isa pilapil

Many Ways to Reach the End

22″ x 12″
Watercolor on paper

For as long as I can remember, I have been experiencing a visual sensory phenomenon that I’ve named ‘Cone Theory’ for lack of a better definitive term. Concentric lines, which look oddly similar to the symbol for WiFi, form patterns on every single surface. Perhaps I will make an entry that further explains the practical applications of this phenomenon in the future. For the meantime, I’ll discuss the taming of its impractical side.

This painting attempts to reverse-psychologize my sensory input. By putting the lines exactly where I wanted them, I kept my brain from drawing them on top of everything as it pleased. To step things up a notch, the approach of the exercise was to find the lines on things with no distinct borders or edges—such as clouds.

cloudtopographyCreating a topographical map is a logical way to transcribe a 3 dimensional object onto a planar surface. These topographical ‘cloud maps’ or ‘cloud projections’ were then transferred onto watercolor paper. On a theoretical level, putting multiple physical boundaries on something as ephemeral and intangible as a cloud, or enclosing it within borders, manifests an abstract concept such as one’s ‘will’ into the physical world.


Enclosing these cloud projections in circles ‘contained’ the main idea behind them. The circle is a symbol of perfection, symmetry, skill and control, making it the most appropriate shape to physically demonstrate jurisdiction over one’s senses and self.

Since these original ‘projections’ resembled mazes so much, the finished painting resulted in a complex labyrinth. To emphasize the erratic lines of the cloud topography, I made the lines of surrounding maze areas strictly perpendicular. It was whilst painting in the surrounding lines that I realized that a maze with multiple options to reach the finish line was a rarity. Having compound solutions for one problem became another distinct feature of this work.

The mirror imaging of the cloud projection suggests that one’s actions in isolation differ from actions when one is within the confines of society. Would one still choose the most complex and ornery path when nobody is looking, or simply choose an easier way since we all end up in the same place anyway?


Survival is intrinsic to our nature. But, mankind’s establishment as a species has overtaken what our bodies have evolved to do on a cellular level. While our bodies are trying to rewire or figure out another avenue to circumvent the energy intended for escaping that ‘saber toothed cat that has been hunting you for days’, we need to exert effort to avoid becoming sheep.

Our mortality is always lurking behind this translucent curtain of comfort we constantly try to surround ourselves with. It’s the sneaky little devil on your shoulder, relentlessly finding ways to do you in.

Although we may succumb to physical disease, there are still those less prominent mental or spiritual aspects of decline to consider.  Insidious things such as the idleness of the mind permeate our reality the further we are removed from the need to hunt or find shelter like our ancestors.

Too much comfort is a developmental hindrance. After all, mind and body instinctively pursue the easiest and most efficient way to do (or undo)things. Once one has reached, or is born into a ‘homeostatic’ state, it is more difficult to find motivation to grow. Hence, for those who no longer seek food or shelter, the energy intended for survival is in surplus. Its utility is denigrated towards menial things such as gossip, intrigue and the tenuous angst –byproducts of group level contentment.

Even something as passive as television incites the body’s stress response when in excess. The way mortality tugs at your ears with its cunning little fingers when your mind is at ease is truly brilliant. The best part is you’re not even aware that your mode of relaxation is physically harmful. So it’s better to think twice about one’s mode of recreation lest it might be detrimental.


21.0 x 29.7 cm

Where the One-Eyed Man is King

It’s always much easier to go with the consensus rather than slowly carve your own path in the wilderness. The potential of having devastating consequences or gratifying rewards are on both ends of the volitional spectrum.

Mob mentality is an evolutionary mechanism — Being in a group simply ensures a greater chance of survival. It’s therefore not surprising that the trade-off of monophobia is personal development.

How much strain is exacted on one’s individual standards when one relies on group experiences and group responsibility? This certainly applies to having a personal sense of morality. At what point does the group’s collective actions and decisions ‘peer pressure’ the individual out of their own moral compass?

Wanting to belong and yet distinguish oneself in the ‘social organism’ also makes its members either push wheel backwards or forwards. Therefore, a group will always precariously sit at the threshold of communally improving or spiraling into decline (I’m not talking about a band). Unfortunately, this also makes the group elect individuals who do not deviate too much from the consensus to represent them. It certainly has appropriate occasions, but this is also why we live lives of half-truths, pleasantries and gray areas to put things nicely.

Contemporary society’s ‘law’ has made killing each other terribly inconvenient. Yet, it’s not uncommon to see those who hang onto each other for dear life, simultaneously tear each other apart. This contradiction about belonging to the crowd without losing oneself fosters mental tension that drains vitality.  Are these strained social relationships manifestations of a new evolutionary roadblock?

Perhaps this is another expression of mother nature’s culling


14 x 10.8 cm

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