You can find Anna’s work on instagram @annabondocartist and her website http://www.annabondocartist.com/
Anna Bondoc is a Los Angeles based artist, writer, and educator who was originally born in the Philippines, raised in Ohio, and now resides here in LA with her husband, her daughter, and their dog penny. In 2005, Anna started her business on the Bondoc designs, creating just very intricate layered paper cuts for fine art creations, stationery, and creating patterns. Her work has been featured in Apartment Therapy, Traditional Home, as well as Cloth Paper & Scissors, and in 2012 she created a how to book called Simply Paper Cutting. However, since then she has changed gears and she is now working with Pen and Ink, as well as with Alcohol Inks, and I’m curious to talk to her today to find out what else is on the horizon. Ever since I’ve known her she has been curious, been innovative, and always trying her hand at different things. So I’m really excited to welcome her to the podcast today and learn what else is on the horizon.
Katty: As long as I’ve known you, you have been dabbling in some sort of a creative endeavor, which is so interesting for me and looking in it’s always been so exciting to see all the various mediums that you’re touching. I’d love to tell our audience really talk about how you got your start and, you know, where you are today.
Anna: Sure. Well, I love that you use the word dabbling because it sort of characterizes how I approach creativity. And if you ask me how I got my start it, I often have no answer because I have never until recently, and I’m now 50, I hadn’t considered myself an artist in professional terms, until I don’t know the last five or so years. I know it sounds late but I think because I have always been motivated by almost being a beginner, and being a little bit out of my element and trying a new medium. It’s taken me a long time to realize that is my primary motivation and it is not a singular, you know, painting, drawing, graphic design. I’ve just followed my curiosity, to a large extent, and that’s led me to, every medium from Paper Cutting to Pen and Ink drawing to photography graphic design and it’s taken me a while to reconcile myself with that because dabbling is not something that I was brought up to do. I was brought up to focus and to choose and so I never really committed to one type of art or creativity, and that’s just the way I am, even though I have tried to commit to one thing or another.
So there’s been actually no particular start, but where I find myself now is an interesting time that you come to me because I finally had my first solo show of art, and had a business which didn’t do so well under my belt, but I feel like an artist and they have not gone back to teaching which is what I did in between doing creative projects.
But I had a bit of sort of fallow period at the start of January where I had this great show and everybody said to me, “oh you’re going to keep drawing, or your going to keep doing your paintings, you have momentum now you’ve had sales.” And to be honest, when I sat down with myself I just was not feeling it for those things anymore, and they felt like finite experiences as though I’d written a book and I wasn’t going to rewrite that book. So where you find me now is, after a period of frantic creative block, I finally have found some momentum in a project that combines my writing, drawing, and design skills, and it has no particular form, so I’m a little bit insecure about it. But it’s it’s one of those times where, you know, creative people tell you all the time. “I don’t know where this one came from, but it’s here and now I’m either going to work with it, or I’m not” and I decided that I want to work with this one. Even though I’m not exactly sure where it’s headed.
Katty: Okay. You letting the creative process guide you…
Anna: Yes, and you know, usually I don’t let that happen until I found a medium and sort of played with like “oh my Pen and Ink drawings, here I’m going to learn how to use this medium, and then I’m going to practice with it I’m going to study and I’m going to research.” This one is much more unruly than that, and it’s different for me, but I think, I think it’s my age where I just kind of say “you know what, creativity, isn’t like a horse that you harness.” I don’t want to romanticize it because I don’t necessarily believe in the muse or whatever, but I do think that there’s a reason that creative people talk about muses as being something outside of themselves that decides to visit. This one feels like a combination of a lot of things that I’m interested in, and it’s nudging me to put it all together.
Katty: Fabulous. Well, you mentioned something early on in the conversation about being a beginner, it kind of made me think of that beginner’s mindset, which is filled with curiosity. And, this sounds like that to me. You know, the curiosity of where it’s going to go and you’re just allowing that flow.
Anna: Allowing is a big thing for an artist, right, like for anybody. And I happen to also be a control freak. So it’s a…this particular one began with a sudden urge, and curiosity to investigate typography and fonts. It kind of appeared one day, to me, I felt like drawing but I didn’t feel like drawing the way I had done abstractly for many years actually in my that resulted in my last show that you saw. But this one I had the urge to make forms, but not people. I don’t like to necessarily render objects or trees or things like that. I’m sort of more of an abstract thinker, but I kind of resisted this because I thought, “Well, I’m not a typography designer. I don’t know why I want to do this it’s unclear, this is weird.” But sometimes it just keeps asserting itself and I think that the only issue I have with beginners energy, it is a wonderful playful, curiosity driven as you said energy. But the problem with people like me is that when you get to the point where it feels a little boring, or you can easily abandon projects. When it’s no longer that first blush, of ooh this is exciting, I don’t know how to do this, sometimes I’ve dropped projects that I should have probably just stuck through in some particular way like made it fresh or beginning or added something to it so I’m learning how to play with that.
