Manila Illustration Fair 2023

The Main Draw: A Briefer on the Manila Illustration Fair 2023

Kanto sits down with Manila Illustration Fair organizer Plus63’s Dan Matutina as he unpacks what’s in store for the fair, why they’ve gone metric-less for the selection process, and his stance on AI-generated entries

Interview Patrick Kasingsing
Plus63 and Comuna (Manila Illustration Fair)

Manila Illustration Fair
Dan Matutina and the Plus63 team

Hello, Dan! Welcome back to Kanto! Let’s get down to basics first. How did the idea of organizing the Manila Illustration Fair come about?

Dan Matutina, Plus63 co-founder and organizer of Manila Illustration Fair 2023: The idea for the Manila Illustration Fair sprung about when, as a juror, I saw first-hand how the recent Bangkok Illustration Fair worked. Parang, it would be nice to do something similar in the Philippines, a country that is brimming with illustration talent, diba? I admit that it was an impulsive decision to start it now, pero having found the right collaborators, the right venue, and the right timing, lalo na things are starting open up, there is no reason for us not to make the jump. But we are starting small muna, kind of like a micro illustration fair.

To add, we wanted to create an event that celebrates illustration as a craft, so all approaches to illustration are very much welcome, from trad to digital, from children’s book illustrations to fine art illustrations, from personal projects to commercial work, we don’t discriminate.

Great! So how the fair works is that you will narrow down applicants to a shortlist of 20 illustrators, determined by a jury of five.

Matutina: Yeap, so what happens is we gather all applications that we have and our jury of five will go through all the entries. Plus63, as the organizer, will not be part of the selection process. Let me just quickly introduce our jury members…we have creative director Felix Ng of Anonymous, a Singapore design studio now based in Bangkok, Hiroaki Shono of Vision Track, a Japanese illustration agency, interesting ‘to kasi he is an illustration agent. We also have Plus63 alumni Raxenne Maniquiz, super amazing illustrator with an independent practice now. Studio Dialogo is here as well…the founders are illustrators and founding members of Ilustrador ng Kabataan (InK), sila Liza Flores and Abi Goy… and finally sila Happy Garaje Design Studio nila Mark Deutsch and Johanna Velasco-Deutsch, Cebu-based studio.

How will the selection process work?

Matutina: In this case, the way that we’re doing the shortlist is a bit different because I realized, having judged countless illustration fairs and awards… it’s the most difficult category to judge because illustration is so subjective. Kasi, one, the style and the look. There are really no ugly or bad illustrations kasi it’s dependent on one’s taste, inclinations…


Matutina: Diba may mga work na parang naïve yung style and it looks like it’s by someone who doesn’t know how to draw…

Yes, and there is a sizable market and following for that!

Matutina: Yes, precisely! I am personally fond of the style but there will be some people who won’t like it. Illustration is subjective…unless the brief is set in stone, or there are parameters or style guides to follow, for example, if it’s for a certain brand, kasi may objective. I mean, most of the time may objective naman mga illustrations but the style is the first thing that you notice.

So, the way we’re doing it for the Manila Illustration Fair is different. So, yung gagawin namin, shortlist nung judges, they will select their top four…yun yung makukuha. Pasok na. Wala ng scoring or anything. Their picks will be based on their inherent biases, preferences, or artistic agenda.

Ah, I see! So there are no clear-cut metrics or parameters since it is open to all types and approaches to illustration…

Matutina: Walang metric, oo. I don’t know how to grade an illustration unless may very specific metric I have to hold it to, like, okay, did it answer this brief? Did it adhere to the theme? Ganyan, ganyan. Pero we are organizing a fair, not a brand exercise or project. Ang daming factors to consider, which is why we went with a jury that has varying degrees of encounter and interaction with illustrations. May mga illustrators, may mga graphic designers, may illustration agent, etc. Iba iba ang viewpoints, reading, cultures, and influences nila.

Sometimes, it’s not the style but the story, the context, not even the actual artwork, that sets a piece of work or an artist apart from the rest.

I think our method also makes the selection process unpredictable and exciting kasi walang parameters that skew what should be chosen or conventions that make it super predictable who will get picked.

I see, so after the 20 have been chosen…

Matutina: What will happen is we’ll send e-mails to the illustrators about their acceptance and then invite them to go to the fair to set up their spots. So what we did for this is, unlike other illustration fairs, free lahat. We’re not going to ask them to pay for the booth. The attendees won’t pay for anything. Parang inisip ko lang, fun thing to do to. Bahala na kaming maghanap ng budget how to mount it but the basics are there na, may venue na, and we just want everyone to come in and have fun, to see all the different works, and enjoy being around fellow creatives.

The illustration fair happens on the 24th and 25th of June at Comuna, Makati. Sa Friday (June 23), we are planning a ‘welcome night’ of sorts lang for the setup, with us, the organizers, and the participants. Just to clear rin, the chosen 20 have free rein to do what they want with their space—the booth, the setup, bahala sila. If they want to sell, pwede. If they want to put like some sort of exhibit or installation, pwede rin. They don’t have to sell anything. It’s all very open.

