Isa Pilapil

‘The Transformative Power of Art’ by Van James

I’ve recently had the privilege to participate in an exceptional 2 part workshop of artist, book author, and Waldorf teacher, Van James held in Prado Farms, an appropriately transformative venue in Lubao, Pampanga. It was a remarkable combination of content and context.

Prado Farms is a Biodynamic and organic farm; An Eco-resort with its own forest, lush gardens, a bed + breakfast hotel, a functional workshop venue, a chapel, a theater, a restaurant and a cafe, and a salt water infinity pool. With fresh produce straight from the farm to your table, and its own collection of art, curio, and historical artifacts, it is basically anything you would want or need it to be. Staying in such an environment whilst orienting all one’s energy towards learning truly invigorates the ‘human condition’.

The lectures were vast in scope –from art’s origins to its role in present day. They were conducted in the conference rooms while the applied portions were held in the chapel. There were corresponding drawing exercises for most of the art movements so that the participants could experience the tenets of a historical period through practical application.  Once can say that working in the chapel was also an empirical take on ‘higher learning’.

* * * * * * * * * *

We all have skills and ideas that are put on hold, or filed for future use because they are not needed on a daily basis. This workshop granted more room for these non-urgent ‘matters’ to thrive.

One of these ideas is my ‘misnomerous’, ‘Cone Theory’ — A visual formula for depicting light on a surface. Perhaps this is just reinventing the wheel, but light creates very distinct patterns when breaking up on surfaces. Does this mean that once people start noticing these patterns, drawing light realistically can be as simple as connecting dots?

Sometimes I wonder if only I can see these shapes that look like overlapping wifi icons or 2d ice cream cones (hence the name).

Interestingly, old paintings such as Rembrandt’s and Vermeer’s portray these illumination patterns quite accurately with pigment. Hence, I would tend to believe that other people can see them too. Then again, what if my perception of painters painting cones is tainted by how my brain puts the cone-pattern on top of everything in the first place?* What if other people see hearts?  Stars?  Doom! Doom! Doom!

I made this art theory multiplication table to illustrate the 16 kinds of cones I see:

Seeing 16 types of overlapping wifi symbols in various orientations can make something as simple as a plain white wall overwhelming.  Therefore, learning how to turn the patterns off was just as important.

Veering back towards the main subject, let’s just say the cone seeing ability went slightly out of hand during the workshop. Making a replica of someone else’s work in 1-2 hours, in unfamiliar colors, strokes, and media –all while seeing this pattern of light, dark, warm, cool cones on top of everything really forced me to prioritize what needed to be seen. Imagine seeing the pattern on the piece of paper, whilst image itself had its own distinct pattern too.

Completing ‘quick’ artworks was a skill that improved as the workshop progressed. Though I don’t deny working over-time late into the night, nothing is more satisfying than the pursuit of one’s own standards. Taming the beast of cone theory gave this workshop another layer of cerebral depth and in my case, growth.

Now for some examples, please click to enlarge.


Part I – The Origins of Art: Drawing from prehistory and Ancient Artistic Traditions

Paleolithic Art:

chalk pastel on crumpled paper



Egyptian Art: I found my version of  lacking, so I took liberties in drawing the cones in. The original background is a blank beige wall.

Some kind of waxy pencil I’ve never seen before + chalk pastel, on paper



There were also some  personalized and identity based exercises such as this freehand Mandala:

I’ve always been more of  a ‘bang your head against a rock until you get it’ type of person. Words like ‘meditation’, ‘mantra’ ‘psyche’, ‘spiritual’, ‘aura’, ‘mandala’ and the likes make my stomach turn.  This is why I’m going to shamelessly quote the internet to avoid having to fully describe the mandala experience in my own words.

“Mandalas are sacred pieces of artwork which are used to evoke healing, spiritual development and meditation. The word Mandala means ‘sacred circle’ and is derived from the word ‘mandra’ which means ‘container of essence” –

Though I don’t disagree, mandalas are just not my poison. Ironically, I did experience something odd while drawing one – a mysterious red rash developed in the middle of my chest. It didn’t hurt, it wasn’t itchy, and it went away on its own the next morning. I’m still wondering if making my mandala exorcised something to this day. Perhaps.

Mystery waxy pencil on paper




Medieval Art: Drawing of a stained glass window

Chalk pastel on paper




Part II – Spirit & Art: From the Renaissance to Today

Baroque / Dutch Golden Age: Rembrandt Drawing

Chalk pastel on Paper





Abstract Expressionism: Not my favorite. I had to devise a way to enjoy making something I didn’t want to make. ‘Find a way to remove the factors that are keeping you from your goal’, is what a good and respected friend once said. This was a chance to put it ot the test.