Katty: Okay. Because I remember you saying that when you feel that you’re not learning or growing anymore you, maybe you just switch mediums. So how to — what I’m hearing is trying to figure out a way to harness that and see it through versus switching partially, right?
Anna: Yes. I think that what I’m doing right now and we’re talking about like two days. Of this realization is that the current project that I’m working on, let’s describe it as a combination of trying to use charts and graphs and visualizing the data of my life, and trying to apply almost mathematical chart making skills to things that are very esoteric and abstract and like midlife crisis oriented. So it’s very chaotic but I think that what I have decided to do with this project is to conceptualize it as a bunch of different tasks which include, drafting, writing, sketching, doing typography, maybe a little photography and so what I’ve structured is almost like I’m a person who went to Montessori and in Montessori, they say, rather than following first math then science, kids have a period in which they can choose okay I’m really drawn to this. Right now I’m feeling it, I’m really drawn to this task right now, and so what that allows me to do is from day to day instead of grinding it out and say, I’m going to finish the spread today or this sketch. I really look at it and I say okay where’s the energy good today? And maybe sometimes I literally only work on it for 20 minutes, and then I feel a little bit of stuckness or meh, it’s not happening, and then I can jump and look at some books that I’ve bought to help me, inspire me to design a certain way.
So that I feel that beginner energy from day to day, and I’m really following my pleasure and my joy and my playfulness rather than employing this part of me that’s more grim determination, which is sometimes necessary. You know, we have to use discipline at one time or another but I think for me, that’s a buzzkill. I’ve just considered myself one of those people like “well we have to get through the buzzkill part.” It’s kind of like, people who want to go exercise or do something that’s not natural to them, and if they don’t find a source of pleasure in it, you’re not going to continue with that habit. So I’m become a believer in listening to the voice inside that says, “This is what wants to happen this morning or this afternoon”, and I just chunk it out. I just chunk out my tasks rather than thinking about it as some long march to work.
Katty: Got it. Because I know you’ve spoken in the past about really cultivating that creative practice. How does this fit in with that? Is it just as cultivating the creative practice but in shorter bursts, or whenever it happens to strike?
Anna: That is a really good question, I think it’s the shorter bursts concept and being okay with it. I think that there are many books out there about creativity, or business or whatever and those are all incredibly helpful. But there comes a point at which you need to really personalize and tailor the information that you’re taking in about how to work, how to best be creative and, it’s very easy to slip into the mode, for me anyway of, “oh, look how so and so is doing it. Look how they got it done. Why am I not doing it that way?” And it’s easy to reframe short bursts which I have done as dilettantism, a jack of all trades, master of none, can’t finish a project, you know, undisciplined…and at a certain point, you just have to look at the nature of the work and say, “Is this work good? Is it worth continuing? Is the way I’m working in concert with the work as it wants to be made too?” Because not every project is the same either, like writing for me I have to say, does not come as naturally as drawing or sketching and it’s not as pleasurable.
Katty: You started out your path as a writer.
Anna: Yeah, that is true, I would say that my entry point to creativity, in terms of academic studies and my degree was an English major. I learned how to be creative through the written word, but in fact I think that this latest project that I’m working on started out as me wanting to tell some wisdom and stories and anecdotes from my life, but I became impatient with linear thinking and words require linear, you know, first the subject and the verb then the next thing and the descriptor. But what I started doing was, as I was journaling to try to write about these things, it’s just sort of naturally happened I’m like I’m just going to try to stretch what I mean. And let me see if I can create an image that conveys the same thing that I’m trying to say, in a way that pleases me is more naturally pleasing to me, which is to say graphically and drawn, and as we all know, that’s why road signs are not all written in paragraphs, the image is much more sort of holistically digested. So, what is pleasing to me now is, I’ll write almost a caption to the image and then the two are conjoined, and work in concert, almost like you know, the children’s book writer will do is, the image has its weigh, the writing has its weight, and they work to inform each other and that has been much more pleasurable to me to write than just straight paragraphs and essays.
Katty: Now, is the typography that you’re doing is this pen to paper? Is this digital was the medium that you’re using there?
Anna: I’m a strange person in that I can’t seem to make designs on the computer at all. I think that one of my goals in life had been in my 20s to be a graphic designer because it does merge word, and the written word and images. I love that interaction, but I could never make myself enjoy– It felt almost like I was wearing gloves or there was a glass wall between me and my art, and I really have been drawing all my fonts even if they are, you know, German Gothic black letter thick fonts I really enjoy the process of hand lettering with a pencil, for now. And the pencil keeps me really loose and less worried about outcome. I noticed that when I try to shift right now to pen, or do a finished drawing, it’s another buzzkill where it keeps me tight, so I have to work pretty hard to just retain that an original freshness to my to my ideas at this point.
