MANILA – Now on its 12th year, Graphika Manila continues to be the gathering of aspiring young talents, a place where they get to be in the same room as their idols, their heroes even. This 2017, Graphika attracted over 3,800 students, designers, illustrators, artists, and design enthusiasts in a two-day conference on creativity held at SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

Over the years, these young talents have grown with Graphika, first attending as students figuring out what they wanted to do with their life, which direction they should take by seeking the guidance of those who have already made it.

Two out of the twelve speakers this year used to be one of those kids. In the middle of his talk, Daryl Feril, an artist based in Bacolod City, showed us a photo of him, a throwback to the lanky boy with a then short hair, lining up to enter Graphika’s conference hall. Years later, that boy would be sitting in the front row among his fellow speakers Benjamin Ang, Founder of Genesis Motion Design, Marcel Ziul, Creative Director at State Design, Gary Baseman, a painter and contemporary artist based in Los Angeles, Jonathan Kim, co-founder and creative director of Rare Volume, a design and technology studio and New York, and Thang Le, a concept artist from Industrial Light & Magic, a company of Lucasfilm, who has worked on films like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Tomorrowland.

His talk was a hit. He spoke in Taglish, telling relatable stories and personal experiences as a designer that made the audience chuckle and then gush over his intricate and beautiful hand-sketched drawings plastered all over high-end brands like Tory Burch and Louis Vuitton. During the break, youngsters who lined up to enter that very same hall earlier in the morning came up to him to have their Black Flood 2 book signed and to take selfies with their new idol.

Illustrator, doodler, and acclaimed artist Kerby Rosanes with one of his heavily-detailed works of art

Kerby Rosanes, an illustrator who took doodling in his Mathematics classes too seriously was another homegrown talent. He, too, showed an old photo of his first Graphika Manila, posing with three of his friends against the GM backdrop much like what the delegates kept on doing at the end of the day’s sessions. Now, he shared the stage with the infamous DC Comics and Marvel (among many others) illustrator, designer, concept artist, and Imaginary Friends Studios creative director and founder, Artgerm, and the 3D illustrator and designer who was making neon before it was cool (and in his own words, became an industry slut) Rizon Parein.

Rosanes went from doodling emoticons at the back of his calculus notebook to still doodling but in the fresh pages of his complimentary Moleskine. Equipped with a degree in IT and a bit of professional marketing experience, Rosanes knew how to put himself out there, using SEO (search engine optimization) to effectively share his works and score hotshot clients like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. His doodling led him to yet another milestone in his creative career–Animorphia, a world renowned coloring book for grown-ups, a New York Times bestseller–the reason why he would casually drop anecdotes of doodling on a glass wall in London or buying a pen as a souvenir from an island in Venice. Animorphia also brought him to New York, Dubai, and many other places where he met strangers who had his Geometric Beasts tattooed on their skin.

Like Rosanes, personal projects helped John Ed de Vera, a multi-disciplinary designer and creative director at TBWA\Santiago Mangada Puno land projects for international media outfits like Washington Post and Reader’s Digest. Taking out an hour or two from his busy schedule working in an agency and playing DOTA to work on personal projects, de Vera would go out of their house and even into the streets, turning mundane signs like Bawal Umihi Dito, Bawal Magtapon Dito into works of art, or cutting intricate paper art to remember legendary artists like David Bowie and Prince. Slide by slide, he wowed the audience with projects both personal and professional, making toying with conductive paint, sugar and ants, and hexaflexagons look so easy.

Part of Saving Sally director Avid Llongoren’s presentation was a storyboard for a coffee ad done with Parokya ni Edgar and Ramon Bautista

Other than passion and creativity, Graphika Manila also taught us that commitment, resilience, and organization are as important, even for artists. Avid Liongoren, a filmmaker and visual artist at Rocketsheep Studios had to learn this the hard and time-consuming way after working on an indie film for 12 long years, time he lost and can never get back all because of his poor planning and failure to follow a proper system. But Liongoren may have made some stupid mistakes, wasted years of his life, and lost a few thousand euros and dollars in funding in the process, he has decided to commit to finish this passion project that went on to become one of the featured films known as Saving Sally that changed the course of the Metro Manila Film Festival in 2016. Liongoren admitted that the learning curve didn’t stop when they finally finished the film, the business of marketing a movie turned out to be another thing. Liongoren has yet to find out if all the hard work was worth it, he can now buy a pair of slippers and eat more than twice a day from the film’s earnings, he said, but anyone who has seen the film would say it definitely is.

Having speakers like Feril, Rosanes, de Vera and Liongoren alongside the biggest names in global design makes Graphika feel like a community where you start small, you learn, and one day make your way to a place behind the podium, holding a clicker and discovering that that small monitor on the floor flashes the same thing that the audience could see on the big screen.

Internationally-acclaimed illustrator Stanley “Artgerm” Lau gamely shared tips on how artists should interact with fans online and how to build their fanbases

As Graphika Manila grows, the 20,000 of its delegates over the decade grow with it. As per Artgerm, letting your fans grow with you create a strong emotional attachment. With the delegates flashing their mobile screens–sharing their artworks, funny selfies, Instagram accounts, dog photos, love letters (Sagutin mo na ako pls), gaming preferences (TF2 > Overwatch) and even political stands (#MarcosNotAHero)–instead of voicing their impatience on social media while waiting for the conference, which was roughly 30 minutes delayed, to start clearly shows that Graphika has created a bond with the community so strong, even Mr. Bingo, this year’s grand finale, an illustrator and artist based in the UK, known for the thousands of offensive hate mails he has sent to strangers, couldn’t bring himself to send one to Graphika Manila.