In a society that glorifies busyness as a badge of productivity and success, many of us feel compelled to pack our schedules. Entrepreneurs in particular face pressure to buy into the cult of busyness (a.k.a. hustle culture) to get their ventures off the ground. It’s no wonder so many struggle with stress and burnout. Illustrator and designer Patricia Sangalang, on the other hand, resists our collective sense of urgency with art that reminds us to stop and take a breath.
Patricia – “Pat” for short – finds inspiration in the quiet, fleeting moments we tend to overlook amid the daily grind. One illustration on her Instagram depicts a Corgi gazing expectantly at their human holding a loaf of fresh-baked bread, for instance, while another shows a woman admiring a plant sprouting from the soil. Her use of expressive lines and warm colors lends her ordinary subject matter a wondrous, whimsical glow. “Taking that moment to just pause and look around to calm yourself down – that’s what I hope is evoked in my art,” says Pat, who lives in Manila.
Pat’s efforts to summon the soothing power of pressing pause has resonated with clients across a broad range of sectors. Her portfolio includes work for WeTransfer’s WePresent, the World Health Organization, Glory Foods Corporation, and Halden+Co, among others.
Through her intimate snapshots of the everyday, Pat seeks to not only comfort, but also advocate for marginalized groups. Her animations for WePresent accompany excerpts of an essay challenging the assumption that deafness equals silence, while her motion graphics video for the WHO highlights the importance of building dementia-inclusive communities.
We spoke with Pat, who illustrated our post on small business grants for women, about balancing her full-time graphic design job with freelance work, parlaying her passion projects into paid gigs, and brewing coffee as a form of self-care.
Tell me about your artistic beginnings.
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, so my career path felt like a natural progression. My siblings had something to do with it, too – they were also very creative when we were growing up. My sister was super fashionable and expressed herself through her clothes, while my brother documented his life in a personal blog. The difference is that I’m super introverted. I was always at home watching cartoons, so I was more into illustrating. Since I’m not that outspoken, drawing has become the medium for me to express myself.
As a kid, I drew mostly fan art – a lot of Disney, anime, comics. I used a lot of different media, which I guess affects my art now. I’d draw with pencil, but I’ve also played with digital work, sometimes markers. That experimentation helped me see what I’d like to continue doing.
What inspires your art?
As a kid, I was super inspired by Disney. I watched a lot of the classics, like Beauty and the Beast, and I really looked up to Mary Blair, who worked on Alice and Wonderland and other Disney films.
Alongside Disney was anime. I was super inspired by Cardcaptor Sakura and all those other girly animes. I really loved how they were unapologetically cute, and I think that’s something I apply to my work now. K-pop also inspires me. I really appreciate how experimental they are with their work. They consider every detail, from the album art to the music video teasers.
And because the Philippines is often depicted as such a warm and inviting country, I tend to go for warmer colors. That mood I get from everyone here just finds its way into my art.
Your website says your work is also “inspired by the mundane moments of life, from walks along the street to the sunlight passing through the window.” Where does your fascination with the magic of the mundane come from?
When I was a kid, my brother let me play around with his camera. I’m not good at photography, but it grew as kind of a hobby, and I feel like that affected how I look at my art. Life can be stressful. What I want is to capture those fleeting moments in that stress, like I would with a camera, to help people better appreciate life.
What’s your process for creating your pieces?
Most of my work is digital, but I like sketching things out with pen and paper because it makes it much easier for me to not overthink things. My process also depends on whether it’s personal work or client work. With personal work it’s really just, “What do I feel, and what do I want to draw?” But with client work, it’s more like, “What ideas can stem from the prompt? How can I make the piece relatable to others, but also one I would enjoy and want to create?”
To make my illustrations relatable, I look back at personal experiences. For example, the prompts for the WePresent project were basically different moments in time. One was “petting a cat,” so I was like, “How can I depict this in a way that reflects what I’ve seen and what others have experienced, as well?”
You’re a full-time graphic designer for the job-matching platform Kalibrr. Why did you decide to freelance on the side?
I guess what comes with working as a graphic designer at a company is that I’m limited to creating stuff for them based on their brand. Freelancing gives me leeway to create more of what I want to create and take on projects that aren’t limited to where I’m working.
How have you found clients?
Many of my clients have found me, though, admittedly, I’m not sure how. I do put my work out there, though. I used to share it on Twitter, but now I mainly focus on Instagram and then I also have my website, where I include more details about the work that’s on Instagram.
I grow my Instagram audience organically. I haven’t used ads or anything. I just put specific work out there, including fan art, which I think is another way to get people to view my page. People who share my interests will come for the fan art, but they’ll also see my other work.
How do you schedule your week to carve out time for your freelance work?
I devote nights and weekends to freelance work. After I get off my full-time job, I give myself a one- to two-hour break so I don’t burn out. Then I focus on freelance work. If I end early at night, I wake up early to continue doing freelance work. On the weekend, I usually work on freelance projects in the morning to afternoon to give myself personal time at night – I mean, that’s the ideal. That doesn’t always happen, but that’s usually how I structure my schedule.
What advice would you give freelance artists who are starting out?
Don’t be disheartened if you’re not getting the clients you want. Give yourself time to create personal projects focused on things you’re really passionate about and things you want to show potential clients you have the ability to create so they’ll hire you to produce similar work.
When I started out freelancing, I was getting more design clients, but as time passed, I realized I enjoyed illustrating so much more. I wasn’t getting as many clients for illustration work, though, so I took the initiative to create and post illustrations to attract the work I wanted. In other words, my portfolio isn’t limited to paid client work – it also includes personal work. For example, I wanted to be hired for background illustrations, so I tried to incorporate that into my personal projects for practice, which helped me get hired as a freelancer at a studio for background work! Happily, I think a lot of my personal projects are actually the ones bringing in clients.
What do you hope for your art to accomplish?
In the long run, I’d like to get more mental health advocacy-based projects. It’s related to my art, which tries to capture those moments to remind you to pause, step back, and just look around. I want to reach a point where the clients I choose aren’t just to pay my rent or things like that, and the work I do is really focused on helping others.
How do you take care of your mental health as a freelance artist?
I guess sometimes, especially when I’m burnt out, I try to catch myself and try to do other things that aren’t art-related just to give my brain some time to rest. It’s nice to have hobbies besides art, like exercising. Another thing I’m into at the moment is learning how to make a good cup of coffee. I watch TikToks of people making really nice coffee drinks, and sometimes, I’m like, “How do they do that?” Right now, I’m trying to master the AeroPress.
Really, it’s enjoying those small instances and that can allow you to take a breather amid everything. And honestly, if you have the means, therapy really helps.
What would be your ultimate dream gig?
I want to illustrate a children’s book. It’s so fun seeing my nieces go through all their books – I want to create something for them, too. Hopefully, I can create stuff showing I’m able to do so, maybe by the middle or end of this year. Something else I want to do, since I’m super into K-pop, is to design or illustrate something for a K-pop group, like an album or poster.
Those are the dreams. But you know, manifest, and hopefully they happen!