Meet illustrator and a tattoo artist from the Philippines, Wiji Lacsamana.
Image by Arabella Paner
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a freelance illustrator and a tattoo artist specializing in watercolor and illustrative tattoos. As a reiki practitioner, I infuse reiki healing into the tattoos I make. I released a book I wrote and illustrated for called ‘Tiny Universe‘ last year.
Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.
Metro Manila is a cluster of densely populated cities thriving so close together. After moving here from the province (I grew up in a small city called San Fernando, in La Union–way up north, very near the beach) for college, I’ve moved apartments quite a bit. I now live in a rather suburban area in Paranaque City and it is a breath of fresh air. It is very relaxed where I live–I definitely live in a bubble away from the noise of most of the city. I have a nice park and mini forest (I’d like to imagine so) near me, and a lot space to just breathe and think and be.
Metro Manila is the same: humid and hot–it is summer all year round. But this weather always makes way for beautiful sunsets.
What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?
I love that I now live inside a bubble, away from the crowds and the noise of the city, but I am also now farther from my friends. (But I am trying to see it as an opportunity to make new ones!) I am now more productive because of the opportunity and space to breathe, think and create here. But also because I am so far away from friends and other beautiful distractions. Weather in most parts of the Metro Manila is the same: humid and hot–it is summer all year round. But this weather always makes way for beautiful sunsets.
Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.
Free, experimental, authentic.
How did you start your career in art?
Let’s start with this: I graduated with a degree in Political Science. Quite a stretch from the career I have now, I know. But getting this degree ultimately (no matter how long it took) made me realize how much I wanted and needed to embrace what I always knew all along: that I have to create. So after a number of random jobs (that involved teaching and government work and at times even event management), I stumbled onto people who are now lifelong friends of mine. I used to live in a house where my housemates were all doing what they loved in life: some were musicians, others were music video directors, illustrators–I was working in an office then, always struggling to just wake up and live every day, thinking: “why can’t I live the way my housemates live?” And I heard a question from some part in me: “Well what is it that you want to do anyway?” , and that’s what really got me thinking. You have to know what you really want first. I was always drawing as a kid–that was and is the one thing I will always enjoy doing. So after that conversation with myself, I asked help from my friends to teach me stuff, given that I was the only non-fine arts graduate amongst us. They included me in a lot of their projects–from doing props for music videos and graphics. One of my good friends started teaching me how to paint with watercolor, too. In time, and after a lot of practice, I started getting illustration jobs.
One night, a friend of mine messaged me to hang out at our friends’ tattoo studio, it was his birthday and I thought were just going to drink and hang. When we got there, he wanted all of us to tattoo him! My friend, tattoo artist Dyun Depasupil
was there, helping us tattoo him as correctly as we could. I will always remember the first line I tattooed on him–it was like love at first sight, like surfing a good wave for the first time–so this is what it feels like to find your calling. I couldn’t sleep that night, I kept thinking about how good I felt tattooing. I messaged Dyun right away if he would take me in as his apprentice. That’s how my tattooing life began.
Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?
I am so lucky to have the friends I have. They were all so supportive of me finding a career in the creative world: they taught me how to paint, how to use Photoshop, etc, etc. My friend Dyun took me in as his apprentice! The only ones who were wary were my parents; ah, but this is usual. They have come to realize who happier my life has been.
What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work?
My goal is to always exercise balance in life–to never overload my life with work, no matter how much I love the work. I am careful not to be burned out with my curiosities. My goal is to always be excited and inspired: I have a couple of projects I am working on that excite me so. I have an oracle deck I am working on. A new book, perhaps.
My goal is to always exercise balance in life–to never overload my life with work, no matter how much I love the work.
If you could collaborate with any person in the world who would it be?
I would love to collaborate with people in different fields. Oprah would be THE dream, of course. Wes Anderson would be amazing too.
How would you describe the women around you?
I am so inspired by the women around me! My friends, my family, women in the Filipino tattoo industry, women in our local illustration industry, my “woowoo” women’s circle. I am always amazed at the caliber of their work and how, at the same time, they manage to be amazing, authentic souls who are mostly fantastic at time management. Point to any of my closest female friends and we can spend hours talking about how amazing they are. I cannot count the ways.
Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?
I was such a huge fan of local illustrator Cynthia Bauzon-Arre
growing up! I’ve told her this, too. I didn’t see a lot of female-made illustrations growing up apart from hers, and she did hers with a lot of simplicity and nostalgia. She is also a kind, down to earth, amazing person.
Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?
I am so happy to live in a time and place where being a female does not hinder my right to creativity, especially in the industries I am in. If anything, my sex, my gender helps. I am aware that not all cases are so, so I do not take this privilege lightly at all. I guess the challenge this all leads down towards is this: in empowering the female voice even more.
My number one advice is something that helped so much: never be afraid to ask for help where you need it.
Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?
My number one advice is something that helped so much: never be afraid to ask for help where you need it. When I asked help from my friends (and sometimes even, people who weren’t originally friends but have now become so), they were so generous with it! All you need to do is ask.
And also show that you are really willing to learn.
Now if you have learned from those, pay the kindness forward. If someone asks for help, be generous with it.
Also, be authentic: speak (or draw or write or sing) in a voice that is truly, truly you. People have a very good BS detector. We resonate so well with anything that is truly from the heart.
Last: be kind. Not just polite, but kind. There is no need to be competitive–I’m sure as creatives we are already critical of our own work as it is, let it stay there–make only space to be supportive.
Photos courtesy of Wiji Lacsamana and Arabella Paner.