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Melancholic, surreal and emphatic. Rombutan is yet another, perhaps the most famous illustrator on Facebook with over 150,000 followers and counting. His works accurately depict our generation’s heartaches, struggles and existential questions, removing all the cheese in hugot and turning it instead into something more raw, more cryptic, and metaphysical—exactly how real emotions are.

Able to translate our mixed, confused feelings into cathartic visuals that hit the right nerves, Rombutan’s works often achieve viral status shared by his followers.

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At a group exhibit in Kaida Gallery in Quezon City, I met Rombutan, where he was one of the participating artists. Dressed in shorts, a dark sweater, and black rim glasses, he reminded me of Lenny from Big Bang Theory.

Rombutan is a shy, unassuming and cool 23-year-old graduate of UP Fine Arts with a major in painting. He works as a storyboard artist who “enjoys it naman.”

At the exhibit, when I told him how much I admired his work, he only smiled and said a gracious “thank you.”

In this interview, Rombutan shares his creative process, and how art helps him get rid of his emotional baggage.

What’s the story behind your name?
It’s just a random play on words. My name is “Rom” and then I combined it with rambutan, the fruit. I was just being cute. Hahaha!

Why hide behind a persona and a pseudonym?
Hindi lang talaga ako comfortable na may strangers na nakakaalam ng pinaggagagawa ko sa buhay. Huhuhu! Because of social media, feeling ko kasi wala nang privacy.

The ABOUT section of your Facebook page points to a blog, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Is this yours or just an inspiration?
[It’s just an inspiration but] when I saw the made-up words and the meaning, it really hit me hard. I wanted to make illustrations.

What words in this blog do you deeply relate with?
ALL OF THEM! Every post kasi may personal story.

Okay, when did you start making digital art?
It was 2014 when I started making digital drawings. I wanted a new outlet for my excess emotions. I use Paint Tool Sai and a Wacom Bamboo Tablet. Honestly, I don’t know how to use Photoshop. I actually graduated from UP Fine Arts with a major in Painting in 2016.

Namimiss ko na sarili ko. Nakakamiss maging ...

Was there ever a time that you weren’t able to let out the excess emotions in you?
Yes. I had to go on a vacation para malayo sa mga bagay-bagay and para may time ako to think about everything.

How long does it usually take for you to finish one artwork for Rombutan?
It ranges from 3 hours to 11 hours! Haha! It depends on the details and how long I want to distract myself from reality.

Do you post your works immediately after drawing or you create drafts?
I create drafts, revisions, and sometimes I redo the whole illustration.Sometimes I upload screencaps ng work-in-progress ko sa Twitter. You can check it out here: @rombutans. I am my greatest critic.

How is social media changing the way you see yourself and your art?
Well, I don’t feel alone anymore. There are people out there na broken gaya ko and nag-aayos ng sarili. Kaya naman seeing all those people commenting and sharing my artworks helps me.

Sa art naman, I don’t want to stop improving myself because there’s always someone better than me, and because of that, I will stop at nothing para mas ma-improve ko pa artworks ko.

Hindi na ako sigurado, kung kilala ko pa ang ...

Do you listen to music when you draw? What kind?
Yes. Mga indie music and soundtracks from musicals.

Have you drawn drunk or do you always do it sober?
I’ve tried drunk-drawing! Halfway through finishing the artwork, nagiging sober ako.

Who are the local artists you admire?
Rob Cham! I love his digital drawings!

And the artists you want to collaborate with in the future?
James Jean!! Haha, ang taas ng pangarap ko!

You are a social media success! Do you have a regular posting schedule or you just make art for Rombutan when you’re in the mood?
I don’t really have a schedule. I only draw when I have excess emotions kasi it’s my outlet. Para ma-release ko sa system yung negative emotions ko.

Do you work at night or in the morning?
[At] night. I’m usually asleep pag morning. I enjoy the night because it’s quiet and no one’s disturbing me. I am just alone with my thoughts.

How did art school help you form your voice as an artist? 
I can’t thank UP enough para sa lahat ng bagay na itinuro niya sakin. I am who I am today because of UP. Ilang beses dinurog ng UP ang puso ko eh, and that made me stronger.

Dinurog ng UP ang puso ko.” In what way?
I failed some classes! Nasabihang “yan na ‘yon?” ang artworks ko. Itinapon ng prof drawings ko, and many more, hahaha! But hey, it was a good training. Among my favorite teachers are Benji Cabangis, Vinluan, Feleo, Obnamia, Olazo, halos lahat naman sila. May special place sila sa heart ko kasi ang dami kong natutunan sa kanila.

:)

How does your involvement in UP Asterisk help you grow as an artist?
Sila ang pinaka-grabeng critic na na-encounter ko. Imagine, 12 revisions! Twelve freaking revisions bago ko nakuha ang matamis naoomula sa members para sa isang publication material. Ganun kalala! I love you, guys!

Your work evokes deep melancholia. Are you constantly experiencing deep loneliness or existential crisis?
YES. YES. YES! Every illustration is a reflection of my emotion.

Have you ever tried making a melancholic image in a happy state?
Yes, and hindi siya nag-wowork. I can’t connect with the artwork. As an artist kasi, it’s important for me na may deep connection ako with what I’m doing.

Are all your posts drawn from your personal experiences?
Yes. Every single illustration is a visual representation of my emotion.

Header image: Madel Crudo

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