Katty: I’d like to see it when you’re at that stage to show it.
Anna: I think more and more because of Instagram and because of social media, there is, a movement for artists to show their process. I love looking at people’s Instagram stories where you track backwards, where the iterative processes of creativity. I love that. I think people are really like using it, I think, artists, when I was in an artist mastermind group we talked about being able to convey the value of our art through price, you know so hard to price your art, but when people understand your story and then it’s not just this you know pricing by size and inches but they really see that you’ve made small sketches or you’ve done this or thrown this out. People, I think they will buy your story, ultimately.
Katty: Yeah, absolutely and it’s you know it’s an iterative process. If you know i don’t think art necessarily is easy to look at a piece of paper or a piece of art and say, “Oh, great.” But, you know, the months or the years that it may have taken to take into that place, and that’s just the value of thinking.
Anna: Well, yes and I was thinking the other day that the disadvantage that artists have, in some ways is that, I think your average person who doesn’t necessarily create a lot, they have this notion that the time it takes for them to consume the art is comparable to the amount of time that it took to produce that art. I watch people stand in front of paintings, and they breeze past and it kind of pains me, you know, not mine even other people’s. Like I was at LACMA just watching people breeze past, snap a photograph of themselves in front of a drawing. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but I read somewhere I wish I could remember where it was a challenge to stand in front of an artwork for, I don’t know 15 minutes, and that’s not very long but the, what you encounter, and what you’re forced to encounter in 15 minutes in front of one work of art, you realize how much you breeze past, and you don’t take it.
Katty: That happens for some of the artists that we work with on more commercial work, design work, where, you know, when a client is looking for an estimate,it’s really necessary to think about the hours to actually produce the work and forgetting about the hours that it’s going to take just to conceptualize it.
Anna: Yes, and also on, I mean because I do more fine art, I have done more fine art work. Recently, it is the — I mean it sounds so esoteric but it’s really the courage to kind of put your life story, your life values, something you have to say into that. That is, that’s just living. You can’t, you can’t put a quantity or, qualitative judgment on wisdom that one is gleaned about nature or about, aging, or parenting or whatever that’s the poetry and that’s what makes it hard to be an artist, because you shouldn’t expect that everybody would understand that, and yet if you’re trying to make a living doing it and applying your visual talents to a commercial realm, you kind of have to be understanding that people aren’t going to be interpreting your work the way that you what you brought to it emotionally.
Katty: Yeah, everybody looks at it through their own lens.
Anna: That’s right. You have to let it go. But the paycheck may not reflect what you put in.
Katty: It’s true. I knew in your previous work that I’m familiar with your patterns and your dots and you murmurations nature has been a huge source of inspiration for you. Where is the inspiration coming for the new work that you’re doing?
Anna: Oh, I’m going to laugh at myself now because I don’t even want to tell you, and I’ll tell you why because I am sort of — I’m outing myself now. I’m a secret hoarder of self-help books. And, and I’ll tell you, I’ll just out myself again like I have them, and they’re all facing the spines are all facing the other way underneath my desk, and I don’t know why I should be so embarrassed about this but they are so, I mean, some of them have changed my life, right?
Like some of the especially the Buddhist, the Buddhist so let’s not even call them self help books, but they’re very much about inquiry. Yeah, why are we here? What makes a meaningful life? And I have just made that shift in my life, in the last probably the last decade, especially. I have been trying to find a way to, I don’t know, express my interest in them and generate something from within me and then interpret that visually for a lot of years. Or not visually at first, but actually through written stuff and it all sounded so, overly earnest, almost cultish, very esoteric, and believe me like I read a lot of this stuff and I love it. But I’ve been trying to find a way to express it in a way that I feel has some levity and humor and beauty and anecdotal, maybe a little self-deprecation. I am just one of those people who is an over-thinker, I’m philosophical by nature, and I’ve been trying to find a way to bring it down to earth because I do have a very skeptical cynical side of me too. And so I think that I’m trying to make that kind of important meaningful wisdom, accessible in a visual form. That’s my current project.
Katty: It’s interesting you use the word wisdom because that’s the word that was playing around in my head, as you were talking. Whether it’s just coming to this, you know, time in your life. But that’s the word that’s coming to me.
