An Interview with Kerby Rosanes

Philippines-based illustrator Kerby Rosanes works mainly with ordinary black fineliners to magically illustrate his “doodle” world. What was once a personal hobby eventually caught the eye of art blogs around the world and led this Philippines-based artist to worldwide acclaim. His work blends the cartoonish with realistic qualities, creating a style of contrasting elements that is all his own. To Kerby, there is no such thing as a “mistake” when it comes to doodling, but rather an opportunity for him to discover new places to take his spur of the moment doodles. This one-time marketing specialist is now pursuing his passion of doodling all over the world.

I spoke with Kerby about his doodle style, growing up in the Philippines and what’s next for the artist.

How did you first fall in love with art and specifically the doodle style you do?

I’m a traditional illustrator. I use pen and ink as my medium. My style has been about whimsical lines and little elements that kind of spontaneously combine to create one composition. Most of these drawings are in black in white. This is just the style I am mostly known for. These drawings are mostly inspired by everyday things—from everyday experiences to my quirky imagination.

When most people hear the word “doodle” they probably think of throwaway sketches in a school notebook. Your work is obviously very detailed and intricate. Why do you refer to your work as doodles? 

It’s just the term that most people refer to my work as being. I never had a term for my work before, but when I started hearing people say, “Oh, that one’s a cool doodle,” or, “I love your doodles,” I just thought, “OK, let’s just call them doodles.”

You’re known for your moleskin sketchbook you carry around. Are a lot of your designs thought out prior to drawing, or does it just come to you as the pen hits the paper?

Most of the time, I just go along with the pen and the paper. There are few moments that Though, I do have a separate notebook where I write down ideas and when I get home I put them in the moleskin. When I travel, I just jot down ideas or inspiration and at home I do it in the sketchbook.

You often say that taking your focus off of your drawing actually helps your doodles because every unfocused line or shape is a new opportunity for a new doodle character. Could you elaborate on this?

That’s right. Most people ask me if I do my drawings spontaneously and how I do these works that are very layered but still very spontaneous. I always say that the type of art I am doing—especially the doodle style—there is no such thing as a mistake. There are no mistakes at all. Every time I create a so-called ‘mistake,’ it always turns into another character or element that is very random. Most of these doodle artworks is out of pure curiosity and random stuff.

A lot of your focus is on hand drawing and ink doodles. You’ve mentioned the freedom of hand drawing and the spontaneity. With the introduction of more computer-based graphics and drawing techniques, do you think your specific style has helped you garner a wider audience because it isn’t seen as often?

The authenticity of hand drawing is very interesting. Digital art is great, but hand drawing—hand doodling—is something that only a few people know how to do. The traditional way of drawing just feels more energetic and authentic than doing it on the computer. I guess that specific reason kind of draws more of an audience to this specific style, since most art that’s available on social media is digital stuff.

Speaking of social media, you’re very active on Instagram. What role do you think social media has played on your artwork gaining a fan base over the last couple of years?

It really helped a lot making this career possible. I was working as a marketing specialist before, so I was exposed to how social media works and I used that with my artwork. The amount of followers I have on Instagram or Facebook has really helped me in making a career in art possible. Without this stuff, I wouldn’t have been able to work with the clients that I have or do the projects I’ve been doing lately. It wouldn’t have even been possible to quit my day job without the Instagram drawings.

When did you realize that working full time as an artist was a plausible career choice for you?

I’ve been dreaming about being an artist since I was a kid. I have always been in love with art. My family has always been interested in art. But in the Philippines—specifically here in Manila—it’s quite hard to pursue an artistic career. The amount of pressure of employment here is not really good in for the creative industry. So, during the time I was in college, I majored in Information Technology. I wanted to study fine arts, but the university I went to did not offer it. During my training for my marketing job, I was asked to create a Tumblr blog about the thing I was most passionate about, so I picked art. So, I started sharing my drawings in sketchbooks. A year into that marketing job, a lot of people were drawn into my blog and started to even commission me for freelance work. So, during that time I was doing my day job and at night I would be doing illustrations for various people. Clients kept coming and opportunities kept coming, so one day I just decided to quit my marketing job and pursue art full time.

A lot of kids’ first foray into drawing comes from the cartoons they watch as kids. You’ve talked about how your love of childhood cartoons inspired your early art work. In what ways did these shows inspire you to start drawing?

I grew up in the ‘90s, and during the afternoon there was this TV station that would show all these cartoons. Every day after school, I would head back home and watch cartoons the rest of the night. It kind of helped me in a sense that drawing these characters that I loved from these shows—like “Dragon Ball Z” and other anime—really helped me practice my craft. At school, if you could draw Saiyan Goku, you were the coolest kid in school. So, I started practicing my style by drawing these characters I loved as a child.

