Visiting the Caran d’Ache Factory in Geneva, Switzerland

Let me start off by saying this trip was the most spontaneous one I’ve had in a while.

After several back and forth attempts to renew my Schengen visa (I thought I had maxed out my 90 days from Berlin—or so I thought) and my anxiety in getting regular phone calls from the Swiss embassy (I really *hate* answering phone calls!), I finally confirmed my trip to Switzerland albeit a week before my flight.

By the time I was packing on Monday morning, it obviously hadn’t dawned on me that I was flying halfway across the world and back to Europe. *Oh well* as per usual, I watched two films in-flight (The Hows of Us and To Love Some Buddy, both Pinoy films; both heart-breaking lol), spent a good four hours of ideation and brainstorming during my layover in Doha, and finally arrived in Geneva.

My vague memory of Switzerland was in Lucerne, and I wasn’t *feeling* it. I love traveling during the warmer season, so it was nice to walk around the area I stayed in (near the Old Town) before settling in.

Long walks in a city always makes it more real. Does that make sense? I’m not the type who favors exploring a city fast—I like taking my time to see all the little streets, the architecture, the vibe.

After downing 3 cups of coffee in total before arriving, I was well-adjusted. LOL.

The next day we headed to the Caran d’Ache factory which was around half an hour from the city center. One step inside the office and you’ll immediately be drawn to the pencils display and the vintage posters (of course!).

Fun fact: Caran d’Ache was founded in 1915, and means “pencil” in Russian. It was also the “artist name” of the famous French caricaturist / cartoonist Emmanuel Poiré, whose signature was also the initial logo of the brand.

The factory was built in 1974, and so far has produced 400 different colors using 100 pigments.

We were instructed to wear these shoes to enter the factory. They’re quite comfy and on brand—red and black!

Annelies and I geeking over *all the things*. I actually follow Annalies on Instagram for a while now and when I found out she was part of this trip, I fangirled!

Inside the factory, we were shown the process of how Caran d’Ache makes pencils—from choosing the right type of wood, picking out the right colors (imagine how many combinations they make, considering they have over 400 colors?!), testing each material’s durability, up to packing each and every product in its box, ready to ship out.

Caran d’Ache is quite a premium brand, but it comes with the quality that is definitely worth its price tag. Each set of Luminance colored pencils are packed by hand by their personnel. I also loved that they hire disabled people to help them with work, as it also helps enrich their livelihood and keep them productive. 🙂

As an artist, my favorite part is the process, of course—especially from start to finish. Above are some Neocolor II wax pastels and Pablo colored pencils being left to dry before they are packaged and shipped out to stores worldwide.

Prior to this trip, I have only been knowledgeable about Caran d’Ache’s Studio Gouache—which has been my go-to set of paints for my watercolor lettering work. I’ve only ever dabbled in watercolor pencils for my illustrations, which is why it was great that Pete instructed us in the afternoon on how to use Caran d’Ache’s different materials. My personal favorite? The Pablo pencils, which is named after Pablo Picasso (he used Caran d’Ache!).

My favorite technique was mixing permanent colored pencils and water soluble pencils to create this mask effect I did on the “make things” quote.

Here I am with Catherine (from Caran d’Ache), Annelies from Korea / Netherland, Crystal and Ray from Taiwan, and Steven from Hong Kong. Thank you, Art Bar Philippines and Caran d’Ache for choosing me to represent the Philippines!

If it isn’t any obvious, I’m actually wearning a terno top from Anthill Fabric. I wanted to wear something a bit Filipino and since I went to Artefino the week before, I got myself this top. It’s a Yakan weave and I love it so much!

On our last day, we took a tour around the city—had chocolate fondue, walked around the Old Town, and got to know more about the city. Thanks Juliane of Local Flavours Tours for taking us around.

You can check out more about my trip on my vlog below:

Selected photos by Igor Laski for Caran d’Ache

A Letter to Berlin

En Route to Doha QR082

16:34, Tegel Airport, Berlin

After another round of travel anxiety (which has been frequent for the past few months), I’m finally sitting down and breathing better, and on my first flight home.

Dearest Berlin,

What an unforgettable summer it has been.

I’ve spent my summers always in Manila. In my younger years, they served as avenues for things I have developed interests in—art, music, books, the usual. In the late afternoons we’d go and play outside with our neighbors, doing relays of running, biking, and riding the scooter.

In college I stopped playing outside (obviously). I was glued to my computer as I started blogging, working, seeing more of what else I can do.

Of course in recent years I have been working all summer. It is the season where all the book and freelance projects used to be lined up for me—in the midst of the crazy heatwave in the city. I’d take quick beach trips and beat deadlines but overall it was too toxic for me.

That’s why I decided to see you. To see if I can spend summer in a city I hardly knew and found no interest in (at first). I have only kept myself in the context of visiting for the sake of attending an art residency program, which I now realize has changed me in ways I could not have imagined.

Back when I landed in Tegel last May, I was this naive young adult hoping to find all the answers in your city. I was that girl who felt like she had to experience more in order to feel alive. But coming from a place where I couldn’t be someone else but who I already was, I found it difficult adjusting. I can’t just change in a snap. I felt the pressure; it was so real I was about to give up.

You’ve seen it all: meltdowns on Monday mornings. Adjusting to anti-depressants. Discovering new art techniques. Questioning what I wanted out of my life and work. Having an emotional week full of tears that came out of nowhere. Doubting myself every damn time but learning to snap out of that bubble.

You’ve also been fundamental to lessons I picked up, and have eventually found growth in: being brave to stand up for myself, letting go of toxic people, realizing I am worth more than my job. Finding comfort in life-changing conversations from people you’ve just met and instantly felt connections with.

“You’ve lived in one city all your life?,” an acquaintance told me. Apparently, I have. And I accept that—because cities like you have shown me that I can be somewhere else and find home in it. And that’s a comforting thought.

“You’re 26, you’ve got to live your life!,” an ex-friend told me. She was right; I’ve got to live my life. (I’ve written this on a previous post but now the way I see it is different.) But I look back and ask myself, I think I’ve lived quite a life? In the career department, sure. And it’s because that’s what I’ve decided to focus on, and I realize I’m fine with that.

So for everything else apart from work, it was all that I found in this short time I was here. And that’s why I’m so grateful in many ways I could never repay you for.

