The creative core of our work here at Antagonist — making sure we’re publishing highest quality content with a conscience — has a particular upside to it: Getting in touch, getting to work with and, best case, befriending some of the most interesting creatives out there. What can feel like a real crew of misfits, seems to become this breathing, living thing more and more, and it’s attracting just the right people.
One of those intriguing creatives is Berlin-based illustrator Ari Liloan. The 24-year-old identifies as “Filipino-Italian” and grew up in Zamboanga, “the southern and penis-shaped island of the Philippines.” With the answers for this articles, Ari sent a screenshot of the island and well, what can we say…
When it comes to the Italian roots, so far, Ari has had — “blood aside”— little contact points, but plans “to move to that boot-shaped country to master Italian carbs and conjugation” after the pandemic.
Getting Started as an Illustrator
We ask how things have been going. “Recently, I started illustrating for apps such as Instagram, Facebook or Audible and I can’t wait to share those projects,” Ari tells us. “But my true love is still editorial.” It shows, as the list of clients in that field is impressive: Time, New York Magazine, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, NBC, Vice — and Antagonist, of course.
“As Sharon Olds said: Anyone who blooms at all is really, really lucky.”
That kind of growth and reach is actually mind-boggling once you understand that the 24-year-old went solo as an illustrator just a couple months ago, right when the pandemic started — talk about timing. But luckily, Ari was prepared.
The decision for a career as a freelance illustrator came about after dabbling in a lot of creative fields: Web development (“a lot of pitches and php and very little sleep”), with web design, type design and illustration “on the side to keep myself entertained” where part of the daily routine for years.
“Drawing”, today’s main gig, “was already part of my job when sketching storyboards for ads or wireframes for websites and I wanted to explore more of that. I was never a drawer as a child, so in that regard I was quite a late bloomer, but as Sharon Olds said: Anyone who blooms at all is really, really lucky.”
Solo Creative meets Pandemic Market
The decision to go solo as an illustrator came by looking at the data. “While doing my taxes, I noticed I actually made more money working on illustration commissions than my day job,” Ari remembers. “At first, I thought about trying to make both work as I liked being a designer, but I also really missed sleeping. So, I prepared to go full time freelance by saving up and reading every book and blog I could find about the business side of freelancing, from contracts to license fees.”
“I prepared for going solo like Victorians built bridges.”
Being what Ari calls “over-prepared”, helped in “not freaking out when Covid hit” — Ari had quit a steady, secure agency job just two weeks prior. “I was so careful about it, as I had seen too many friends fall on their faces after going freelance. I basically approached going solo like Victorians build bridges. They didn’t have the proper math figured out yet, so they used way too much steel and stone, which makes for unnecessarily safe bridges.”
For Ari it was about marrying “rough storyboard sketches with my meticulous vector skills from type design” and once a portfolio website had been set up, “a few blogs and magazines started sharing my work and everything started snowballing from there.”
Asked for advice for other creatives who want to do the same, Ari says this: “I think I can’t really say anything that hasn’t been said already. Create good work, share it strategically, be persistent, take care of the business aspects, stalk Yuko Shimizu for some words of wisdom and don’t be an asshole are the universal key ingredients.”
For the Love of Procrastination
Abraham Lincoln said “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” – and that exact quote is what Ari’s answers when we address the love for procrastination that shined through in our research for this piece. But “sharpening the axe in my case truly looks like watching Netflix or looking out of the window, drooling.”
Not really, though. It’s all part of the process.
“I just do something mindless while things rattle in my head.”
“I do extensive research beforehand and read the brief carefully, but after that, I just let things rattle in my head while doing something mindless”, Ari explains. “Sooner or later, something pops up. In my case, it’s really a mixture of mulishly laboring away for some time and then letting all that work sit for a while until it’s ready to be manifested.”
Transcendence over Narcissism
“As an illustrator I see myself as someone who provides a service first and being an artist second,” Ari shares. “The word ‘artist’ still makes me cringe and feel like a pretentious doodler. But maybe that’s a Berlin thing.”
