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Ella Lama

Ella Lama

Meet Filipino illustrator, Ella Lama.


Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am an illustrator and a maker of paper and novelty goods. I am a solo-preneur, which means I manage all the aspects of my business by myself. (I am looking to expand my team soon!) I did not set out to be an artist at first—I actually studied English Literature in college and wanted to become a children’s book writer! I did not draw a lot as a kid, but I was very much into crafts and I enjoyed working with my hands. As an adult, my art journey started in 2012, when I took up lettering as a de-stresser from work. My job was in online marketing, which put me in front of the computer for at least 8 hours a day, so I wanted to get into a hobby away from the screen. I used materials from my younger sister and posted my works on Tumblr. Eventually, I grew confident enough to sell my work and do art full time. Aside from working with clients and designing my own merch, I also teach workshops on running a creative business and host gatherings where artists and entrepreneurs can openly talk about their challenges and struggles.


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

I’ve lived in Mandaluyong City my whole life. It is right in the middle of Metro Manila, so all sides of the bustling metropolis are accessible from where I live. I am a true blue city girl so I don’t mind the busy-ness even though I am very much an introvert. That’s kind of what I like about being in a big city–there’s so much activity and so many things to do, and yet there are also lots of pockets of quiet one can retreat to.

I have two favorite places in Metro Manila. The first one is the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City. This is where I went to college and where I first felt like living a creative was a valid option. The second one is Makati, particularly the central business district, because I worked there for a few years and my experiences there are what pushed me to pursue entrepreneurship.


I am a true blue city girl so I don’t mind the busy-ness even though I am very much an introvert.

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

Aside from the terrible traffic (which I am grateful that I don’t get to experience much because I work from home), there’s a lot of red tape and inefficiencies, from processing all sorts of business paperwork to public transportation and other services. The best thing for me, apart from being able to find my creative tribe here, is all the cheap food! I am a serial snacker, so it is a delight for me to buy squid balls from street food vendors or bread from my neighborhood bakery.

Sometimes when I travel abroad, I can’t help but compare my city to all the new places I visit. But after a few days of exploring, I always find myself wanting to go back home.


Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.

Challenging, tiring (sometimes), rewarding


How did you start your career in art?

My art journey has been quite a ride. I actually started participating at handmade arts and crafts fairs in 2011, where a friend and I sold pins made of recycled bottle caps. We collaged magazine cutouts and used those as the designs for our products. In 2012 I picked up lettering as a hobby while still selling bottle cap accessories. In 2013 I gained enough confidence in my lettering skills that I started selling postcards and stickers, eventually expanding my line to include notebooks and tote bags. In 2015, I quit my day job to focus on my art full time. It was only in 2017 when I felt like I finally found my footing as a creative entrepreneur, so even though it seems like I’ve been making and selling art for almost a decade, I feel like I’ve only been taking my business seriously for three years!

Aside from selling merch, I also work on client commissions (editorial illustrations are my favorite!) and teach a workshop called Creative Career Roadmap, which aims to help artists deal with clients, figure out their pricing, and keep the motivation going. I also hold pocket events called Real Talk Tambay, where I invite friends who are experienced in the world of art, design, and creative entrepreneurship to share their stories with attendees who are just starting out in their careers.


It IS hard work, and it is vital to manage expectations about this path before diving headfirst.

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

As a middle child, I’ve always been independent and secretive, so I don’t think I cared if people around me weren’t supportive or not! But seriously, I was lucky to have parents who did not force me into a career path and allowed me to do whatever it is that felt right for me. Their only concern then was about my health and how I had been working so hard trying to juggle a full-time job and a demanding freelance practice.

There are some people who still don’t get this career choice, though, but I am open and happy to answer their questions and misconceptions. Yes, I am in charge of my own hours. Yes, I can work in my pajamas. No, I can’t just drop everything and go on vacation whenever I feel like it. That’s why I feel like it’s important to talk about these things, especially for people who feed into this pipe dream of freelance life being an easy life where you get to draw all day. It IS hard work, and it is vital to manage expectations about this path before diving headfirst.


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

Ahhhhh so many! I want to write and illustrate a book! I want to start an online platform for Real Talk Tambay! I want to teach my workshop online to reach more people! I want to work with lots of international publications! I want to do product collaborations with different brands! I want to sell my merch in different cities! (All exclamation points are necessary to let the universe know how excited I am to make these goals come true!)


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

The first person that came to mind is Oprah! Maybe I can illustrate one of her books in the future? I feel like instead of collaborating, I would like to learn from and be mentored by those I consider leaders in my field like Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co., Yuko Shimizu, Lisa Congdon, and Jessica Hische.


How would you describe the women around you?

I grew up around women who had a can-do attitude towards life. My mother has been successful in climbing the corporate ladder. My grandmother in my father’s side raised eight children almost all by herself when her husband died young. My grandmother on my mother’s side was skilled in all areas of homemaking. We had a nanny (who I considered my second mother) who was very dedicated to me and my sisters, as well as to her family in the province. My sisters are both very driven and passionate about their careers, albeit in different industries.

Even though I say that my stubborn streak and my penchant for getting things done and doing things my way are consequences of me being a middle child, I am pretty sure I got a lot of that from them as well. I also went to an all-girls school, so from a very young age, I learned that I can do whatever it is that I put my heart, my head, and my hands into.


I grew up around women who had a can-do attitude towards life.

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

When I was a kid, the key figures in my creative upbringing were Kuya Robert (Alejandro) of the show Art Is Kool and Neil Buchanan of Art Attack. I don’t remember females hosting shows like these when I was young.

It was my math teacher in high school freshman year who first encouraged me to join the art club. Most of my friends were there, but l wasn’t as good at drawing as them so I put off joining until junior year.

When I first started joining local art fairs, most of the community organizers and sellers were women, so I felt like I found my tribe. They have been so encouraging and supportive since the beginning and through my changing art styles and product lines.


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

While I personally haven’t experienced any bias against me as a female illustrator, I feel like there’s still so much we can do in terms of having our voices heard. I am glad that there are platforms like Girls Club Asia, She Talks Asia, Ladies Wine and Design Manila, and similar venues where women can share stories and experiences.


The biggest thing for me is to keep working on your craft.


Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?

The biggest thing for me is to keep working on your craft. The clients, the jobs, the audience will come, but focus first on honing your skills.

Do not be afraid to say no to opportunities, especially if you feel deep inside that they are not the right fit for you. This is best done when you have multiple income streams, so you do not feel like you need to say yes to everything that comes your way just to pay the bills.

And it always, always, always pays to be kind—to your peers, to your clients, to people who support your work, to everyone.



Photos courtesy of Ella Lama.