By Nicole De Los Reyes
A girl doesn’t read this sort of thing without her lipstick,” Holly Golightly famously says while trying to make light of a tense moment in the iconic movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
It echoes with the same sentiments as a Bill Cunningham quote: “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.”
This is exactly the kind of moment that artist Tom Bucag would likely draw, capturing Gollightly’s idiosyncratic attitude and style in one of his expressive portraits.
Though he would not describe himself as a fashion illustrator per se, Tom seems to have found his niche in the industry.
His artwork was first featured in a newspaper’s fashion section back in 2014. Someone contacted him through his Instagram to illustrate for a published article on the Manila Fashion Festival. Since then, he’s drawn portraits of Preview Magazine’s best-dressed, illustrated the pages of L’officiel Manila and España, and worked on collaborations with brands like Adidas and The North Face.
One of the highlights of his career was when he illustrated for local, online magazine GGforyou.com. He was tasked with recreating the fashion campaigns of designer labels such as Louis Vuitton, Celine, and Missoni. One of the illustrations he made was of a Proenza Schouler editorial, and his work caught the attention of the brand, and was featured on their Instagram page.
With a subtly humorous vibe and an aesthetic that is all his own (some of his works feature captions like ‘Sad Girls’ and ‘women on the verge of a nervous breakdown’), Tom is on his way to becoming recognized not only in local art and fashion circles, but also on an international scale.
And yet, Tom is the last person who would have ever imagined himself working in this field. “It wasn’t at all planned,” he says of his foray into graphic design and visual arts. He had just obtained his biology degree and was considering pursuing a career in medicine, when the realization hit that it just wasn’t for him.
“I didn’t know what to do then, and so I applied for jobs not knowing where to go or what would come next,” he says. He started working for the home goods store Craftsmith Living, while posting photos of his works and practice sketches on Instagram.
It was through the platform that he began to attract clients that were interested in his art. He kept his day job, but started doing commissioned works and contributing illustrations to publications on the side.
One thing that people often neglect is the fact that clothing exudes personality and character—it’s not all about one’s physical features.
“Much credit is due to Craftsmith Living, my first employer,” he says. “They have acted as my constant support system from the time I was finding my stride in this field until now.”
Recently, the visual artist and illustrator has added graphic design to his array of services. “I’ve always been fascinated with posters, album arts, book covers, magazine covers, fashion spreads,” he says. “I researched the world of graphic design and, to my surprise, it tickled pink!”
He shares that earlier he applied to graphic design positions even if he had no previous experience. “I got rejected by most of the companies I applied to except one, but was hired as a marketing associate, not as a graphic designer,” he says. “I stayed there for a year and asked my colleagues for a crash course every now and then.”
To earn his spot in the industry, he took a break from work, and studied a short course in graphic design overseas. “Now, I’m officially a graphic designer,” he says, with a laugh. “I’m still testing the waters as a newbie, but all things considered, I’m happy where I am now!”
Tom’s language is his art, and his work mostly speaks for itself (you can check out his illustrations at @tombucag), but here are some interesting tidbits from Manila Bulletin Lifestyle’s interview with him:
You have a very unique style that is instantly recognizable as your work. Can you tell us how you developed it and what it expresses about you as an artist?
It took a lot of trial-and-error to come up with this style, considering I don’t have an art background. I experimented with different things, only to find myself stuck. I rummaged through old doodles and sketches from my university lecture notebooks, and that gave me an “Aha!” moment. So I began again from there. I guess style really follows when you are yourself without any pretensions, and are not trying so hard.
Something I notice about your art is that you direct a lot of focus and detail into the clothing of your subjects. Can you tell me more about this?
One thing that people often neglect is the fact that clothing exudes personality and character—it’s not all about one’s physical features. Fashion, as cliché as it may sound, is a form of self-expression.
Is there a specific fashion period or clothing style that interests you as an artist?
I’ve always been a fan of dated references—from the Ballet Russes during the 1910s, La Nouvelle Vague during the late 1950s, to the Neo Avant Garde during the 1960s. It’s very interesting because every era seems to beg for something new, not just for the heck of it, but from the zeitgeist of that certain period, which comes naturally.
Where do you draw inspiration for your art?
Mostly from films, icons, photographs, and constant people-watching.
Describe your own personal style.
Apart from the usual female subjects, I think my personal style is mostly driven by the fact that beauty is relative. Everything else just follows.
How are you similar and different from the characters in your artworks?
We are similar in a way that they’re an extension of my subconscious mind, but different because they’re more brave and confident.
If you did a self-portrait, what would you most likely draw yourself wearing?
The limelight isn’t for me, so I’d probably wear something as basic as a dark t-shirt. (Laughs)
What’s in store for you in the next few months?
I’m currently working on an art book, which will be sold in limited quantities, and catching up on commissioned artworks that I left pending when I studied. Maybe an art exhibit which has been a long dream of mine, who knows?