One a side note, I made that squiggly white line with an eraser in one grand stroke, and inadvertently wrote ‘mania’.

Chalk pastel on paper




Our final exercise was another self portrait. The art movement was free choice.

It another opportunity to depict Cone Theory in its hue aspect.

Chalk Pastel on paper 



Last but not least, here is a series of works called ‘Not Enough Time’.


Renaissance: Barely after Leonardo da Vinci

6B pencil on paper



Hellenistic: Centaur and Lapith (from the Parthenon) with messed up abs

Mysterious waxy pencil on paper


Romanticism: J.M.W. Turner lacking shadows.

Chalk pastel on paper


* If you happen to be interested in a more in-depth discussion of Cone Theory, please don’t hesitate to contact me.




Violence and the Macabre

Violence and the Macabre - Plate 1: 'Rendition'

How Did the Head Fit in the Jar?
Oil on canvas
36 x 76 cm

In order to use limbs as painting implements and turn blood into a feasible pigment, an anti-coagulant is essential in a post-mortem scenario. Even after a few days, untreated blood will mix with the other fluids of decomposition and may ooze or seep, but not flow like paint.

Without a heartbeat, blood, like water will seek the lowest level. Therefore, bodies must be hung upright so that bodily liquids will accumulate at the limbs.


Violence and the Macabre - Plate 2: 'Editions'


The basis of Dr. Hermann Rorschach’s inkblots remains vague. The designs do not appear  to follow a particular system or order, and one is inclined to believe that they were composed arbitrarily. Perhaps the only true patterns involved are in the interpretations of the test subjects’.

Klecksography is the making of fanciful pictures by dropping wet ink on paper. The paper is then folded in half to capture a mirror image of the ink on the blank side. It was a popular pastime in Europe during the turn of the 20th century, especially amongst children.  Its inventor, Justinius Kerner, came upon this method accidentally, and used it to illustrate a book of poems, Klecksographien – a probable reference of Dr. Rorschach.


Violence and the Macabre - Plate 3: "Re-creation"



Symmetry is the most distinct feature of all Rorschach’s designs. However, closer investigation shows that the reflecting halves of each design aren’t truly identical –Just like the brain.  Symmetry automatically creates a clear central axis, with a left, and a right hemisphere — an instant sense of balance and order.

Going through extra effort to paint symmetry despite the availability of methods as convenient as folding a piece of paper in half emphasizes how everything is oriented towards the fulfillment of these two ideas — or even just a semblance of them. In this light, endeavors that seem random or cruel have the same basis as breathing, or eliminating waste.


Not So Random Details

This series of artworks will appear in the upcoming full length album of Down From The Wound 
Commissioned by Comatose Music

Mortality Weakness

2013 hasn’t been disappointing in terms of exciting projects that redefine the word ‘job’. This one in particular falls under the ‘surreal’ category in terms of parameters and workflow.

In Dark Purity is perhaps the most respected, and tastefully infamous ‘zine in this side of the world. After making the IDP cover 9 years ago, the opportunity to work with its creator Alex once more was a grand occasion –especially when I saw the words ‘full color’, ‘special edition’, ‘professionally printed’, and ‘Malignancy’.

Even with severe religious reservations, I don’t go out of my way  proclaiming my ideology unless solicited –especially if it’s merely to offend people. I really have better things to do. Religion’s intention is inherently good, and the greater problem lies in people’s often ridiculous interpretation of it.

Through the years, I’ve sadly developed a strong aversion towards the word ‘art’. However, if there is one good thing I can point out about religion, it is the historical contribution to Fine Art.  Even if those paintings, structures, and sculptures served another purpose, it’s nice to look back at a time where one could say art was actually ‘good’.

Because of my preoccupation with continuity, I suggested that the new cover should be reminiscent of  the 2004 one. In ‘Implanting the Mythos’ I turned one of the Philippines’ most “popular” Virgin Mary statues  (it used to look like a rusty tin can, and they’ve recently added gold glitter) into one of its most notorious mythological creatures, the ‘manananggal’. This time however, Alex chose the religious icon to manipulate.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Unlike the abominable Lady of EDSA, whose only value would exist were it set on fire and dropped on the senate, Our Lady of Perpetual Help is actually a fine example of  the evolution of materials and techniques in painting– mainly, the utilization of metallic surfaces to imply ‘divinity’.

This brings up my earlier point that the problem isn’t religion per se, but rather what people do with it. Again, purpose aside, the metallic painting surface was a brilliant technical innovation –or should I say deviation? This method was actually proliferated by the church in the Dark Ages to delude the masses into thinking that those mysterious glints and rays of light coming off the painting’s surface were actual miracles. Of course, life was a lot simpler back then, and once the word got out, the technique was perpetuated for its aesthetic appeal.