I’ve learned so much in a summer. It’s quite unbelievable that this adventure turned out so much better than I expected—wait, I didn’t have any expectations, and that was what made it great. 

Danke schön, and I’ll see you again in the fall. And maybe in the spring, once I sort everything out.

Sincerely,

Abbey

Finding Myself in a New City

written on June 1, 2019 | Berlin, Germany

I’m writing this as I take the tram home at 20:20, hoping I manage to get a few more things at the supermarket because everything is closed tomorrow (Sunday).

Of all places I had imagined to be, I never thought of Berlin. Ever. So obviously, a lot of impulsive decisions were made that led me here.

It’s just been two weeks or so since I arrived, and today is the first of June. For the first time in my life, I realized the importance of living life day by day and making each moment count. At least, that’s probably what this city (and my medication) has been doing to my system.

My summer in Manila was a blur. Apart from traveling extensively (Spain, then South Africa), I also relaunched the shop, filmed a lot of videos in advance, worked on pending deadlines, and finally finished fixing my website (which explains now why my blog is up again). The thing is, I’ve been in this cycle for four years now—and I think I’m about to reach a point where I really need to take a big turn and do something else…unless I end up quitting early, and I don’t want that to happen.

I had a couple of mental breakdowns since I got here. And no, it’s not because I hate it here—I LOVE it here that I can’t believe I’m in this moment, right now, surrounded by amazing people (in my program, more on that later), being in an environment that nurtures every part of me (waking up to the sound of chirping birds is quite nice, don’t you think?), and learning the beauty that is being free. Free from control, structure, and limits.

A week before I flew to Berlin, I went to a new psychiatrist (it’s my third). Finally I decided to undergo medication for my anxiety, and the first week was hell. I was taking so much tablets in a day (I have other hormonal problems) that I wanted to just give up. I no longer was the productive person I was and found no reason to live. I had no feelings for days, and would suddenly burst in tears a day after. My whole system was basically fucked up, leading to the day before my flight. Not only that, but I had to sort a last minute visa issue and rebook everything all in 24 hours…so I was a wreck when I arrived at Tegel last May 15th.

Happy to report that I am no longer a wreck, I can now cook proper food (gluten free and dairy free!), and have managed to reset my body clock to this timezone. Oh, and I found out I can still tolerate alcohol despite my medication, so that is *amazing* news.

In more amazing news, the residency program I am in has been changing the way I make art—in a good way. It’s just been two weeks but I’ve been learning so much from the people I am with, and I’ve been experimenting with my work constantly. It’s the first time I get to work in a space that isn’t my room, so I found out that it does make a huge difference. I’m learning the importance of separating myself and art but at the same time, maintaining a healthy relationship with it. It’s funny though, because I feel like still living a double life—I work at the studio from 10-5, head home, and work on my Manila responsibilities. Such is life right now, and so far I’m loving it that way.

The biggest struggle so far has been putting myself *in this moment* and really taking it all in. I only have two months here, and I’m not going to let it pass just like that. My energy now is not focused on worrying, but on being hopeful that everything I do will lead to something eventually. So far, process-wise, I find that I’ve been retracing my roots to the style I’m accustomed to when I was 14…but in a mature way, lol. I guess it’s true that some things never change.

If anything, I’m now thinking that maybe this blurry future is going to make me a better person. The only thing I worry about now is what I’ll be having for dinner. 

Will I find myself here? I don’t know. And it’s okay for now. Someday I’ll get my answers.

Ok, here’s my stop. Until then…Tschüß! 

My Last Two Weeks in NYC

Fact: I wrote a long post during my layover at Changi Airport last April 14 (I’m currently in Cape Town, South Africa as I type this out on a Saturday night), but my dumb self accidentally deleted it from my Notes app so yes, it is gone, and I have no way to recover it.

So instead of listing down how my last two weeks went, maybe keeping it short should do the trick (I mean, the longform one was deleted, anyway—might as well).

I’m going to be honest. I did a self-evaluation of sorts when I got back from NY—that short week I spent in Manila before heading to Russia—and overall this 4-month adventure was a 2/10. That’s so low, I know. But there were just several factors that I needed to put into consideration.

I went to New York with one goal: to study. My other goals were to get in ADC Young Guns (ha, I *wish*), attend a CreativeMornings event, or meet some of the artists I look up to (which I managed to—I met Adam and Fran!), oooor maybe get some work opportunities.

Obviously, nothing went as planned. The classes I took weren’t really at par with my expectations. I took 2 classes that were really just a waste of time and money (and ultimately a lesson in realizing my self-worth as an artist). I didn’t get in ADC Young Guns. I didn’t get jobs. I didn’t “live my dream” in New York City.

Then I realized that there were other dreams—that I really didn’t need to list down, because they were just there, and I just needed to take a closer look.

In my four months of living in New York I have experienced my lowest of lows. I have become vulnerable, and learned to accept it. But in the midst of my breakdowns, I found myself—in small doses. And learned to piece everything together as time passed. If anything, that in itself is the biggest takeaway I have from my 100 days in a new city.

I had spaced out the last two weeks to be mainly for friends and family—and mostly for myself. I went to places that made me happy: I got myself a Milk Bar soft serve (but of course), I had tea at my favorite, Argo, I walked around downtown Manhattan in the cold, braved a 3 degree Friday in East Village, went thrift shopping and graffiti hunting in Brooklyn, and cut class on a Monday to spend a whole day alone exploring Chelsea and West Village.

There were also peak touristy things I didn’t mind doing with friends, of course: from seeing Hokusai’s work at the MET, to watching Kodaline LIVE (I was alone but I met some friends! I also cried as if I really needed to type that, but yes I did cry my heart out while singing to “Brand New Day”), shopping at Strand, Madewell, and Uniqlo (the ush), partied like a true millennial for a friend’s birthday (we went home at 4AM, a first for me) and having one last round of visiting my all-time favorite museum, the MoMA (photo above by Steph!).

And of course, spent a whole afternoon working at the New York Public Library for the last time.

Every time I think about New York, I cringe a little. Has my mindset of a city I used to love so much changed me? I can’t say I love it *that* much anymore. My perception of the city has drastically transformed.

But I will say that if I were to go back in a few years, it’d be to see some of the lovely people I met along the way.