Will there also be talks to look forward to within the fair?

Matutina: We’re also planning to do talks and a folio review.


Matutina: Oo! Yung talks will be part of the main thing. Pero ako, yung iniisip ko nga yung mas interesting is yung folio review kasi sila Felix (of Anonymous) can be there. Or I can be there and we will look at the works and folios of the different illustrators and see how we can help them improve or enhance their craft or their storytelling, or baka they just need our support to boost a lack of confidence diba.

Do you think a fair like this is something that’s long been overdue for… if not Manila, the Philippines?

Matutina: We do have a lot of really, really, really talented illustrators in the Philippines and, as far as I know, wala pang singular venue or opportunity to celebrate illustration as a craft locally. We really just want to start a platform for local illustration to shine, and a venue for illustrators to gather, inspire, or get inspired.

Naturally one of the factors that inform projects such as this is budget. Another is my team’s willingness and readiness to mount something like this, kasi, siyempre, we are not a large studio and this project is not something you can say is revenue-generating. We are doing this for free. Passion lang talaga and helping who we can help out in the industry.

I know of a lot of people who want to start something similar before pero a lack of budget yung usual issue. I think, with this first edition, baka it helps that if someone dares to start it, the momentum can keep going and we can pass the baton of organizing future editions to these like-minded folks!

I am sure there will be mistakes, and as the first of its kind, there will undoubtedly be birthing pains. Pero, we relish the experience! Importante for us na maranasan namin sa firm yung fear of the unknown and being uncomfortable once in a while. This is the only way we can grow as creatives, eh. In a way, that’s also what we participants to bring home also, lalo na the first timers who will make that initial leap to sell or show off their work to a much larger audience. Diba, just do it!

That’s great! And I guess, what the MIF also offers is a venue to exchange ideas and an opportunity to get together and reconnect with other creatives, now with things opening up and pandemic restrictions loosened.

Matutina: Yeah. Good thing that you brought that up kasi yung mga members ng studio, sila Craig, Anton, and Sel, parang ‘yun yung primary reason why they’re also interested to do it, yung to give the creative community a venue to see each other again. Because we’ve been so isolated from each other for so, so long! Maganda rin to see various illustration groups mingle and interact kasi malay naten, it might result in new approaches, insights, or projects, some of which can only fly kapag may social interaction.

Okay, you mentioned a while ago how you wanted the fair to be open to all styles and approaches, and to be agnostic to both these things as they are subjective. But are there limits for example, when generative technologies like AI are concerned?

Matutina:  Wow. Magandang tanong. ‘Di ko naisip yan. (laughs) I mean, I’d like to answer it now but…I’m not sure if relevant yung answer ko. Pero, I guess I’m just hoping, since most of the illustrators that will apply are local, tingin ko mahihiya silang mag-apply if they’ll use AI and do an illustration that uses someone else’s style or work. Yun ‘yung hope ko, I guess.

I ask because of that recent news bit on the photographer who gamed a prestigious photography competition with AI. I mean, MIF naman is not a competition, pero there is a growing number of creators that specialize in “AI-generated art.”

Matutina: Siguro we will cross that bridge when we get there. This issue will also hinge din sa choices of the jury talaga. Maybe that’s where, when we brief the jury… idadagdag ko sa briefing ‘yon na, ‘maybe, look out for generated AI art’, oo.

Yeah, I guess sila na bahala. It might also be a statement on their part. Or, who knows, it may be a way to open discourse on the subject.

Matutina: Yeah, oo nga eh. Malaki pa space for discourse and clarity regarding this subject talaga. With regards to technology naman, I would consider myself very open-minded. Though, I do draw the line on things that impact identity, ownership, and the environment. Dapat walang natatapakan or naagrabyado.

You are holding the maiden edition of the Fair in Comuna, an upcoming creatives-focused development in Makati by Estudio Arkipelago. Can you let us in on the decision to hold it in this venue? What makes it perfect for the fair?

Matutina: I found out about Comuna during an ocular with a good friend and when I met Maya (Colayco of Comuna), everything clicked! I found myself caught up with her creatives-driven vision for the space and was able to connect her with a few friends. Also, when the idea for MIF was already simmering in my head and nakita ko si Comuna…parang naisip ko, uy! Sakto ‘to for the fair! May space on the first floor na wala pang tenants na wide and open, wala pang dividers, and you have that nice garden view pa. When the team saw it, G’ na rin sila! Yung barebones look niya makes it perfect as a container for all the creative energy sure to come with the event.

Okay, time for one last question! You already have more than a hundred applications surely, but for the would-be joiners who need that final push or are rushing to submit their stuff before Friday’s deadline, any words of advice to offer?  

Matutina: Simple lang. Submit the work that best represents you. You don’t have to worry about submitting work you think judges might choose kasi nga our parameters are different. We are after your distinct, individual interpretation of the craft. Masyado tayo nacocondition ng algorithms and conventions about what is beautiful, or acceptable. The fair embraces work that embodies your personality, or the vision of who you are or want to be as an artist. •

Submit your entries by May 19 at

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