*          *          *

One minor concern was the depiction of Progeria. It is a debilitating and crippling disease whose victims are the last people I would want to offend. I wanted to portray them without prejudice or bias, just as matter-of-factly as the way they play the hand they are dealt.

The initial goal was to create the most realistic version of Malignancy’s promo dude ever conceived. However, I soon realized that a compromise had to be made because of how the original OLPH’s clothes were flatly and geometrically rendered, like a print. The end result is a more graphic drawing style so that the subjects would not look so disparate from their clothing. In the same vein, I altered the garments on the original painting to create a better illusion of depth.

My solution for presenting anything potentially controversial is always to (hopefully) use the quality of my work to make the viewer consider the idea being presented. Besides, just like the rest of us, they probably just don’t want to be reminded that all life is preparation for death.

Here is the artwork in an earlier state. Please click to enlarge.


Here are versions of the artwork with the title + Malignancy and In Dark Purity logos respectively. Please click to enlarge.

In Dark Purity - Malignancy Edition Cover   Mortality Weakness


There were understandable, unforeseen delays to this project that pushed its release date back. I took the opportunity to improve the design and original drawing. Here’s another possible version with the logo from none other than Danny Nelson himself.

Tales of Revilement Part 2: Nidhogg

Right before 2012 ended, I was contacted by Revilement  for another commission –a t-shirt design for their Finland tour.

The band’s specifics included a creature in a frozen wasteland. Obsessed with coherence, everything had to fall under order and relevance, so impetus compelled me to expand on the Jormungandr concept. Besides, ‘Revilement’ has always sounded like a venomous beast.

(The term wasteland becomes metaphysical at this point, though I’ve always perceived hell to be a cold, dark, horrific place. )

Excavating lore once more, I chose Níðhöggr/Nidhogg, the wyrm. IT is controlled by Hel, one of Loki’s three children and Goddess of the Underworld (So now we know where the saying ‘go to hell’ comes from). It resides with her in one of the nine levels of Niflheim/Helheim or Kingdom of the Dead, as it constantly gnaws on the roots of the world tree Yggdrasill.

As Jormungandr letting go of his tail began the end of the corporeal world, Nidhogg’s severing the roots of Yggdrasill from his subterranean realm represented the end of the universe. Things just couldn’t get any better.

Deep within the earth, in the misty nætherworld of Nifelheim, lies the great dragon Nidhogg. It lies, coiled around the well of Hvergelmir, from which all the waters in the world flow, and chews on the roots of the World Tree, so that it constantly dies and is reborn. The dragons attention wavers only when it stops to gorge itself upon the corporeal remains of the dead (for its name means corpse swallower, or the lower one), and to hear the pronouncements of Wyrd when the volva speaks.

Nidhogg is the chthonic counterpart of the aquatic serpent Iormungand, but unlike her * , and all preceding Rökkr beings, the origins of Nidhogg are totally obscure. The dragon, like the World Tree on which it chews, appears to have arisen out of Wyrd itself, having no creation, no creator. Suggesting at least that they both began their existence so remotely in the subconscious that they have gone beyond the need for any explanation. Certainly, Nidhogg has gone beyond the need for definition. It is beyond gender, it is neither feminine, nor masculine, but not like the undivided lunar nature of Hela, or the androgynous solar nature of Loki. Instead, its nature is so incomprehensible, so chaotic, that it is simply beyond any such definition.”


*Holy shit! Jormungandr is a she?!?!


APPROVED SKETCHES – please click to enlarge


Proposal for Front Pencil on paper, digitally manipulated

Proposal for Front – Pencil on paper, digitally manipulated

Proposal for Front, Detail Pencil + Acrylic on Paper

Proposal for Front, Detail – Pencil + Acrylic on Paper

Proposal for BackPencil on Paper, digitally Manipulated

Proposal for Back – Pencil on Paper, digitally Manipulated


*         *         *



“Talent and all that for the most part is nothing but hogwash. Any schoolboy with a little aptitude might very well draw better than I perhaps; but what he most often lacks is the tough yearning for realization, the teeth-grinding obstinacy and saying: even though I know I’m not capable of it, I’m still going to do it.”

–M.C. Escher

Above is one memorable quotation that has stuck with me throughout my painting career. If I had to deem one thing as ‘divine’ it would be Escher’s body of work because it is none of this emotional diarrhea people boorishly deem as art. Escher embodies my definition of order and relevance. Though I don’t emulate his style, the process of having a grand, master plan before beginning anything is one I apply for everything that goes on paper, canvas, or pixel.

So as with my S.O.P., I began with this ‘grand, master plan’ assuming that  once the momentum got started, the work would finish itself – which is usually the case.

