Arlene Sy
Art + Illustration


My journey as an artist chronicled in life events, thoughts, and musings.

Here comes the sun

Earlier this month, I took a quick break from work and got my first taste of summer for the year. Yay! I tagged along with Birdie and his Curiosity partners Pam and Diego, who scheduled the trip to do some planning of their own.

It was a relief to leave behind a host of work-related worries. Honestly, I couldn't be happier and more thankful for the projects that came in during the first few weeks of the year. Still, by the end of January, I was already feeling a little bummed out, and again, I found myself asking why I was doing the things I did. I had backlog, but I knew I needed a breather if I wanted to continue making work that people would be happy about.

There's nothing like working on a project in an inspired (and non-stressed, non-distracted) state of mind. When I'm exhausted or unmotivated, it just shows in my work, and I end up frustrated and disappointed in myself. A vicious cycle.

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I was feeling under the weather that morning, but taking the drive up north to Zambales was worth it. It was nothing fancy, but every bit the much-needed short retreat.

Getting to Zambales from Manila takes about four hours by car, but it took us nearly seven hours, because of the stopovers for food, careful driving, and asking for directions (it helped though that the SCTEX was so smooth and well-maintained). Even so, the long drive rewarded us with beautiful, sunny weather and gorgeous views. There were many moments when fields of emerald green left me simply awestruck. It helped keep my spirit high despite the lack of sleep and oncoming cold.

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We stayed at The Circle Hostel in Liw-Liwa. Birdie and I first learned about the place via Offbeat Pursuits, but it also came highly recommended by some of our beach-loving surfer friends (Pam included, who'd brought along her skimboard). Granted, the waves weren't ideal (they were supposedly at their peak along the Philippines' east coast at the time, from what I gathered), and I was the last person in the group likely to surf (hahaha), but I was still excited to tag along and rid myself of the city for a while.

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You can definitely feel the hippie surfer vibe! It was as simple and stripped-down as it could get (communal quarters, bunk beds), but as the place slowly grew on me, I started loving the sand in my toes and breathing in generous doses of seaside wind.

For this trip, I brought my Moleskine watercolor notebook and Sakura Koi field sketch set (the latter was a gift from my sister-in-law last year). I promised myself to start painting en plein air. I wanted to make a commitment to draw and paint more while traveling, instead of just snapping away with the camera at every chance.

The hostel had a communal area for resting, hanging out, and getting to know other travelers at the inn. On the second day, I found a comfortable spot on the floor and decided to paint the morning and afternoon away, before heading beachside. I could feel my cold/cough progressing at this point, so I wasn't feeling particularly friendly or social. I really appreciated the time alone.

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I was really happy with the Koi watercolor set! The colors mixed so well, came out beautifully on paper, and held their own even after many layers had been applied. I'm definitely bringing this with me on every trip!

The weather was absolutely calm and cool the whole three days. The inn and the beachfront weren't packed due to the off-season, and we even had the whole place to ourselves by the second night. Everyone got to take a dip, but I was happy just being able to take a stroll and get my feet wet. During both nights, the four of us would take out a laptop and watch a movie, swap stories over drinks, and listen to a song Diego had composed on his ukelele.

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I learned that prior to the Mt. Pinatubo eruption of 1991, a lot of beaches in the area didn't exist. I was amazed by how much "sand" the volcanic ash actually produced. Interesting, too, that there weren't a lot of coconut trees in the area, and in their place were pine-looking ones (conifers?). Amazing how natural disasters reshape landscapes just like that.

I came back from Zambales feeling refreshed for work. I love getting away on small trips. I think, ever since I started working, it became my nature to keep moving about, never settling in just one place. A change of scenery is something I've learned to crave every now and then.