Spent my last two weeks with Angel, Amber, Pauline, Anne, Steph, Danica, and my cousins Maco and achi Michelle. People who remind me of home 🙂

By the second week of December, I was looking forward to go home and retreat to my bed in Manila. My last episode of anxiety came in while I was packing—I repacked five times. Five! I realized I had brought so much (and bought, no less) things that I needed to leave behind more than expected. It was devastating. I’ve learned my lesson.

This whole thing about ~anxiety~ only came into the picture while I was in New York. So I started going to therapy this 2019 sorting it out. It’s been hard, really. I never expected that my worry for things escalated so much, nor did I see this coming at all. It’s really been a hard process to work through my daily life with crippling fear and anxiety (it’s made my worry for the future 10000x worse). But I’m getting by. I hope I am.

I owe a lot of thanks to my NYC “parents” who “adopted” me for 100 days—uncle W and auntie A. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if it weren’t for auntie A’s persuasion (“sayang talent mo!” she told me). In fact, how this idea came to me is still really a blur. What was I thinking? Did I really wanted to leave home so bad? Turns out I did. But I guess it wasn’t time to leave, for good—not just yet. New York was definitely not the place.

I really thought I would cry at JFK. But I didn’t. I had no feelings. I was apathetic AF by all means and didn’t even bother sharing about it to anyone. What was the point, really? I just knew it was time to go.

But I did manage to have some tiny tears roll down my cheek as I opened the window to see the sun come through, as I landed in Manila at seven in the morning on a hot December day. I even watched two Filipino films on the way back, lol (proud Pinoy film fan here!).

There really is no place like home. Well, that’s what I’m saying now. Who knows where home will be in the next couple of years?

Thanks New York. Time to close this chapter and move on.

Vlog below:

You can watch more NYC videos here, and I’ll be updating that in a few months (obviously I still have a library of footage to edit).

What’s in a Travel Journal?

I didn’t realize I’ve been documenting in this format for three years now (wow, talk about commitment). Ever since I got myself a Traveler’s Factory notebook in 2016, the way I journaled about my trips has drastically changed.

If you’ve known me from way back, you’d know I do travel illustration on my journals as well (I still do, but that is an entirely different entry). Over time I had started to dabble into this “collage journaling” style which sort of combines scrapbooking, writing, and collage work all in one. I found it to be the most resourceful way to not just keep memories intact in a journal, but also to make use of the ephemera I usually take home from my travels.

And since it’s been such an easy format to use, I thought I’d share my go-to materials for travel journaling for you to try.

Blank Journal: The size of this journal is something I’m particular with (4.25×8.25″). I frequently use my Traveler’s Factory refills, but I also have a stash of Sketchnotes with me (the paper is thicker and I like it better imho). My good friend CH of Everyday Explorers also recently released TN-sized journals with prompts depending on your preferences.

I like to rotate between blank and grid—but mostly blank for my travels.

Printer: I’ve been obsessed with instant prints since I first got my Instax 7s nine (!) years ago. Amazing how technology seems to innovate so much, no? Now I’m using an Instax SP-3 which has square (!) prints, perfect for capturing adventures on-the-go.

I usually bring this in my handcarry for trips (because I journal while in transit) since it’s pretty lightweight.

Washi Tape: If some travelers collect Starbucks mugs or magnets, I collect washi tape from my travels (mostly from Japan, really). These rolls are essential for decorating my spreads and over time I’ve learned to appreciate the designs I love the most—usually in muted colors and in minimalist patterns such as lines and grids.

(You can check out my stationery haul here featuring some washi tapes I got from Shopee in the Philippines!)

Also: PSA that I have washi tapes up on my shop for both local and international orders!

Ephemera: What’s a travel journal without ephemera? I find that (apart from stickers, of course—a MUST) putting these elements into your travel journal make it uniquely yours. From cutting out maps to sticking your train tickets on each spread, these things you’ve collected from your trip signify a memory that you only can keep and remember.

I also find that each trip has different collectibles—from postcards to receipts to calling cards, really. (So far, my top contenders for best cities to keep ephemera are Barcelona, Tokyo, Seoul, Berlin and New York lol).

Check out my “What’s in a Travel Journal?” video below for more.

How about you? What’s in your travel journal?

A (Love) Letter to New York

Dearest New York,

Let’s get one thing straight: it wasn’t you. It was me.

I arrived in JFK at the first of September, played “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift as I glanced a peek of the city through the plane window, and finally arriving at Queens. This is it, I told myself. This is the moment I was waiting for since the day I left in October 2017.

I was smitten; you showed me how wonderful Manhattan looked—under the bright lights in Times Square, past the sea of people in Bryant Park, and as I hurriedly made my way around the city. It was good. But it also wasn’t. I knew something was up. It was too good to be true.

Then it hit me—what did I do to deserve ending up here? To get to take a few months off work? It should have meant I would be planning my life for the next few years now. In fact, I went as far as saying I wanted to live here.

But months passed and I was dreading every part of you—the long commutes. The crowds. The overpriced coffee. I could easily point out every flaw of New York as I walked—no, brisk walked to every part of the city. The hustle gave me so much anxiety, to the point that I micromanaged myself to make sure I survived each day successfully. I saw the darkness and my demons slowly come up to me, and I trapped myself in the process.

Then school came into the picture. I had been waiting for this! I loved the idea of learning. But you made me realize the importance of never settling; so I didn’t. I dropped two classes because they weren’t helping me become better—they did the opposite. And I wasn’t going to waste my time doing things that do not serve me. I stayed with design because it made me appreciate my way of doing things, and how it’s being perceived.

In the weeks before I started writing this, it finally hit me—why did I hate you so much? Almost everyone I knew had this “New York dream” wired in their heads, a glimpse of hope and possibility because people said “anyone can make it in New York”. I, too, held onto that hope, feeling uncontented with the successes I’ve achieved in Manila. I wanted to start from square one here, expecting opportunities to swing by here and there.

Of course, again, I was wrong. I was too judgmental. I judged you because you couldn’t give me what I wanted, and what I expected.

And I’m sorry.

You’ve probably seen my crying episodes as I walked to the Brooklyn Bridge, or as I walked past 8th Avenue after feeling guilty over taking short breaks. And let’s not forget sleepless nights in Queens on my first month, thinking about the future and how much I hate myself for not keeping up with my own expectations.

