STAIL Icon Anjela Sevilla is a twenty-one-year-old artist from the Philippines who is currently based in Paris, France. She is anything but an ordinary fashion illustrator. Unlike many artists her age, Anjela is already set on a career path that’s deeply personal and creative. In this interview, she talks about her background, her process, and some of the artists who inspire her.
Welcome to STAIL.PH, please tell us something about yourself. Could you tell us where you’re from and how you got started in digital art/fashion illustration?
Hi! I’m Anjela, a twenty-one-year-old artist from the Philippines. You can call me AJ. I’ve always been highly interested in art as a child. My transition into experimenting with digital media and other genres (such as fashion illustration) happened rather naturally early on. I think this is instinctive for many creative people— as soon as you get introduced to a new tool, or gadget, or what-have-you, the first urge you get is to figure out how to make art out of it.
As for fashion, I’m pretty sure I had a higher-than-averagely overwhelming desire to be in control as a toddler, so much so that this extended to my wardrobe. I was constantly dreaming up things I wanted to wear, and as I grew older, so did my interest.
How have you developed your career?
As a fairly young artist, I’ve had only a handful of opportunities to show my work— so far, I have taken part in group exhibitions, student shows, and individual pop-up events. Much of these have taken place during my time in the States.
I have also had the opportunity to join the board of directors of a local gallery called Larson. I resided in an idyllic town called Yakima in the state of Washington (yes, the one from iCarly) for four years, and for the last couple of years I was there, I got to experience the art scene in a completely different way. As a member of the board, I was able to meet so many local artists and gain insight into living and viewing the world as an artist. I think it was an experience I lucked out on, and the sense of belonging and assurance that comes with being welcomed into a community of artists is one that is essential for anyone who wants to work in a creative field.
Is your art style inspired by any real-life situations?
My art style is still in the process of evolving. I find that I enjoy playing with the way I resolve a piece and that I am constantly trying to find new ways to form visual connections in my work. As for subject matter, on the other hand, I definitely draw a lot of inspiration from the real world. I find that I gravitate towards certain social issues— such as body image and the quest for inclusivity. A lot of my work I feel also tends to be a bit of a retrospective on being a woman in society, to piece out maybe even a sense of healing. Some days, I find myself creating in hopes of empowering others, and some days, I find myself creating in hopes of empowering me.
What are the most important factors in creating a digital artwork?
Being a fairly new player to the game, perhaps I am not the best person to ask. However, I think many rules of composing effective works of art apply across genres, including digital art. Of course, this does not necessarily refer to technique, as I think as one grows in their artistic sensibility, concept and thought often (if not always) are equally as important.
I do think that the use of technology in art gives creatives a broader playing field— there are now so many ways one can explore their craft. There are no limits. Perhaps the most important factor to remember is that.
What role do you want to have in society as an Artist?
One of the most impactful things I’ve learned is that whether you want it to or not— whether you like it or not, even— your art will often mean something. Someone who looks at a work of art will interpret it in some way or another, even for just a split second. I think that, if anything, gives anyone a role as an artist.
Art is a language, a form of communication. And as an artist, that would imply that I am communicating something. And if that should be the case, I would like that role to communicate ideas that stand for and uplift others.
What’s the role of fashion in your work?
I have always seen fashion as an expression of identity. However, it’s also a bit of a double-edged sword. Fashion, in my opinion, can be quite biased. We look at it (and the figures surrounding it) as an ideal. And yet, fashion itself is not exclusive to the magazines we read or the stylist clips we watch. It’s all around us, existing in our everyday lives, in our own tastes and wardrobe choices. Like any part of culture, fashion is a reflection of society.
Quite similar to art. When I create work that centers around fashion, I find that I subconsciously gravitate towards depicting all the same ideals we get fed early on— tall, skinny, long-legged, and often euro-centric ideals of beauty. Fashion, or this “idea” of fashion, to me often serves as a reminder in my work. Who am I depicting, and why? Can I do something different? I want to do something different. If fashion is after all an expression of identity, then in depicting fashion, I should also work towards depicting all identities, and work towards rethinking my own definition of “ideal”.
How does digital art play a role in your work?
Much of my work lately has been accomplished digitally. Suffice it to say, technology plays a major role for many modern artists. It provides us with new methods to compose pieces— it can make certain processes more efficient, definitely. And it can also make art more accessible, which I think is an important thing.
How did you begin making art and what influenced you early on? Were there particular artists or projects that really inspired you?
I was one of those kids that wasn’t allowed to have video games, and I really needed something to do. I’ve been drawing since I was little. I can’t remember when I started, but I’ve always loved creating. I wasn’t even particularly invested in learning about other artists until much later on. However, my dad is very artistic, as well. I remember when I was maybe five or six years old. I had found one of his old sketchbooks. They had pencil sketches, portrait studies, and watercolor paintings. I just loved looking at it. I would flip through the pages from the front cover to the back, close the sketchbook, tie a bow (it was one of those that had ribbons on the outer edge), untie the bow, and start all over again. Just did that endlessly. I remembered so badly wanting to be as good as him.
Who are some digital artists/fashion illustrators that we should all know about? What are your influences?
I’ve been following one digital artist’s work since I was around ten-ish years-old, maybe — in fact, I dreamt of attending the institution she studied in. Her name is Anna Dittmann. I remember just gaping in awe at how ethereal and regal the figures in her works were. She’s the one who sticks out to me when I think of this question.
