, New Jersey. It's a small suburb with lots of trees and open spaces. You literally can't just walk around because the places here are miles apart (but the nearest McDonald's is just 15 minutes away by foot, thank God).

Life is very slow here and I'm taking it as a time off from my hectic life in Manila. I literally had no time for myself since high school. Now, I'm just trying to learn about my family more (people I haven't seen since my baptism lol). I just learned my aunt is a programmer, I have a geologist uncle who married a microbiologist, and I have another aunt in the White House!

But of course, I still work freelance design jobs, all from Manila. I recently wrapped up a big account, and now I'm working on materials for the Elements Music Camp. Bullet Dumas, BP Valenzuela, and Josh Villena (Autotelic) have all done the camp before.

Though, my goal is to eventually live and work in New York. So far, I've had five job interviews there, from a big university to a small creative firm, and as of today, I've probably sent about 70 applications. I'm not ruling out any opportunity to be able to root myself in NYC. It's very competitive and I feel like I'm up against the world, but the job boards are always full of openings. It doesn't matter what job I get as long as it's in the creative industry. For me, it's all just a matter of getting your foot in the door, then work your way up to your dream career.

What is your dream career? They say when you make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. What do you think about that?
Well, in terms of career, I really see myself in the publishing industry. I actually want to establish my own title one day. But I also want to write and produce a film. And maybe set up a restaurant with my mom. I want to do so many things, hahaha! and I think people don't actually have to stick to one dream career. You can do anything you like as long as you make a good job out of it. If you fail, then you know it might not be for you, but at least you found out, versus just dreaming about it all your life.

And that's the thing with NYC. Its doors are open to the world and there's a ton of opportunities here. Everyone walks, takes the subway, eat at food trucks. At one place, it's about art and community, at another, it's the big corporations, and maybe a few blocks down, you find yourself in the middle of Central Park. It has something for everyone. Anyone can live and thrive in the city, no matter where you come from. And it's a city that rewards generously if you work hard for it.

Personally, I like referring to myself as a creative. It simply means I create things, whether it's a magazine or a website or a film.

Do you think Manila is also rife with opportunities, especially in terms of being a creative? Also, how would you describe your line of work? Would you call yourself a multi-hyphenate?
Oh yes, it's exciting to be in Manila now if you're a creative. Recognition and appreciation for the industry is slowly rising. The local design scene is competitive but also very collaborative. In fact, most creatives from Manila, whether it's an individual or a studio, have international clientele. But honestly speaking, in the world of design, it doesn't matter where you are based. If you're good and you know how to sell your work, people will notice.

I guess what Manila needs to work on is reasonable compensation for creatives. Yes, it is promising and booming, but current pay rates make it hard for creatives to establish themselves financially. And big clients keep these rates at the lower spectrum because if someone charges them a fairly high amount, they know they can find another one who can do the same thing and charge less, so now people will have to do the same until everyone begins selling their talents for unreasonably low rates.

Filipino creatives are very talented, conceptually and technically, but it's the foreign clients who get to benefit from their work because local ones refuse to pay for quality.

As for my line of work, I don't really consider myself a multi-hyphenate. I've read about us being the slash generation. But out of all my skills and interests, I've only lived off of graphic design. Yes, I can do many things but I'm only really good at one. I mean, just because I can cook Thai ginger chicken, it doesn't make me want to add "chef" on my Instagram profile, or on my resume for that matter.

Personally, I like referring to myself as a creative (I don't remember when it made the transition from adjective to noun, but hey). It simply means I create things, whether it's a magazine or a website or a film.

Who influences your work? Where do you get your inspiration from?
The first magazine that I ever actually admired in terms of design is Rogue, followed by the Monocle. I was also heavily influenced by the early work of Filipino illustrator Mall Licudine, and I think I really liked how her style is moody, surreal—the same qualities I find inspiring in the work of photographer Annie Leibovitz and artists Malika Favre and James Jean. I can spend long periods of time reading interior and architecture stories from Wallpaper* or drooling over design projects from Behance. On music, I grew up with UDD. Recently, I made a Spotify playlist with songs used in the crime series, The Catch. Currently obsessed with the Netflix series, Chef's Table. I think streetwear brand G.V.G.V. is better than Vetements (an opinion influenced by my best friend Hannah Bagain).

Let's talk about your move to the East Coast. How long have you been staying? What are your favorite places to visit? What currently takes up your leisure time?
Been here since March, so almost three months now. I've been to two museums in New York, the Metropolitan and the Cooper Hewitt. Walked the whole length of the Highline already and met up with old college friends (from the school paper!). I also just take days walking around and see where I end up. Last week, I finally ate at Ippudo NY, created by "Ramen King" Shigemi Kawahara. I also found a record store called Other Music which specializes in underground music. They have a shelf with handwritten notes on what each album is about and why you should buy it. Too bad I found out that they're closing down soon.

In New Jersey, there's a public library near our house that looks like and (is stocked like) Fully Booked haha! They have the latest of everything (documentaries, design reference books, etc.) and I've just been abusing that. Princeton's also just a ten-minute drive away. There's a bar there called Triumph and my cousin has been dying to take me but I still don't have a proper ID so... just the library for now.

What do you think about the culture in the United States, particularly to the places where you have been? How does it appeal to you as opposed to the culture in Manila?
It's really hard to say because I've only been here for just three months. But so far, what I love about the place is that there are plenty of avenues for self-expression, and mainly, that there will always be people who will stop and watch. And of course, inspiration is everywhere—free shows, big museums, photogenic architecture—and everything is just a train ride away.

I guess, as opposed to Manila, which I think has about the same number of creative avenues, only very few people go and see them. Manila is so rich culturally—from the educational, classic Intramuros tours to workshops and discussions at A-Space or the MCAD—and I just hope more people would get to see and enjoy that side of the city.

You mentioned that inspiration can be found everywhere there, and that information is rife and publicly available. Given that, how much do your surroundings factor in your creative expression? Does the change of inspiration change your your work?
My current work and visual style are influenced by a lot of things other than where I live—my roots, my childhood, my experiences. Of course, I also take cues from all the things I like, thanks to books and, of course, the Internet. I think that because we virtually have unlimited access to information now, a person doesn't need to be in a certain place or experience to be influenced by it. For example, I like Japanese mythology, Danish designers, and Brazilian independent films, but I haven't been to any of those places. But because I'm in the US now, I think eventually something will rub off on me, and I'm excited to find out how it will affect my work in the future.

How would you describe your style?
Simple, but never boring.

You can know more about Martin Diegor by visiting his Instagram and Online Portfolio.


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