The thing is, New York, you’ve become a testament to my growth—and that in itself scared me so much. I became weak, and I also became strong. You taught me how to become tough, as I always sport a resting bitch face on the 7 train to Manhattan. You reminded me of how important it was to trust my own instincts, and take no shit from others. You gave me more reason to look closer—and look deep into myself to find answers. You made me see darkness and helped me realize that being vulnerable is okay.

In the past few months I’ve been here, friends and family had come visit. I’d tell them, “You’re lucky you’re on vacation. Living in a city like this just takes out all the energy out of you.” I’d talk about how every day here was a struggle, how getting from point A to point B required a lot of energy. How sometimes, you just want to get away from it all and take comfort in silence.

I left you for a few weeks when I went to Germany. I couldn’t help but compare everything—Berlin was better in so many ways. You disappointed me so much. I didn’t want to go back; I was in tears as I rode the U-bahn heading to Tegel airport.

But when I was back here, it was a bit better. I started to see you in a better light. I stopped putting you on a pedestal and embraced your imperfections. I became less worried about my daily survival. And most of all, I’ve been more appreciative of who I am, what I am doing here and what I’ll be doing when I fly back home.

I’ll miss you, New York. I’m currently on the Q train writing this, heading to Brooklyn (one of the rare weekends I’m free), my favorite borough (sorry, Manhattan). I’m trying to hold back my tears because locals might think I had a bad breakup of some sort. Nope, we’re not breaking up! Not for now.

I keep thinking it was mostly made up of bad days, but I keep forgetting that there were actually good ones: the quiet days spent in Queens writing, making art, and working all day—just like in Manila. Walking to SVA and walking home after Editorial Design class feeling refreshed and inspired. The people I’ve met by chance, who have made my stay here an amazing one. Impromptu sleepovers and experiencing a dive bar for the first time in East Village. That Monday I took a day off and went to Chelsea, and finally picked up my pen and started drawing again. A weekend well-spent in Bed-Stuy exploring Brooklyn. Partying like a true 25-year-old at West Village because who cares?

I’m wrapping this up on my last Monday in the city, with a cup of my favorite Carolina Honey tea on hand at Argo, writing an “NYC Things I’ll Remember” list. Earlier today I worked at the New York Public Library for the last time—I couldn’t believe it. In September 2017 I was in the same library, writing down “I will study in New York” on my notebook and flew back home, and now, that part of me is done. I turned around and walked away from 42nd street without looking back, because I didn’t want to face the fact that I won’t be here again anytime soon.

Sorry I judged you. Sorry I loved you too much. Sorry I’m leaving you, but I know you have more people to take in your city. May they find what they’re looking for and make the most out of their journey here.

As I make my exit and go back home, I will always keep you in my heart. I can go on and on about the things I’ve learned from staying in your city, and no other city can attest to that. Who would have thought some introverted 25 year old would actually do this? Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be able to pull this adventure off. Ever. Things might not have turned out the way I planned, but I keep forgetting it’s these surprises that made this experience even more memorable. You made me feel alive for the first time in 25 years, and that in itself is the best thing that ever happened to me. I guess it’s true that cities change you; I’ve always wondered about this fact, and now I can attest to it.

You will always be a part of me—a part that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

I’ll see you soon.

All my love,

Abbey

En Route: Berlin, Germany

October 25, 2018 | 9:08AM | Seestrasse U6 en route to Alt Tegel

You know you’re in love with a city when you get on the U-bahn for the last time, say goodbye, watch the doors close, and realize you have never felt more alive in the last few days as some tears make its way down your cheek.

I never put Germany on my bucket list because traveling to Europe always seemed impossible. Growing up I have always taken trips that show you merely tourist spots that all look the same: old towns, churches, photo op sites. That was it. As much as I didn’t like it, it did give me a sampler of what being in Europe would be like. I always thought it was intimidating, but I guess it took a good dose of courage and “what if” questions to make me take this trip.

I boldly plot all the possibilities as if they were limitless—maybe I could do this, maybe I could do that. For months I was surrounded with maybes and slept uncomfortably at the thought of “too good to be true”. I have never flew to Europe alone or took the trains here on my own. It didn’t help that I didn’t know anyone in Germany (back then) so there wasn’t any reason to go (until now).

***

9:24AM | Bus 128 en route to Flughafen Tegel (Berlin TXL airport)

You know how you see someone for the first time, get smitten, and immediately fall head over heels with the person? (Oooh, familiar!) Then you realize this person is not all that. That’s how New York feels to me. I think things started okay between me and New York, as I saw it unfold right in front of me as I landed with a view of beautiful city lights right before my eyes. Two weeks of exploring such a place was convincing enough for me to say I could go back and try out what living is like in New York. I held back my tears as I flew out of JFK in 2017, promising myself to go back and make my dreams come true.

But I’m quite aware some expectations don’t really keep up with reality. I liked school, but I suffered with anxiety every day, especially when I decided to drop a class and pick out ones that will really test my abilities. Every few weeks I’d be okay, then the cycle repeats itself. It’s like the past few months has made me more vulnerable and I’ve never felt this weak in my life.

But Germany just washed out everything for me. I landed at noon, was greeted with a pleasant view of trees and a clear sky. It wasn’t much, but it was nice. I panicked for a bit as I got out of the Tegel airport and booked a bus ticket to HBF. I entered this huge building that had Berlin Hauptbahnhof written on it and I was in awe. I made it! Well, almost.

After what felt like minutes of walking around the huge train station with two heavy luggages, I just wanted to hop on my train to Nürnberg and call it a day. My friend picked up my stuff (huuu thank you, Lorenz!) and I ended up carrying just one bag as I boarded the train and spent the next four hours staring out the window, waiting for what’s ahead.

My week in Nürnberg was amazing—from meeting the people behind Faber-Castell to spending every day learning something new, exploring the city, and getting a glimpse of what Germany looked like, I was in awe. I liked it. I was blown away. (You can read more about it here)

I left Nürnberg after four days feeling sad and longing to be back (how could I even leave such a beautiful city?)—but I was surprised to have spent the train ride to Berlin with a newfound friend from the workshop I held at Faber-Castell (hi, Emily!). On the four hour ride to Berlin, Emily told me about Berlin, and told me I’d love it in the city. That was a good sign, I guess?