This really comes through in your art, since you blend a lot of cartoon-like elements with more realistic qualities in your drawings. What draws you to these contrasting elements in your drawings?

The type of art I was doing was more realistic-based work. I would do a lot of portrait sketching. I would also do a lot of fantasy designs, but I never really showed those off. Those were mostly things I would draw in college. And then I transitioned into creating more cartoony stuff—this doodle style. When I first started doing the doodles, it made me more known for this specific style. In the Philippines, we have a huge group called the “Doodle Art Enthusiasts” and it took me quite a few years into discovering that group that I discovered there were a lot of other people doodling this cartoonish style. To be able to break into the creative industry, I have to be doing something unique that nobody else is doing. Everyone here in the Philippines—even other parts of Asia—is doing this cartoonish style of drawing. So, I thought that combining my previous style of drawing—the realistic kind of drawing—and my doodling style would show some contrast, making one complete artwork kind of unique. When I started doing that, different art blogs and websites started sharing my work and it kind of went viral.

You’ve mentioned growing up in the Philippines and the role that plays in your work. In the past, you talk about living in Manila and how it’s often filled with sadness, which is why you try to keep your artwork positive and happy. How has growing up there specifically impacted the work you do?

It’s kind of different living in a huge city, than the province where I went to school. In my hometown, I was really close to nature, which really influenced a lot of my work. You can see that I’m more interested in drawing animals and nature. But, in Manila, it’s completely different. When I moved here three–four years ago, it was completely different. I was shocked by how sad this place is. You see a lot of people in the streets who don’t have a decent home. I try to keep a positive outlook in my work. I don’t want to reflect that in my work. I’ve always wanted people to see that there is happiness in every moment of their life. So, every time I do doodle stuff, it reminds me of how crowded and busy and adventurous it is to be living in this city. I would rather show this in a more positive artwork.

A lot of artists have a specific message they try to communicate through their work. Would you say this positive outlook on life is what you want your fans to take away from your work?

In previous works, that has definitely been one of my goals. I have done stuff in my older work around messages like “Never Quit Drawing” and “Be Awesome Today.” I also do try to do work about more environmentally focused issues. I try to convey messages about climate change and smoking. I would not want to comment on religion or political stuff, but more environmental issues. But, a lot of my stuff conveys no message at all and is completely random. What fascinates me is when I do something totally random, post it online and people start messaging me and emailing me about how they interpret that artwork and relate it to their own lives. It’s cool for me to be in this industry. Out of this really random artwork, you can really impact somebody’s life.

Speaking of these pieces having their own sort of life online, Animorphia—your adult coloring book—really blew up in the last year, getting featured on tons of different sites and now being featured in over 25 languages. What has that done for your career over the last year?

The adult coloring phenomenon kind of changed the trajectory of what I wanted to achieve in my career. I always wanted to be a fine artist. The fact that I draw in black and white, that was definitely an advantage that the publishers are more attracted to the stuff that I do. Most people ask me why I draw in black and white, and I say, “I’m not really good at coloring and I find it to be really stressful.” So, the adult coloring book was really perfect for me. It really has changed my career, too. I’ve been traveling a lot and doing this promotional tour—doing books signings in the U.S. and the Middle East—and this European tour this October. It really has changed my life. One of the things I always wanted to do was travel the world, and this project has fulfilled that dream for me.

You’ve already done so much in your career with the doodles and the coloring book. Is there any specific project like a mural that you have a dream to work on?

You just mentioned it—I want to do a huge mural somewhere. I love to do large-scale drawings, but it’s quite hard here in Manila because street art is not really as cool as what it is in other countries. But, I would love to do a large-scale mural drawing.

Is there a street art community in Manila at all?

There are definitely communities as street art, but it’s not as huge as what I’ve encountered and experienced in other countries where they have festivals and tourism spots specifically for street art. Here in Manila, it’s not really as visible. Of course, we have some murals in some corners, but it’s definitely not as appreciated as street art in other countries. But, it has been growing. We recently had this mural celebration, where they invited some international graffiti artists. So, it’s growing in a way, but it’s not as big as it is in other parts of the world.

With your popularity as an artist really growing over the past couple of years, what are your hopes for the future of your artistic career?

The thing that I have always wanted to be is a fine artist, so I would love to do that. I haven’t really been able to do exhibitions yet because of a lot of the work I’ve been doing, but I would love to transition into the fine art world and be in that specific field of the creative industry where you get to do exhibits and art auctions.


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