Everything was digitally ‘painted’ on Sketchbook Pro, a program I had never used before. In this first ‘grand’ idea, I didn’t realize that the computer actually gave one too much freedom in that everything could be scaled, rotated and manipulated. Being able to zoom in and out made me nitpick on the minutest details, only to realize later that they wouldn’t even be visible when printed on a t-shirt. From something that was around A4, the artwork blew up to the size of a poster because it kept on growing to accommodate all the changes along the way.

The greatest challenge was to differentiate the foreground, mid-ground and background given certain considerations e.g.  implying  a sense of depth within a ‘finite border’ (no part of the subject gets cropped off), or that a snake’s body gradually tapers towards the end.

Making such ‘tapering’ believable while Nidhogg coils sporadically from background to foreground was rather prickly. I still want to kick myself in the butt for not having the foresight of making a top view schematic before beginning the work. Nevertheless,  addressing issues became instinctive – an approach that I generally avoid. The harder I clung on to this ‘grand master plan’, the more it defied.

Meanwhile, precise foreshortening would have made the tail area of the snake too large – de-emphasizing the main content. So many of these creative decisions were spontaneously erupting, contradicting all that initial planning.

All these issues were addressed with great care and tact, to the best of my ability as they painfully unraveled along the way. All that initial structure I thought I had, had ‘gone feral’. At least one thing had remained consistent –it was that ‘cold, dark, uncomfortable place’, except I wasn’t supposed to be the one in it. The procedure in itself had turned into a venomous beast.


This artwork is saved in 41 different states – please click to enlarge.

Nidhogg - Funny Stages

Here’s one more….

Plane Roots

The back of the shirt didn’t pose as many problems. But since the front changed, modifications were also required. The front’s  ‘finite border’ made Nidhogg + Yggdrasil’s roots look like they were in a jar. Changing their orientation to create something visually appealing would create irrational inconsistency. Neither did I have enough space to create a more imposing looking tree. In short, the back’s Plan A was entirely scrapped.

Plan A


I ended up creating a root that broke off the Yggdrasill instead. Since the front’s scale limited the amount of detail I could draw on the people without them looking like random pixels, the back became an opportunity to portray them more thoroughly.



To sum things up,  the front and back also subtly bear resemblance to our entrails –suggesting that the need to rationalize the unknown through myth, even religion is intrinsic to human nature.





Here are the final designs for the BACK and FRONT with corresponding text and logos:



Jormungandr : Tales of Revilement

by Isa Pilapil Please click images for a larger view.

This is a commissioned piece for the Taiwanese death metal band Revilement, whom Brimstone in Fire were fortunate to open for in the Davao, Philippines leg of their South East Asia tour.

Upon the release of their album Pillars of Balance in December 2011, they needed a corresponding design for their tour shirt. Recommended by a mutual friend: local underground events and music promoter, Alvin ‘Insane Bazooka’ Esperanza,  I submitted a crude sketch and hoped for the best.

Jormungandr Draft

The design was enthusiastically approved, and I was equally psyched about the project.

Instead of searching for ‘apocalypse’ references, I began expanding on their album’s predominant theme: ‘the fall of mankind’ by exploring ways to deconstruct various creation myths.  This is when I became reacquainted with the Norse mythical figure Jormungandr, or ‘Midgard Serpent’ who holds the world together by biting his own tail. Interestingly, Jormungandr also falls under an even greater archetype, the Ouroboros –one of my recurring subjects.

Depicting Jormungandr commencing the end of the world by finally letting go of his tail was an epic blueprint to begin with.

Here are stages of the pencil-work:

For the initial concept, the imagery for the back of the shirt included a Ptolemaic diagram of  the universe –ostensibly referred to as the Geocentric view. There is reason to believe that Ptolemy’s diagram was not an interpretation of planets and their orbits, but rather the Alchemical order of elements. The Ptolemaic Diagram of the Universe is from

Music of the Spheres

Each planet in the diagram above has a corresponding ‘element’ e.g. Mercury – Quicksilver (mercury), Venus – Copper, Mars – Iron, Earth – Fire etc. Earth is located in the innermost sphere of the diagram. Therefore, Jormungandr’s unraveling would not only destroy the world sphere, but disrupt the concentric outer spheres around it creating utter cosmic chaos.

Jormungandr Scaled by Isa Pilapil

I created this image digitally to represent what is going on in front in full scale. Together with the Ptolemaic diagram, the outcome was not bad at all –In fact, I even ended up with two versions.

Jormungandr + Geocentric Universe

However when I started drawing in the rubble,  the design elements started becoming visually cluttered. There was also something about the archaic fonts in the  diagrams that visually clashed with the serpent vector.

In my work, I always favor theoretical basis over visual appearance. However,  this was one of those rare (practically inconceivable!) occasions where design prevailed over reason.

The end results speak for themselves though.

by Isa Pilapil

by Isa Pilapil