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Cj de Silva-Ong

Cj de Silva-Ong

Meet designer, illustrator, and creative director from the Philippines, Cj de Silva-Ong.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m Cj de Silva-Ong. I’m an advertising creative director. In my free time, I paint, illustrate and do graphic design. I’ve been painting since I was 5 years old. 1998 was a life-changing year for me. I had my first one-woman exhibit and I was featured in an infant formula ad. The ad had a campaign line calling us “Gifted Children” or “Gifted Child”. So for many years, (actually up to now) “Gifted Child” has been some sort of descriptor. I don’t take it seriously though, I don’t let it pressure me to live up to its meaning. Now, I kinda use it as a funny ice breaker when I meet new people, new clients. But I’ll forever be thankful for that ad. That ad gave me the platform and the opportunity (the little fame that came with it) to share myself and my art. There are so many visual artists who deserve that

attention and recognition. I decided though not to pursue a career in painting or studio arts, I realized I was looking for structure and job security. I came from a family of skilled artisans — my grandfather was a signmaker/letterer, my dad is an art teacher. But we’re not well-off. My dad’s brother, my uncle, was an advertising creative director and the family’s breadwinner. He became my inspiration. Because of him, I went into advertising. And I love it. I get to

practice my skill in visual arts and learn new disciplines like photography, film editing, directing, production design, while having a steady flow of income. But of course, the yearning to create will always be there so during weekends, I try to paint and illustrate. I’m very fortunate I was able to collaborate with writers and publishing houses, doing book illustrations and designing book covers. I also get to illustrate for magazines, that’s always fun for me. So basically, I try my best to strike a balance between my career and my art. To quote my husband in one of our podcast episodes, “Let your art save you from your job and let your job save you from your art.”

 

Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.

My hometown is Malabon, north of Metro Manila, known to be the first city to be flooded when the monsoon comes. Malabon has a small-town charm and its quite known for its local dishes like Pancit Malabon (a dry noodle dish) and sapin-sapin (colorful rice cakes), the seafood industry, and Spanish era houses. I loved it there, it inspired lots of my art when I was younger.

When I got married, my husband and I moved to Makati City — Metro Manila’s Central Business District. It’s the complete opposite of Malabon! Makati City is fast-paced, expect high-rise office buildings and apartments. Weekdays, expect the working crowd, and it gets pretty crowded and traffic can get bad during rush hours. Luckily, Makati is walkable. The Ayala underpasses and overpasses are quite cool and beautifully designed. Weekends in Makati are different — it’s quiet and peaceful, you’ll be able to appreciate the parks and greens. There are many things I love about Makati:

  1. The architecture: Makati was developed during the 60s, so expect a lot of interesting brutalist buildings. Even the old apartment buildings look so beautiful. I wish all these buildings get maintained and preserved.
  2. How walkable it is: Imagine booking a late night movie and walking home after the movie. My favorite coffee shop/bar, The Curator, is a 5-minute walk. I always look forward to getting my morning coffee there before heading for work. And when I feel like it, I swing by at the same place (it becomes a bar at night) after work for some cocktails.
  3. The balance between greens, grit, and concrete: I know it’s such a stretch but Makati, for me, kinda feels like NYC and Downtown Vancouver. You have parks, you have beautiful tall buildings, but you also have the gentrified little nooks where you can find the coolest stores, bars, restaurants, etc.

 

When I got married, my husband and I moved to Makati City — Metro Manila’s Central Business District. It’s the complete opposite of Malabon! Makati City is fast-paced, expect high-rise office buildings and apartments.

What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?

BEST: The architecture, the museums, the parks, the cafes and bars.

WORST: The rush hour traffic. Pollution.

 

Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.
  1. Authentic – there are lots of creative people putting out their works out there, the pressure to stand out can be intense. But I think the key will always be authenticity. More than our skills, I think our currency is our points of view. It takes years to build an artistic identity, I’d say I’m still building mine right now. It’s helpful to have self-awareness and being in tune with your passions, as well as your morals and ethics. I believe artists and creatives always had the societal responsibility, a moral imperative, to make a stand. Be authentic with what you fight for, stand for, create for.
  2. Open – Like what I said, there are lots of creatives out there. It’s nice to meet other people who have similar passions, experiences, and careers. We can help each other grow. Collaboration is fun.
  3. Money-smart – I really don’t believe in the concept of the “starving artist”. I think by now, we should know that we need money to fund our passions. So being a creative here in Makati, one has to be smart about money — smart in pricing your art, and smart in saving and investing your hard-earned money.

 

There are lots of creative people putting out their works out there, the pressure to stand out can be intense. But I think the key will always be authenticity.