Anna: Well, I appreciate that. And I and I will say too, I think some of that wisdom has been a hard one, because of my particular experience growing up as an artistically minded a philosophically minded creative person in a family of Asian immigrant parents. I’m not trying to stereotype but there is a particular expectation that you be pragmatic about your life and how you make money and what you study. My creativity was amusing to my parents, but it was not, it was not something that they were going to support as a way of living, and so I think, ironically, like, I think my commitment to this project this latest project and to finding wisdom is kind of asserting that you know artists and creative people have a particular path. And particular obstacles that they have to overcome and those coupled with that of immigrant parents who say to you, you know, just go, it’s not boring but like just go be a doctor, an engineer and then you can do the stuff on the side. This has been my way of saying, you know what, I’ve tried that way, it didn’t work, and now I really value, I value my creative talents, I value the way that I express them, and I do believe that there’s wisdom for me to share, not so much like, “Oh, I know better and I’m going to tell you how to do it”, but I find the most satisfying encounters with my artwork is when people say to me, “I so connect with you about this. I felt alone in this and now I don’t.” And I think that to me is why I’ve turned to the books why turned to certain artworks and I guess my hope has always been that I could provide a piece of art or writing that can make somebody else feel a sense of relief in that regard too.
Katty: What would you say to someone who is maybe in this searching mode, early in their career? If some of the books that maybe have really helped you and you mentioned there was a couple that really changed your life. Are there any recommendations that you could share with the audience?
Anna: Sure. Well, for me personally and this is a little esoteric but Pema Chodron, any of her books. The ones that I’m thinking right off the top is The Places That Scare You and When Things Fall Apart. It sounds very dire but it’s not. She just reset my thinking as many Buddhists will, that we spend so much time segregating what we perceive to be good and bad things that happened to us in life and the times to — we spent a lot of energy segregating. “I don’t want this, I want this. This will be good for my career, this is not. This is great art, this is crappy art that I’ve made or whatever.” And I think when you get to a certain level of maturity, you start to accept that it’s all mixed in, that it’s all a portal to wisdom in some way or another if you have the right frame of mind towards it and just certain patience and acceptance. And that doesn’t mean rolling over and play dead but it just means don’t spend your energy, pushing back, all the things that you think are going to be bad for you because some of the most frustrating things that have happened to me as an artist and creative person have led me to some real breakthroughs and that’s just the truth of it. And then there’s another book, which is radically different in tone, but kind of soothes the cynic and the hard ass in me, is Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art. And it is brief, and it’s cogent, and he basically in his own way says, “Stop whining don’t spend your energy on that all artists are going to encounter obstacles. Get up do the work.” And the way I interpreted his work because it’s a little bit harsh is if I had to summarize it for myself and how I metabolized his writing was, every piece of art that you do for me, every drawing is a study for the next drawing, everything. And so, yes there is a time at which you have to say, “Okay, I’m going to make this finished piece of art that I want to sell or that my client wants, or whatever.” But in order to relieve yourself of that stiffness and anxiety and putting too much weight on yourself or the project, you really have to face the truth that every piece you make is your education for the next attempt. It’s all an attempt, it’s all an experiment and stop thinking about it too hard and just make the thing, and be you know truthful about whether it’s worthy of presenting to the world and I would, I don’t know, in the last series I did my ink paintings, I would say, was the ratio of the ones I kept to not were one out of twelve. And that’s okay, you know like, you can whine about the other eleven, and berate yourself or you can be grateful that you have the time and energy and talent to try to make these twelve, and you got one out of them. Great. That’s kind of what I take from his book.
Katty: They’re building blocks. Right? Yeah, one foot in front of the other. Well thank you for sharing those and surely thank you for sharing your wisdom. I think that, especially for someone who’s starting out, and hasn’t necessarily come into their own as they’re listening to this podcast I think you’re sharing a lot of nuggets of what you’ve gone through and have come out on the other side and recognizing why you’re doing what you’re doing, as well, just accepting the process.
Anna: Well, I would say too, and this is just something I’ve been thinking about this week to add to what you’re summing up there is. It’s all for me about reframing, not as a Pollyanna way but reframing as a creative act in and of itself. So, use your creativity on yourself and that is an act in an of itself, is to reconsider how you work, the methodologies, try things that are new if they don’t work.I mean these are all similar to the actual creative acts themselves, but you can apply that same creativity to your own emotional states, your own psychological states. It’s all of a piece, nothing is separate. I mean I kind of think of it as like a creative ecosystem where it has to be healthy and sort of balanced for all the elements to work in a healthy way.
Katty: It’d be cause and effect in there so, absolutely.Because I know, you know, just in having known you over the years that innovating is very important to you and so it is just beautiful to see how all of that is coming together at this point.
Anna: Thank you, I appreciate that because it doesn’t always feel like there’s a through line. But I guess for creative people the through line is one’s actual self. You have to honor that.
Katty: Thank you for tuning into this episode of the Artisan podcast. This podcast is brought to you by Artisan Creative, a staffing a recruitment firm specializing in creative, marketing, and digital talents. You can find us online at artisancreative.com or via social channels @artisancreative We look forward to connecting.