One other artist, who is neither a digital artist nor a fashion illustrator, that I think made me look at (and think of) art in a different way is Kusama Yayoi. I think she is worth mentioning for me in this question regardless, as I remember the first experience I had with her art was that of stepping into one of her infinity rooms, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013). It made me realize that art could be a different manner of all-encompassing— that experiencing it is really not limited at all by media, that a viewer can step in and be a part of the world an artist creates.
What was your early background like? Did you have formal training in fine art and technology, or did you learn another way?
I was born in the Philippines, but moved to the Middle East (Saudi Arabia) at a very young age. I lived there for a decade until I moved to America to continue my studies. I spent my first couple of years in college there. My goal was to move towards a creative degree. I have formally studied multiple disciplines— including traditional illustration, figure drawing, printmaking, sculpting, painting, and photography. I am still in the process of learning. However, I have narrowed the direction of my career path, and I am now currently studying fashion design and technology.
Could you explain a bit about your creative process? When you’re making art, what do you most wish to communicate?
My creative process tends to be reflected inward. I become inspired by matters that urge me. Sometimes they are emotions— frustrations regarding myself. Sometimes they are also frustrations geared towards the outside world. I think a lot of my work that truly draws from within me tend to have a sense of melancholia. I think, at the heart of this, if there’s something I wish to communicate, it is that whoever is looking, whatever they might have felt or are currently feeling, they are not alone.
Let’s talk a bit about the medium and tools you use to create your work. Is there a “most important” tool you use? If so, what is it, and why is it important?
I do not think I have a tool I deem the most important. However, the pencil and traditional technique to me come most naturally. It is probably out of time and habit. I didn’t think until much later on that there were more possibilities to work with, and I never really bothered to explore.
How does your current artwork comment on current social or political issues?
The current artworks I am sharing with STAIL all revolve around the pandemic. The first is a very simplistic figure drawing with a mask. When I created this I hoped it would carry a few meanings outside of the glaring obvious. While the figure wears a mask on its face, referring to the current issue, it holds a second one which would otherwise have been the rest of its face were it not covered. I wanted to reflect on how we, in a way, are putting that part of us aside— the oftentimes superficial things we would have been regularly worried about had it not been for the virus. This current situation we are in is forcing a lot of us to rethink our values and things that actually matter to us. The figure also holds a branch of magnolia— a symbol of perseverance and nobility, two of many words embodied by so many essential employees working in risky environments right now.
The second is a grim-faced portrait of a woman, one I hoped would show strength. I think strength, right now, for a lot of people can be tired and frustrated and stressed.
Not everyone is in a position to see the current situation as a time for “rest” or “self- healing”, as much as social media can depict it as such. Strength right now is in everyone doing their best to take care of themselves, and where they can, take care of others. And mostly, it is everyone working to keep everything else running, and giving the rest of us even any semblance of normalcy.
How do you stay positive during this pandemic?
I, uhh, I don’t really. I am grim-faced woman. [laughs] I didn’t know how else to put that!
Facing so many restrictions and immediate changes in policy can really shake a person’s foundations. The way we live and interact changed in such an abrupt manner, and I think this can really take a toll on a person’s mental health. It is difficult enough as is to undergo any change, that coupled with the anxiety of the risk of contracting the virus.
Take care of your physical health, maintain a regular diet, and a healthy sleep schedule. Reach out, and keep in touch with others— a socially-distanced support system is still a support system. And remember that there are still good things happening— birthdays and anniversaries and the whole gamut. Just because things are the way they are right now doesn’t mean they won’t get better.
What’s your stand on the current COVID situation?
My stand is whatever the medical professionals say it should be. Practicing social distancing and maintaining good hygiene to decrease the risks (not just for yourself but also for others) are constantly highlighted. Now is the time we listen to those who are actively working to combat the pandemic.
How do you think this pandemic will affect fashion and art?
This pandemic, beyond just fashion and art, has put a lot of people out of work. There are a lot of economic effects— and this applies to so many in the creative field who are especially working as independent entities or freelancers. So many are under unstable conditions at the moment, and my only hope is that everyone makes it through.
Yes, this situation can bring people together, too. It can be a time where people develop new work and new ideas, better ideas that can be more sustainable in the future— if that is something positive that can come out of all of this.
What are you most excited about in the future?
I look forward most to the resolution of the current situation we are in. For me, it is a little difficult to be excited about much else, as it seems just a bit trivial. However, it is important to be able to picture something beyond what’s going on.
In that case, I should like to look forward to being able to just sit in a café again. Or a restaurant.
Yeah, you know what, I’m gonna treat myself. A café then a restaurant.
Which current art world trends are you following?
I don’t know if this would be considered a trend, but I’m really appreciating all the crossover and art collaborations going on lately. All the fashion houses inviting artists of all media to share inspired works, artists inviting other artists to share inspired works. Sure, some are total PR, but it’s uplifting and a bit comforting to see everyone reach out in some way.
Any favorite quotations about art?
From one of the artists I had the honor of meeting:
“A lot of times, we do things in art when we’re young, and we don’t know that they are going to matter later on. […] [to the young artists] Value what you make, save what you make. It will either inform your art practice as you get older or it will inform somebody else.”
It was so comforting to hear that— value what you make. When you are young, you are taught that much of what you do isn’t worth much, but it matters. What you do matters.