How did you start your career in art?

POSTER-MAKING DAYS

My parents said I’ve always loved drawing. I started drawing when I was 1-year old. I remember painting almost every day when I was five. I joined a lot of poster-making contests. I remember my parents would take me to different malls every weekend to compete, I looked forward to winning because that meant extra money for the family.

 

1998-2001

I’d get featured on newspapers and magazines. Because of one article, my family met Monsie Guingona-David. She supported me and my art, as well as my high school education. She brought me to museums and introduced me to a lot of people in the formal art world. She encouraged me to paint and learn more about art to improve my craft. She helped me put up my first one-woman show in Ayala Museum. I’d consider that my peak years as a child painter. In high school, I laid low in painting to focus on studying and getting into UP Fine Arts. I’d paint occasionally, some commissioned art from time to time.

 

COLLEGE

When I was in college, I was introduced to graphic design, visual communication, and marketing. I was really interested and became more passionate about these disciplines. I pursued a career in advertising but continued to paint, dabbled into illustration and graphic design work.

 

Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?

Yes. I’m quite lucky to have a supportive family. They always assured me that they’ll always have my back. In fact, my family played a huge role in who I am now and what I do. I remember my parents taking me to museums and exhibits to see art, my dad would carefully discuss the technique and style of whatever painting we’d see. My mom worked hard in getting me in a good school, getting me scholarships, etc. My uncle gave me references that would refine my taste, he would buy me books about the masters — Van Gogh, Klimt, Gaugin, etc. I remember having this really thick book with all the western art references (from the Greek Civilisation until Post-Modern art).

 

I’m quite lucky to have a supportive family. They always assured me that they’ll always have my back. In fact, my family played a huge role in who I am now and what I do.

What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work?

I really dream of having another exhibit to introduce myself as a grown-up artist. I’d say I got stuck in the “Gifted Child”/TV ad child painter that I was, painting idyllic Mother & Child. In 2011-2012, I was actually preparing for an exhibit. My concept was to show different interesting jobs that a woman can do — astronaut, detective, archaeologist, baker, burlesque performer, etc. I had a lot of ideas. I was able to complete around 5 artworks. But the storm Habagat in 2012 flooder our house. I was not able to save my artworks. Thank God I was able to scan them! That left me heartbroken, frustrated and a little bit traumatized. It felt like the universe didn’t want me to have an exhibit. I’m still waiting for that urge. Now, I see myself more as a multi-disciplinary creative. So I have different goals for the different artistic disciplines that I have:

 

ADVERTISING

  • Be a good creative leader. Mentor and train art directors and designers.
  • Build a brand, collaborate with clients to create a market or product innovation.

 

ILLUSTRATION & DESIGN

  • Get hired to do an illustration for an international magazine.
  • Illustrate another book!
  • Create a packaging design for a beauty brand. (I really love make-up and skincare!)

 

PAINTING

  • Have another exhibit as a grown-up artist.

 

If you could collaborate with any person in the world who would it be?

Oh man, I look up to a lot of artists and designers! Can it be top 5?

  1. Jessica Hische
  2. Cameron Stewart
  3. Barbara Kruger
  4. Sondre Lerche (Maybe an album art or a music video perhaps?)
  5. Jason Reitman

 

How would you describe the women around you?

MY MOM

I used to get into huge fights with my mom but as I get older, I realize how I am much like her and I am thankful for the traits and values I got from her. My mom was always relaxed. I don’t remember seeing my mom so stressed. She was a woman of few words. I think her love language was acts of service. My mom was an adventurer. She loved traveling, meeting new people, learning a new skill. Her relationship with my dad and her in-laws (my grandparents and my uncle) wasn’t perfect, but she showed me how it was to stick around and be committed. For the longest time, my mom was a homemaker. But when my siblings and I grew older, I saw her making an effort to find a job, find career fulfillment. She took vocational courses, learned new skills. She’s very entrepreneurial. When my mom has a goal, she makes things happen. I guess that’s what I got from her.

 

MY GRANDMOTHER

My dad’s mom lived with us. So I guess we can say she helped raised me. She was a seamstress, she told me she made dresses for Filipino celebrities during her prime. She’d discourage me and my mom from buying RTW clothes for me. She’d ask me to pick fabrics instead, ask my mom to buy it, and she’d sew dresses, shirts, and trousers for me, all from scratch. From the leftover fabric, she’d also sew little versions of my dresses for my Barbie dolls. My grandmother loved reading comics, she said her favorite was Captain America. She also told me she loved watching movies, the most memorable for her was when she watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho when it came out in the cinemas. My lola (Filipino for grandmother) was religious but she never imposed it on me. She only asked me to go to mass with her during Christmas, she says that can be my gift to her every year. My lola had an irreverent sense of humor. She’d usually ridicule what we see on local TV. She says what’s on her mind and rarely apologized. But when she does, she does it with food. She loves to cook and would not let me or my mom in her kitchen. She’s good with budgeting money too. My lola was tough, opinionated and would DIY everything if she can.

