If you’re going to ask me if I’ve always known that I have an affinity for art, the answer is a resounding no. I wasn’t born in a family of artists – my mother is a public servant, my father is a carpenter (the closest to artisan my bloodline could get), and all of my sisters and brothers are either computer engineer or mechanical engineer.
I grew up in a household filled with gears and axels and bolts and wires; all rigid, and straight, and gray. And quite frankly, I myself didn’t have a clear view of what I wanted to become in the future. I remember dreaming of becoming a marine biologist, a pastry chef, a language instructor, and even a celebrity. There were too many paths to choose from and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to take.
Tools and equipment of Dani's father and siblings.
But I guess, the universe has its own way of taking you where you are supposed to be. Or maybe, it’s just the heart, leading you to the path that has always been meant for you to take. I ended up taking a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, but in retrospect, I can say that art never really left my side.
I have published a book before I graduated from college. That was also the same time when I realized that I didn’t want to be boxed inside writing alone. I wanted to own my pieces by marking them with my art and my design and my identity. That’s why, I always find myself smiling with pride for my 20-year-old self every time I see my debut book’s copyright page with my name written as the author, the cover artist, and the illustrator.
You see, that’s why visual journaling appealed to me with such a cosmic degree. It’s like two passions rolled into one, like a balanced concoction of writing and designing, letters and patterns, words and form, stories and colors.
If I remember it correctly, it was in 2015 when bullet journaling emerged as a creative hobby in our country. Or maybe it has always been a creative hobby, it just didn’t have a popular name or a massive community back then which is why it remained hidden under the shade until 2015. And by emerge I mean tons of books have been published about it, workbooks, manuals, practice sheets. Tons of shops started selling washi tapes and nice papers and pretty stationery items. It was also the same era when hand-lettering became very popular, so you can only imagine how everyone instantly became obsessed with these forms of art, and that’s including me.
I started hopping into the bandwagon in 2016, one afternoon after a trip to Divisoria, a popular place in the Philippines known for housing endless rows of shops selling all kinds of things for a very cheap price. For a small amount of cash, I was able to buy a decent journal, stamps and stamp inks in different colors, stickers, and tapes, and pretty papers, and pens and markers. I was so ready to take this on.
Divisoria, Philippines, where Dani bought her first bullet journaling supplies.
But it wasn’t successful. After a few spreads, I suddenly lost interest to continue. I felt that it was too demanding. I became too fixed at making each spread pleasing that I get so frustrated every time they are not. And just like that, I cleaned up my desk, kept all my supplies in my drawer, and never used them again. After all, I needed more time to finish so many books on my shelf. I guess losing one hobby wouldn’t hurt.
One of Dani's earliest bullet journal spreads before she adopted her current style of @danicreativesco.
2017 rolled in, and several novels after, a friend of mine (whom I knew from our book community) introduced me to this craft shop owner who was on the lookout for design ambassadors. Basically, she’s looking for people who are willing to blog about craft projects using the craft supplies she’s going to send monthly. Sort of like promoting the supplies she’s selling through videos and photos and blogs. Of course, I sighed up and luckily I got in! So, my passion for art that’s been lying dormant in my heart has now reawakened.
But just like the first time, the excitement died down after a few months. After buying tons of ink pads and watercolor and stencils and brush pens. And I had no choice but to sing this passion to sleep again, just like what I did back then.
I became very busy with my first independent poetry book in 2018. It was still very heavy on art – graphic design, illustrations, calligraphy – just not the visual journaling kind, and back then, it was enough of a creative juice to keep my art gears going smoothly.
Some books published by Dani.
But like I told you, the universe has its own way to lead you back where you are supposed to be, no matter how far off course you’ve gone.
New Year’s day, 2018, as I watch the night sky lit up with fireworks and hope for a new beginning, I thought about going back to visual journaling, and this time, actually sticking to it for long. I was also having a sense that I really need to start planning important things in my life, something that I wasn’t doing before.
So, just like my many attempts before, I bought new supplies again and started my 2019 visual journal.
If you will ask me if I’ve always known my style, the answer is, yes you guessed it right, a resounding no, again. But to be fair, I didn’t start from scratch either. In 2018, I created an Instagram account (@writtenfromwreckage) for my poetry pieces and it has been a significant experience in shaping the style and aesthetics that I have right now.
@writtenfromwreckage, Dani's other Instagram account.
It has become my training ground in mastering flat lay photography. In understanding the sunlight and the way it behaves from different angles. Picking the props, visualizing the compositions, selecting filters, and even choosing the time of the day to take photos. This is also where I learned that beige and brown and cream are the colors that really speak to me. I have always struggled to identify the color that represents me, I’ve already gone from purple to dandelion, to teal, to salmon, before I stumbled upon these neutrals.
That being said, when I started my Instagram account (@danicreativesco) in February, I wasn’t totally flying blind, because I already have a color palette in mind at the very least, even when the rest was all a blur. I didn’t have any idea that this color scheme will be the trademark I will be known for.