Maybe the reason for the hesitation lies within the understanding of what art means and should do and how differently we approach it at this point in time. Ari: “A lot of today’s artwork seems to be made ‘as human as possible,’ but “something that nobody talks about in art, is that originally, art was meant to create something transcending, almost inhuman.”
“I’m missing the kind of art we can look up to and admire because it’s unlike oneself.”
The question that seemingly keeps Ari occupied is if this more human-centered art is “just narcissism rebranded as vulnerability.” Are all we’re looking for “the usual ‘I needed to hear that’ or ‘I felt that’ comments, with a pret-a-porter-message to be used as a memorized phrase to appear deep and profound and inspirational?”
“I enjoy work that centers on being relatable and human,” Ari sums up the dilemma, but there’s also a certain feeling of “missing the kind of art that is meant to be something to look up to and admire, exactly because it is unlike oneself.”
What a Swan Tastes Like
We started working with Ari for the amazing work of course but got in touch for a shared vision we here at Antagonist like to call “radical kindness”.
It seems like every vegan has their own story of a very personal decisive moment, but here’s a version you likely haven’t heard before:
“The queen of England started my vegan journey,” Ari recalls. “I had to give a report on the British monarchy in high school and stumbled over the fact that only the royal family is allowed to eat swans, as all swans in the UK belong to the queen. I dived into a rabbit hole of what swans actually tasted like — according to my research, they taste very muddy, basically the carps of poultry. That kick-started my research into why we eat certain animals while we keep some as pets and I noticed how extremely arbitrary it was.”
“I want to make veganism look as amazing as it actually is.”
Sounds like a book you’ve read? Same goes for Ari: “Why We Love Dogs Eat Pigs and Wear Cows by Dr. Melanie Joy was the key literature for me to go fully vegan. By now I’m a Dr. Joy completist and read all of her books. The covers are bland though, so in case she reads this: If you ever feel like redesigning the covers, I want to make your work look as amazing as it actually is!” (And there’s a certain mission-aligned agency here in Berlin that would second that.)
It’s at this junction where Ari’s professional and personal lives meet.
“I watched so many talks and attended so many events and I’m always baffled by how bad some key figures in the movement are in relaying their amazing expertise in a visually pleasing way. Maybe they think design is just about mundane decoration or they are too serious, too intellectual and too academic to care about aesthetics. They probably don’t think about it at all, as design is ‘just the surface’.”
“The vegan movement lacks a sense of aesthetics,” Ari tells us and sadly, we have to agree. “But beauty does play a key role in effective communication and isn’t that what our outreach should aim for? I can only say it again: I want to make veganism look as amazing as it actually is.”
Erratic Tendencies and Curtains on Fire
As serious as this aspiration is, this illustrator enjoys playing with irritating motives. While some of the works showcased on Ari’s website gives away the closeness to ideas like veganism and queer rights, it also says it centers on “timeless topics like fried chicken”.
“If you fail at being erotic settle for erratic. I don’t know who said that, probably Mother Teresa, like all good quotes. I wouldn’t say that I enjoy irritation, but I was raised to be prim and proper, and I rebel against that by talking in a way that would give my grandparents an aneurysm. It’s like jazz. Throw a few mismatched things in there just to make it more interesting.”
“It’s like jazz: Throw a few mismatched things in there just to make it more interesting.”
“I enjoy making things more interesting, let’s say it like that. Whether it is creating new expressions or setting the curtains on fire, I’ll rise up to the occasion.“
Wrapping up, and while we’re kind of close to the topic, we finally dare to ask about Ari’s famous vegan fried chicken recipe we’ve heard so much about, but, as to be expected, are shot down immediately: “It was a labor of love developing that, so I’ll share it only over my cold, dead body. But I’ll make some vegan fried chicken for the Antagonist team sometime.”
We decide to file this as a win.
Ari, so happy to have you.