I arrived at night, half past ten, at the same HBF, now freezing as I carried my things out of the train and met up with Lorenz and headed home. I was tired. I’m just grateful he had lavender oil and I could just shut myself off after a busy couple of days (my jet lag has been really bad). Life had been so busy that I didn’t even bother plotting out a set itinerary for my five days in Berlin.

Exploring the city fully wasn’t on my mind. I knew I’d be back, but I did manage to see quite a few things during my short stay there. Apart from seeing the sights, I was keen on seeing how this city worked—how everything operated. Mind you, I was amazed. Here’s a photo diary of my trip. Maybe some commentaries here and there, but mostly observations as I made my way into this city that unexpectedly caught me off guard.

Brunch at Distrikt Coffee. I look so happy??? I love brunch!

We were on our way to our walking tour and found a Photoautomat (photo booth)! Our first attempt was a fail. I think I was more shookt when the flash suddenly came out of nowhere, lol

BTS of Lorenz taking this photo of my artwork (now his). Also gave him a crash course on making content lololol

I’ve known Lorenz for maybe 5ish years already? But we only became friends after coincidentally wearing the same outfit on New Year’s Eve in Hungary last year…and finding out we both love Abstract (yes, the Netflix series). He’s a scientist currently taking up his PhD and residing in Berlin (ikr, he’s cool), so it was a no-brainer that I visit.

Berlin’s transportation system is SO EFFICIENT. A train comes in every few minutes, and you’ll manage to get to your destination in no time. I’m so amazed! It took maybe only less than 20 minutes getting to the city center from where we were.

There’s the U-bahn (underground), the S-bahn (older trains that are still in use), and the buses and trams that are around the city. I love that you can check Google Maps for the time and not be late—which meant we had a lot of running to catch our tram heading to Mitte. Lol. #cardio

A piece of history right behind me, the Berlin Wall.

A very touristy photo of me behind the Brandenburg Gate (please don’t mind the tourists behind me). We booked this walking tour (it’s free, you leave a tip at the end of the tour) around Mitte and it was really informative! I learned so much about Berlin’s history in an entire afternoon.

We walked to the Jewish Memorial and Checkpoint Charlie, as well as the underground bunker where Hitler killed himself. So surreal to be in this place! I was just writing about wanting to go to Berlin during my trip to Eastern Europe last year.

Lorenz introduced me to Currywurst—”You’ll like it!” I did. We had it twice at the same currywurst spot because it was the cheapest (and the best).

Went to this neighborhood called Schöneberg which was brimming with beautiful architecture and this ice cream place called Jones. Who eats ice cream in cold weather??? *raises hand*

I did mention I didn’t do much research, did I? I think the spontaneity made it easier for me to not worry about most things, and just take each day as it comes.

Lunch at Umami was sooo good. I haven’t really had a bad meal in Berlin, tbh.

Sunday was spent at the East Side Gallery. This part of the Berlin Wall boasts of mural artworks by different artists and continues to attract tourists and locals alike. It’s a long stretch and there are quite popular ones we did manage to take photos of.

A fellow tourist was nice enough to take our photo (the framing was A+ too!).

We went to another Photoautomat (because it’s so pretty? I mean, yellow!) to take more photobooth pictures. Each photo took around five minutes so we were basically just bored…so…*takes more photos*

Picked up some autumn leaves (and lavender stalks??? because they’re free) in Tiergarten, a huge park right smack in the middle of the city. We were tired already but if I had more energy, I would have walked the whole stretch and explored more.

 

The next day was rainy, but I made my way around the city. I went to art stores and walked around the small neighborhoods. I love how quiet it is during the daytime. 

Modulor has been on my go-to list for the longest time, and I spent a good two hours going crazy over everything, lol. It really is “art heaven”.

Bits of color here and there.

Dropped by Do You Read Me?!, an independent bookstore housing various titles and magazines.

Polly Paper was another hidden gem, just a few steps away from Do You Read Me?!.

The next day was still rainy. *sigh* I ended up leaving for Museuminsel early, because I told myself to pick at least one gallery I’ll like. I picked Altenationalgalerie, which houses a lot of classical art.

Obviously, I made the right choice. I learned about German painters and how they paved the way for impressionism to take shape in Europe. It was nice listening to the audio guide with explanations of notable artworks and what their purpose is.

Some Monet spotting because he is an all-time favorite.

I met up with Emily and she took me around some of her favorite art and stationery shops in the city. I was surprised to find myself buying a few things I’ve never seen in my life—from cute notebooks to autumn-colored highlighters (!!!) to fountain pens. Fountain pens! Omg. Hahaha.

Thanks so much Emily for the fun afternoon despite the rain~

On my last day, I took a train ride up north to Pankow—and ran to the next tram that I missed (I told you, trams here are really on time). I went to an art institute to check out the facilities and was in awe. I was probably out of breath when I got back to the city center because of all the running…and panicking…and navigating with my phone battery on 1% (I hate myself sometimes, you know?). Anyway, that’s why this photo (above) is so memorable to me. I was just staring out the window for a good few minutes taking in the view.

10/10 will live in Berlin for scenic routes, tbh

Just some evidence of how messy my desk was. It wasn’t even my desk, technically. LOL. *hides*

My last night in Berlin involved a good serving of Turkish cuisine (I finally tried the döner!) and some People Watching IRL. I’ll never forget it.

I’m in the New York Public Library as I wrap up this post for the last time and queue up all my videos on my channel. I keep revisiting this and figuring out what to still say, but again, I’d like to think not having a plan helped me love this city so much more. The spontaneity opened me up to the beauty of finding happy accidents in between. Maybe that’s how life should be, you know? I’m so tired at having to make sure everything goes according to plan.

I’ll just leave it at this: it’s not yet over, Berlin. I’ll see you in 2019.

Abbey

PS: Germany playlist below~

 

My Faber-Castell Experience

Last October, I was sent to Nuremberg, Germany to visit the Faber-Castell headquarters. Initially I had wanted to just see the castle and maybe take a tour—that was what I had planned on doing—but I extended my stay and managed to make the most out of this quaint city. It’s been a few weeks since I took a detour to Germany, and it’s only now that I’ve gotten the time and energy to sit and write about this once in a lifetime experience.