Early posts of @danicreativesco in 2019.
I watched tons of plan-with-me videos and bullet journal set up videos to see what comprises a bullet journal, to understand which components work for me, which approach captures my lifestyle, and which style will be both effective, sustainable, and efficient.
Of course, I didn’t get everything right the first time. My ideas and visions have evolved so much from the last time I made a spread so there wasn’t any familiarity with it. My first few spreads are either too plain because I was afraid of putting the wrong elements, or too crazy because the elements didn’t go well with each other. But I just kept going. One thing that bullet journaling and visual journaling taught me is that mistakes are part of the process. Cliché, I know. But you wouldn’t get to grasp its essence entirely until you’re staring mistake blankly in the face.
I remember I tried doing this funky spread in April and I wasn’t happy with the result, so I cut the page off. But then, the thin paper it left attached to the binding prevents the succeeding pages from lying flat, so I had to tear the whole section – a good four or six pages with completed designs – off of the journal, only to remedy an otherwise negligible mistake. That’s actually when I realized that trying to fix something might just make it worse. Mistakes don’t demand solutions or remedies. They demand understanding, so that you know what to do next time. So that you can keep yourself from doing the same mistakes over and over again.
@danicreativesco Instagram growth chart, with washi tapes.
Keeping a visual journal (sorry if you’re getting confused, I just use a bullet journal and visual journal interchangeably but I think they are two different things? Anyway, because of the way my style incorporates elements present both in the bullet journal and visual journal, I’m not sure how to call it. Haha. So just allow me to use them both here).
So as I was saying, keeping a visual journal also helped me organize my life, and I mean a thousand folds better than the way I organize my life before. Tracking certain habits, recording important things, listing down tasks, writing down feelings, narrating about my day, counting the things I’m grateful for. These are just some of the things I never thought I needed. And some of the things that made an immense impact on my life (on my mental health, for the most part).
Okay, so let’s talk about style. As I said, when I started, all I had was a color palette and nothing else. But in retrospect, I think the color palette is one of the most important factors in developing your own style. I think, having harmony in color will easily bind your entire design together. But that’s not saying that it’s easy. Before I found the style I’m happy and proud and pleased with, I had to constantly explore and experiment, mix and match and mix again.
One of Dani's recent posts on @danicreativesco.
I think your style will just reveal itself once it’s ready. And for it to become ready, you have to immerse yourself in other people’s works, not to steal ideas from them, but to gather inspiration. Remember, your style is a representation of yourself, so it shouldn’t be copied. You have to regulate your mind every time you’re looking for inspiration from other people’s works, otherwise, their style will pollute your own, and your identity will be lost in the process.
It took me seven months before actually finding my own style. Before I realize that I love grids, and lines, and old book pages, and tags, and coffee-stained ephemera, and sepia-toned photographs, and neutral washi tapes, and kraft paper, and wide margins, and prominent column gutters. All of the spreads I made from January to June are pure experiments, chucking out elements that I hated from the previous month, and adding new elements each time to see if they will work.
And believe me, this whole process gets tiring sometimes. I’ve struggled along the way several times. I’ve been on the brink of quitting again, just like before. But I guess, the difference this time is that I’m getting endless support and love and appreciation from the journaling community on Instagram. I’m not sure if these people have any idea how much their simple comments mean to someone who’s having a hard time finding the fire inside of them. But, I’m always grateful, regardless. And that’s why I always try my best to keep going.
You see, when I started my Instagram account, I had no idea that in less than a year, it will already have 60K followers. I mean, it’s crazy! That’s the number of people who think my spreads, my content is worth following! Sixty thousand! I mean the 5K milestone is already a big deal for me. And to see these people repost my work, share my photos, say nice things about my page, post their own work inspired by mine, is just a whole new level of amazing.
Those moments are some of the best and some of the most transformative. I never imagined I will get to inspire people just by doing something I love. So, if you’re reading this, please know that I will always be grateful for your support, for your love, and for your appreciation. You always tell me that I inspire you, but the truth is the other way around – you all inspire me, and I will always be thankful for that.
And I can’t wait to sail through this new year with you! I have so many plans for 2020 and I can’t wait to share them all with you, lovelies. I have already started it with the launch of my first-ever visual journaling kit last January which was only supposed to be a mini-market test with six kits (but your support and positive response motivated me to sell 40 more which were all sold out). I’m also working on launching an actual webshop to sell my own merchandise soon.
I’m already working on the first few products I will sell. I will also try to explore more styles this year (I actually started a quite different journal already. I can’t wait to see where this leads me). I’m so excited about everything! I will also try to be more active on YouTube by posting a new video every week. The pandemic sure affected my workflow and the logistics of my plans but when all of this is over, I’ll definitely hustle twice as much to make sure all of this gets done.
I hope you enjoy my story! And I can’t wait to witness the next adventure waiting for us in the coming months! I’m sure it’s going to be just as beautiful as you all are.
xo Dani @danicreativesco
in collaboration with @bullet.journals | @thewashitapeshop | April 2020