CRAZY QUILT By TANYA T. LARA (The Philippine Star) Updated March 20, 2010 12:00 AM
Artist, book and graphic designer Robert Alejandro thinks one of the most overlooked and quotidian works of art is the bus ticket. He buys one for himself when he’s commuting, and sometimes he picks them up off the street.
So when you open his Moleskine sketchbook, which won first prize in National Book Store’s My Moleskine contest, you’d see blue, yellow, and green bus tickets pasted on the pages — stubs for long and short journeys plying routes north and south of Manila. If he didn’t say that he gathered wayward tickets as a hobby because he thinks it’s a dying graphic art, what with the use of electronic printouts these days, you’d conclude this guy must like riding on buses.
Travel is the theme of Robert’s My Moleskine entry, one of 30 notebooks submitted by a rich crop of creatives that range from architects to writers, interior designers and artists.
That was what NBS Book Express president Miguel Ramos liked about Robert’s notebook: the element of wanderlust in the pages. Miguel sat on the panel of judges along with NBS Foundation chairman and NBS general manager Trina Alindogan, fashion designer Rhett Eala, and Arnault Castel, GM of Working Unit, which distributes Moleskine in Asia.
“It was like going to different places with his notebook, and that’s what Moleskine is known for — it’s a diary, it’s about travel,” says Miguel. He adds that it was easy to shortlist the entries but when they got to the final five, the judges started arguing.
Robert’s pages are filled with drawings of people and lovers, portraits and places. At first he wanted to use only pencil as a medium, but then whenever the urge struck and he found himself holding a watercolor brush, a ballpen or a correction pen, he used it. For two months he carried his Moleskine (his first ever!) everywhere he went and drew just about everything.
National Book Store launched My Moleskine in September 2009 when the traveling My Moleskin exhibit of notebooks from all around Asia made pit stops at NBS branches in TriNoma, Glorietta, SM, Robinsons and Rockwell. Robert’s interest was piqued when he saw the notebooks encased in acrylic boxes with holes on the sides for your hands to turn the pages. Robert was struck by the creativity of the featured contemporary artists based in Asia and told himself he would buy a Moleskine (he had always wanted one but found it expensive at around P800) to join the contest.
Robert received P25,000 worth of NBS gift certificates and a trip to Shanghai to represent the Philippines in the My Moleskine exhibit.
The second prize went to Merlinda Little, whose small-sized notebook narrates of a woman finding out she was pregnant, and third prize went to Czarina Javier, who did colorful collages on the pages of her Moleskine.
A former reporter for The Probe Team, Robert got his own segment thanks to his viewers’ interest in what he was drawing. “In Probe, we would shoot and then I would ask the production team, ‘Tapos na ba ako? Sige, doon lang ako sa sulok,’ and I would start drawing until they started to shoot me drawing and viewers would say, ‘We want to see his drawings.’ I drew anything about the story and then it became a segment on the show called ‘The Drawing Reporter.’ It was really a great job. Whenever I needed a break they would whisk me off anywhere. I did this until the show reformatted and became Probe Profiles.”
He says that as far back as he can remember he was already drawing. “I would do it everywhere — our poor walls and furniture at home!”
Robert is the “ro” in Papemelroti, one of the first stationery and novelty shops to use recycled and handcrafted materials. No, the name Papemelroti is not Italian, he clarifies with a laugh. The store was actually named after the Alejandro children: Patsy, Peggy , Meldy, Robert and Tina. Family get-togethers when he was a kid became arts-and-crafts sessions with the children playing with clay and making products for the store. “My mom would pay me one centavo for every single thing that I did for the store. Sometimes I would earn 25 centavos.”
As a book designer, Robert has designed over a dozen books, three of which have won the National Book Award — Treasures of the National Museum, Field Guide to Whales and Dolphins in the Philippines, and Great Churches of the Philippines — and he is also a Catholic Mass Media Awardee.
As a graphic artist, he has designed posters, stamps, magazines, material for malls, institutions, and public spaces.
As a TV host, he did the program Art Is-kool for a year. Then he migrated to Canada and — ironically for such an adventurer — he came back home after five months. “I wasn’t happy there. I realized dito sa Pilipinas talaga ako masaya. I was watching the recent Winter Oympics on TV, which were held in Vancouver where I stayed, and I thought, ‘Should I have stayed there?’” He answers his own question with a hearty “no.”
As a traveler, he gathered in 2007 — and wrote a book about — a memory bank full of experiences when he backpacked for three months around Southeast Asia and parts of China.
“I stayed in backpackers’ places in 10 countries for three months,” says Robert. “You can do it on P50,000 including airfare. I thought it was the type of travel that Pinoys can do; tumigil ka munang mag Starbucks araw-araw and you can save to travel and see the world. Travel is education. It’s a really good thing to do. I went with two other people and it changed their lives. For one of my companions, it was either he would buy a computer or go on this trip. He chose the trip.”
As an artist, what he loves about Moleskine is the texture, the binding, the fact that the paper is acid-free, you can lay it flat to be scanned or photocopied, and the way the ink is absorbed into the paper (he collects fountain pens as well). “Even if you use a wet medium, di siya lumulusot and it doesn’t become ‘wavy.’ What I also like about it is that it’s so dignified. It doesn’t scream. It’s understated.”
For many years the Moleskine notebook was known as “the nameless black notebook,” and was used by Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway — imagine the drawings from the first two and the stories in the last that their notebooks held!
Soon, Robert’s Moleskine will be open to the public in an exhibit in Shanghai in October.
I wonder what they would make of the bus tickets.