A little backstory: so, early this year while I was planning my schooling schedule and fixing my trip to New York, I had an event for Faber-Castell in Manila. And then a wild idea came through: what if I visit the headquarters in Germany? I did hear there was a castle and looked up their website for possible tours of the factory, museum and castle. I could document it and show it to you, my readers. That was a long shot, I told myself. Tricie and I pitched the idea and I kept my fingers crossed for months, up until I had received a call (I remember this was March and I was out of Manila) saying it was approved. I was going to Germany! OMG. It took me awhile to say that out loud. I couldn’t sleep for weeks!

This was also my first time flying alone to Europe (and taking the train), so I was kind of nervous. What would Germany be like? I have briefly visited Heidelberg a few years back and I had no memory of this country. I can’t speak German, and I look 100% Asian. I was scared but also so excited. Surprisingly things went well and I managed to arrive in Nuremberg at sunset, just in time to catch the last few moments of daylight as I walked to my hostel in Nuremberg. I realized I forgot my universal adaptor (yay, me) so I rushed to get one after checking in. Then, I was greeted with a nice dinner from Sandra and Kirsten from Faber-Castell (sushi, no less!).

Can you tell how amused I am? Wes Anderson approved train machine (and branding, tbh).

The next day, I took the underground train and bus to Schloss Faber-Castell in Stein—and was in awe as I stepped out of the bus and made my way inside the complex.

But since I’m such a good navigator, I got lost (lol). The front part of the complex was under renovation, so I had to pass through the back entrance and luckily found my way inside. First, Emelia (my tour guide) took me to the pencil factory where Faber-Castell’s world famous pencils are produced every day.

I have long been a fan of Faber-Castell—I remember saving up my allowance to get a set of Classic Color Pencils in fifth grade. So imagine how overjoyed I was to be able to work with them now that I’m an artist?

The factory windows are painted in primary colors (quite apt, if you ask me), and each floor is dedicated to each department for production. I got to know more about how a pencil is made—from sourcing the right type of wood (the wood used for the pencils are from the forests they manage in several parts of the world—particularly in Brazil, because Germany is generally cold), cutting out the wood chunks into pencils (did you know that Faber-Castell is famous for its tri-grip pencil shape?), to coating each pencil with the right amount of paint (exactly six color coats, and two clear coats), to seeing it foil stamped at the pencil printing department, up until it is time to dry each batch and pack for distribution out in the market.

It’s quite amazing to see all this happening all in a day’s work in several rooms here at the factory—and I’m always amazed at how things work from start to finish.

Before they are left to dry, the pencils are sent to the printing department where each pencil is foil stamped according to its type (colored pencil, pencil, etc).

The pencils take around a full day to dry. They are kept in a fixed temperature to make sure each pencil batch dries at the same time.

It’s so satisfying to be able to see these pencils in the drying room all sorted out by pencil type and color. (I may be geeking out too much, but come on, I love pencils!)

After drying, they are packed in boxes for distribution out in the market.

That’s my giddy “I can’t believe I’m in a factory” face right there ^

After lunch, Emelia took me inside the Faber-Castell Castle, where Count Alexander and Countess Ottilie and their family used to live. Emelia told me all about the family history and how the oldest pencil was created. I also found out Vincent Van Gogh used Faber-Castell pencils, because I’m a true VVG fan (lol). The castle is huge—especially the bathrooms (wow). There was also a clinic and home school inside to make sure all their children lived in comfort. Imagine living in luxury and having a house in the form of a castle?

Loved the light coming in at this area of the castle, where the history of Faber-Castell was explained through photos, ephemera, and…vintage packaging! *heart eyes*

I particularly loved this Polychromos packaging they used from way back. Can you believe most of the packaging in the old days were hand-drawn? I love it.

Mirror selfie at Countess Ottilie’s waiting room. This was where she’d ask visitors to stay in before meeting with them (reminds me of Versailles in France!).

Fanciest staircase ever. Did you know people book this castle for weddings, too? I actually saw a newlywed couple taking photos as I made my way out this castle, lol.

In historical facts, the castle was also used during the Nuremberg Trials as a place for refuge for artists and writers. They would organize parties and events inside the castle to keep them busy and entertained.

The next day was spent at the Faber-Castell Academy, just a few blocks away from the Faber-Castell complex. I was assigned to a printmaking class with Clemens Lang, who has been doing printmaking since the 80s and has been teaching at the academy for quite some time.

Inside the printmaking studio. That’s a monotype printing machine on the right.

I honestly had no idea what printmaking was, so when I was tasked to experiment on different materials, I was terrified. As someone who’s always been very concise about her process, the spontaneity of printmaking was so eye-opening. I loved it!

By lunchtime I was glued to my work area and was working on bigger and bigger canvases, until Clemens eventually told me to work on my final piece (which I managed to take home). I love how printmaking made me rethink making art—and that while planning is also important, it’s also good to just keep experimenting and seeing how things go.

After the printmaking class, Kirsten took me out to see Nuremberg’s Old Town.

We went to Albrecht Durer’s house (fun fact: Faber-Castell watercolor pencils are aptly named “Albrecht Durer” to pay homage to the same artist!) and got to know more about his work.

There was also a castle and we crossed one of the oldest chain bridges in the world. Nuremberg feels very medieval compared to other European cities, and that’s what sets it apart so much. I had some beer and schnitzel for dinner like a true German (it was good!).

My last day at the Faber-Castell HQ was spent teaching a hand lettering workshop to fellow artists.

Never did I imagine getting to teach in Germany! That was such a nice way to end my stay in Stein.

Apart from getting to see this side of the world, I loved meeting new people and exploring an unfamiliar city that I unexpectedly loved. Nuremberg is low key but also quite hip, and the food is so good (I spent all my dinners tasting all the good food in Nuremberg—drinks included). Most of all, this experience is something I’ll never forget. Sometimes I still pinch myself to see if this all really happened. 

Kirsten took care of everything during my visit to Faber-Castell. Thank you, Kirsten!

Thank you so much to Faber-Castell Philippines, and to Faber-Castell Global (especially to Kirsten, Sandra, Annika, Joel, and everyone I met from the Faber-Castell team) for this amazing opportunity!