 

MY EX-BOSS

I guess as a young woman in a highly stressful, highly competitive field (Advertising), one would look for a role model or a mentor. My first year in advertising was tough. I lacked confidence. In 2009, I met Joey David-Tiempo. TBWA-Santiago Mangada Puno hired her as a Creative Director and I was assigned to work in her team as an art director. She became my mentor and my friend. She’s become a huge influence and inspiration. Working with Joey, I feel I’ve developed into a more confident and emotionally sensible creative. Joey is brilliant and intelligent, but what separates her from the other creative directors I’ve worked with is her emotional intelligence. Joey understands that advertising is not only a business of ideas, but it is also a business built on relationships. Joey always encouraged empathy in our team, especially to me. She values honesty and sincerity. She taught me how to take criticism and how to handle my response to criticism. Joey taught me how to act and respond with grace and humor.

 

MY GIRL FRIENDS

I have a lot of acquaintances and work-friends but the closest to me, they’re few. My best friend, I met when I was in primary school. Four of my closest friends, I met in high school. My friends and I have different interests and passions, but I guess we share similar values. If I were to describe my friends as a collective, they are all strong women. Feminists by heart. They are progressive and supportive of each other. They are eloquent, elegant and gracious. Maybe one thing I treasure the most with my girl friends is how we resolve disagreements and differences. I remember having a disagreement with my best friends, she opened the conversation with, “How do you want to resolve this?” Immediately, I knew she valued our friendship because she wanted to resolve the issue. I thought it was refreshing and enlightening.

 

Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?

I knew about Cynthia Bauzon-Arre through the Filipino band, the Eraserheads. Cynthia was a graphic designer and illustrator. She was sort of the to-go artist collaborator of the Eraserheads. She did the art for their 4th album/children’s book “Fruitcake,” graphic design and layout for two issues of their fanzine “Pillbox,” and album sleeve designs for their subsequent releases “Aloha Milkyway,” “Natin99,” and “Carbon Stereoxide” and “Wanted: Bedspacer” (Ely Buendia’s solo album). I always loved Cynthia’s design sense, as well as her watercolor illustrations. When I finally met Cynthia a few years ago, I learned that she also worked in advertising for 7 years and that she also loves cats. I feel a connection with her. Since then, I’d always seek her for advice about art, relationships, cats, and life in general.

 

I used to get into huge fights with my mom but as I get older, I realize how I am much like her and I am thankful for the traits and values I got from her.

Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?

I think relatively, Filipinas are quite lucky because there’s less discrimination in the workplace here in the Philippines. Relatively, I think, there are more women in high-level positions here in the country as well. But there are still lots of challenges. I think generally, Filipino culture is still misogynistic and patriarchal. There is still the unspoken dangerous dichotomy of the career woman and the mother/homemaker. Culturally, it still feels that a woman needs to choose between her career and her family. The workplace is still not structured to support a working mom*.

*The bill for longer maternity leave has been signed, but it immediately raised a concern that employers will have biases to hiring males since they seem more productive and profitable. Ugh.

I look forward to the day that a woman can do both (have a great career and be a great mom) without sacrificing too much of herself or making too many compromises.

Another challenge is expressing emotions: When women get mad or express frustration, they’re immediately regarded as “dramatic” or “emotional”. When men get mad, that’s okay, they’re just getting things done. There’s still that double standard. Women are still shamed and judged for expressing emotions at work.

 

When women get mad or express frustration, they’re immediately regarded as “dramatic” or “emotional”. When men get mad, that’s okay, they’re just getting things done. There’s still that double standard.

Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?
  1. Speak up. Our currency is our points of view. Ask. Don’t be scared to sound stupid. It’s better to regret asking something than regretting you didn’t ask at all.
  2. Know your value. Price your work fairly. Negotiate. It never hurts to negotiate what you think you deserve.
  3. Rejection is a gift. It’s one step closer to the truth.
  4. 97% is sometimes better than 100% especially if it’s about teamwork. Don’t sacrifice the 3% for perfection if it means your team will be tired for another 8 hours. Work relationships are as important as work.
  5. Don’t be obsessed with being correct. Correct is boring. Do the brave thing.

 

 

Photos courtesy of Cj de Silva-Ong.

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