Halfway There

October 31, 2018 | 3:48PM | E train to Port Authority Bus Terminal (uptown) | New York City

This week marks my two month stay in New York. It’s been surreal. I realize the person I was in September 1st is no longer the person I am now.

Last week I was in Germany on a work trip (and vacation), and it took that trip to make me appreciate New York a bit more. I always take it for granted that I’m studying here, because if you peel off the layers, the daily anxiety I have to get by with here has really put me to my maximum.

 

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The past few days have been exhausting. I haven’t gotten around to rest from my trip as my family is here to visit (I picked them up from the airport hours after I arrived from Berlin). I’ve been lucky to have been seeing some people that remind me of home in recent weeks—from the first week of October (my kabarkada, Alyssa, visited New York) to my quick trip to Texas (where I met my godmother’s family), to Germany (one of my good friends lives in Berlin) to now, as I took my mom and brother around the city.

Growing up, I have remained distant with my family. Ever since my father passed when I was nine, I have become independent and more self-reliant. Which, of course, is a good thing—but also, it isn’t. I grew apart from my mother and siblings. I preferred spending my weekends with friends because they seemed to care more about me. It went on for maybe three years (ever since I started my career, basically). It wasn’t until I had to face the fact that I had to tell my family I had no more plans to settle in Manila, and maybe New York would be where I was meant to be (spoiler alert: nope, I am not living here, no doubt) that we became more open to communicate as a family.

So getting to take them around the city this week was really fun. I found out my mom liked museums (we went to Guggenheim and she spent more time looking at artworks than I did), and my brother is pretty cultured for a 17-year-old (he picked up a book at Strand which is an anthology of stories in North Korea, and reads George Orwell’s 1984 during downtime) who happens to take good pictures (hahaha). I found out my brother and I are stingy AF and are quick decision makers when it comes to shopping (finally, I have someone exactly like me!). These are things I never really took time to discover about them since I mostly work when I’m in Manila.

I seem to be fumbling here and there about how things are because honestly, I have not had enough time to digest everything and be in a state of calm for the longest time. Being here just makes your thinking even more fuzzy with all the distractions and overwhelming things you encounter on a regular basis.

***

4:36PM | 42nd St, Bryant Park

For a time, I have always asked myself the same question: why suffer when you can just live comfortably and settle in Manila? Why keep going? Trust me, I can’t find the answers either. I just keep pushing myself to my limits despite the fear, because I honestly have nothing to lose—maybe time, but that I have already factored in.

I look back early this year as I started plotting out this “New York adventure”. I had planned on living here. I had planned on “making it” here, but after awhile those dreams slowly faded away into the distance. Did I really want to make it? What does success look like now, for me? I can’t quite figure it out either. So I think in hindsight (also because I’m a Capricorn who likes planning waaaay ahead), knowing these are out of the picture both scares and relieves me.

Back then I have always wanted to keep writing books, to keep making art for the rest of my life. But how can I keep going when I am in a crossroads? I felt like the Abbey Sy persona I have become online has evolved into someone new. Someone I am not quite sure I know, either. I’m scared of this new thing unfolding. I always have been generally scared about so many things—crippling with fear as I consciously make decisions that could make or break my own journey. It’s always been that way.

***

October in New York was hazy. I flew to Texas on the first weekend, finally getting to see Taylor Swift do her thing on stage. I was amazed. I was inspired. Also, for a twenty five year old, wow I was tired after the show. LOL. Then, I had idle time on most days wandering around the city, and I managed to break in a pair of heeled boots I got (#priorities). I also toured a few friends around Chelsea and SoHo.

Sometimes it’s nice to be able to speak in Filipino or Mandarin and feel so comfortable, right? That’s how it’s been seeing friends tbh.

I went to Brooklyn with Carly on a Sunday—the week before I left for Germany. The temperature suddenly dropped and I wasn’t ready. Three layers of sleepwear? The sudden gush of wind breezing through my hair as I walk out the door? Those were uncalled for. Fall is finally here, I realized.

I wasn’t in my best state, leaving for Germany. I knew I had a lot of issues to sort out before flying to another country. So I addressed them one by one because who else will? And if I don’t, who will suffer the consequences?

Case in point: I dropped one of my classes because I couldn’t help it. My professor was so judgmental. Initially I assumed I could be wrong, but I wasn’t. She shamed the brands of watercolors I used. When I’d call her attention for instructions, she’d do her best to speak less to me and move to the next student. It’s been 5 classes and I have not finished a single painting. 5 classes! That’s fifteen hours!

I impulsively e-mailed the school and asked to drop courses (they issued a refund, fortunately). I can’t believe that I’m still being treated this way—she reminded me so much of my 5 year old self, who was told that she wasn’t equipped to paint acrylic because she wasn’t good enough. I realized I’m not defenseless—I will always, ALWAYS fight for myself, if that is the least I could do. I can’t bear to endure things that no longer serve me.

I keep saying I’ve been negatively going through life because that’s how I’ve always seen life through my own eyes. Fighting little battles and facing my demons bit by bit as my own story unfolds. It’s crazy, isn’t it? I wish I looked at life from a brighter scale. I’m trying, I really am.

But it’s not like I dislike New York a lot. I love and hate it at the same time. This week I got to explore the city like a tourist, but with a bit of judgment because I feel more like a local now (choosing to walk instead of taking the subway, skipping the overpriced coffee and leeching internet everywhere).

The Upper East Side was nice. So was Central Park. But I realize it’s too posh for me. Today we went to East Village and explored downtown Manhattan—my favorite part of Manhattan, tbh. Lowkey and just the right amount of people.

I’m currently in Bryant Park (my favorite park for many reasons, Project Runway included) with a few minutes to spare before I head to class. They started to open the skating rink here, and there are an array of shops surrounding the lawn, making it festive in time for the holidays. Oh, right, the holidays are coming up. I’ll be home in a few weeks. I’m actually looking forward to it.

I still don’t know where home is, but I know it will not be in New York. Manila is a default, but where else could I be? I have another year to figure it out ‘til then.

And this time, maybe it’s best to not plan everything out and let nature take its course. Sounds exciting. And scary. Two things I always feel, anyway.

My First Month in New York: Managing Expectations

Being fragile and vulnerable to address my issues these past few weeks have given me enough clarity to figure out the things that matter to me at this point in time. I’m writing this and it’s been seven days of no app checking and maybe just once a day checking of Facebook (mostly just to chat with friends and family). I love the quiet. I forgot I craved this for the longest time.

The silence and freedom has helped me focus on myself more. Is it a good thing? I guess. I only assume I know myself to a certain level, but now that I’m older, I really do know my limits. It’s just been roughly a month since I arrived here in New York and I’ve changed a lot. Interesting how a place can just…change you in that way.

Did I mention how nice it is to not have to be updating my Instagram 24/7??? Here’s how life has been so far. Of course, I still document everything for the memz ~

Painting on a quiet Saturday afternoon is my new favorite me-time

Went to the NY Art Book Fair with Amber. We had Thai food after! I was so happy. Lol.

New tote I got from the book fair…because I can totes (ooh) imagine myself saying that in a very sarcastic tone.

(Thanks for the mail, Koko and Chinggay!)

Last weekend I was out and about even if the G train was down, lol. Had brunch with Adam and Mitchell, two lovely people. I met Adam in Graphika Manila last February and he’s an amazing artist and author based in Brooklyn (he has cool books out in the market and you should definitely get a copy for yourself).

I had a bad episode of…idk what to call it (mental breakdown? severe burnout? almost giving up on my career?) last week (as indicated in this post). The cure? A night well-spent with Hank and John Green (also, eep, signed copy of AART!). I finally met John Green IRL! Did you know the first artwork I hand lettered was from Looking for Alaska?

I had ramyun earlier that day coupled with some tears. TBH, I still can’t poach an egg. :<

Fall colors! I totally copped this Madewell top because it was on sale (ugh, excuses) and my school outfit is always a shirt, jeans, and jacket. That’s it. Also, there’s a nearby Japanese grocery called Sunrise Mart in SoHo—so guess where my weekly lunch go-to place is? *cries*

I needed to get a tripod for plein air class (ugh, bye money) but I also needed one to film my videos, so yay, more stuff coming soon. I updated my channel with some of my current NYC journaling things (yes, I got a basket and some organizers like a true OC person lol):

Decided to run at noon because it was freezing cold last Friday. This is my “I’m tired but I can’t believe I’m actually running” face.

Running has been teaching me a lot of things, particularly the importance of keeping a steady pace, and not to rush things too much (applies to all aspects in life, if you’ve noticed). Still a work in progress!

Explored Chinatown with Carly! Carly is one of Kaila’s friends and I’m so glad we got to meet up. I’m a very selective person when it comes to friends and I am just so grateful for the people I’ve been meeting in this city. 🙂 Just goes to show that having the same values and mindsets really help establish how I get to build relationships with people.

Goosebumps seeing this banner this year. Last year I was here touring the campus and telling myself, “I’ll make a way to be back here to study”.

This late brunch photo deserves to be posted here because it was this day that I had a light bulb moment for one of the projects I’ve been brewing…and it’s so far out from what I’ve done so far. I can’t wait to share it with you all but it has to be kept secret for now. 😛

I met one of my heroes, David Levithan, and I AM NOT OVER IT. I am not. This is so surreal and I am so grateful this happened.

If you’ve read my blog / Tumblr since 2013 you have probably seen me hand-letter his quotes or talk about how much I love Every Day, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, and so much more. Here’s the thing; David Levithan opened up my world to beautifully written and heartfelt stories—I remember I was in tears reading Every Day. I still reread most of his books especially The Lover’s Dictionary (I love his Twitter account by the way) and I have always, always said I would want to meet him someday. Well, that someday finally came!


Some notes from my first month in New York:

  • Hoodies feel like a warm hug. Like, they really do. I just put on a shirt, a hoodie, jeans, sneakers and run off to do errands. I’ve never been this happy over a piece of clothing, tbh. (And if you know me, I never liked hoodies!)
  • I have two art classes and design classes (four in total). I’m quite surprised I like design classes better—they make me think beyond the usual. Art class is giving me so much insecurity; I now realize how grateful I am I didn’t take up art as a degree. I’d probably drop out first thing.
  • Sometimes all you have to do is ask. Ask specifically, and people will respond. People are nice, you have to smile more often and make them feel important to you. Case in point: I’m really terrified of post office people so last week I was nice and asked questions. And the clerk didn’t get mad. Achievement? Yay!
  • How wonderful it is to be in this chaos of people in the subway, and realizing you are just a tiny dot in this universe? That your problems are little things that don’t really matter in the big picture of life. It’s a crazy analogy, but I have always felt like this. It’s nice to remember that feeling here.
  • But also tbh seeing so many people every day is just exhausting. I never end the day here not feeling tired unless I stay home. New York is that overwhelming, coupled with lots of walking.
  • An economically correct decision: choosing a $6.40 brunch meal (eggs, sausage, toast + $1 coffee) over a $5 oat milk latte plus tax. I now know where to dine if I’m lazy to cook at home. Also: preparing sandwiches for school dinners save so much money. This is college all over again, tbh.
  • Living in New York is not the same as visiting it. I haven’t even explored most of the go-to places here and I’m too caught up getting my daily sh*t together, you know? It’s crazy.

Since we’re here, thought I’d share about some things I’ve been consuming lately…

Books on my desk:

  • You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero (done and loved it)
  • Goodbye to All That, edited by Sari Botton (halfway!)
  • An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (I’ve been running so it’s apt to be reading this memoir, which I find very insightful.)
  • Someday by David Levithan

Podcasts I’ve been listening to:

Music on my current playlist:

I’ll be honest and say that I did not see all of this coming. I expected my stay here to be…ermm…I can’t describe it. Okay? I did know I was not going to see the city the same way again, from the starry-eyed self I was last year. I don’t hate that fact. It actually grounds me—you’d think New York is this glamorous place and it’s been romanticized that way…but when you look at how days go, you realize how mundane it is, how simple it is. But also, at the same time, very complex. It’s like this hodge podge of different people, different places, and you just have to keep up with the pace. I walk faster now, not because I’m rushing, but it’s what I picked up from a month of living in NYC.

I still have three months and I’ve felt a bit homesick the past few weeks. But I’m not one to give up easily; I’ll stick it out. October’s another story; I’ll let it unfold as I take my next flight to one of my dream destinations. If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that choosing to take this time off is one of the better decisions I’ve made so far this year. That’s something I’d attest to for the rest of my life.

Until then!