Have always been interested in Philippine flora but don’t know where to start? Professional artists and creatives Inya de Vera and Gianne Encarnacion recently collaborated to create and distribute Ornate Ecology, a typeface featuring Philippine flora, for a cause. For P300 (or more if you’re feeling generous), you can get a beautiful typeface and support communities stricken by Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses.
Ornate Ecology is the illustrators’ passion project that aims to reintroduce Philippine flora in various ways. The ornamental typeface features 20 flora, from everyday flowers like Sampaguita, to unfamiliar species like Ascoglossum. “It features just a small fraction of the flora found in our biodiversity rich country. We hope that people who download this font will find a deeper appreciation for Philippine flora and find joy in the ornaments,” they describe.
Encarnacion has always been fascinated with ornate surface work. She shares her inspiration, saying, “My mom and my lola have subconsciously influenced my work a lot: their threadwork, embroidered pillowcases, patterned blankets and dasters, my mom’s love for ancestral houses and my lola’s verdant garden.” Having come from a family with a medical background, she finds that an interest in science comes naturally to her.
De Vera, on the other hand, recalls noticing that most of the textbooks she had read as a child featured species found outside the country. “So I started to do my own research on Philippine biodiversity. It blows me away to read about a variety of species only found in our own home country. That made me start a series of drawings on Philippine fauna,” De Vera says.
The two, sharing the same passion for Philippine flora, decided to collaborate on their common interest.
The process of developing the typeface entailed heavy research and studies which took the two over a year. They started by creating a list of at least 50 flowers from around the country and decks for reference photos. They had to sketch and ink at least four variations of drawings and icons of the flowers individually. “A big influence on this project was the Bodoni ornaments. These are found on standard Microsoft Word,” says De Vera.
The illustrators, having their own styles, drew the flowers from different angles. They then converted these into vector graphics and carefully assigned keys for each flora, which had 4 glyphs each. “The whole project had the potential to be in disarray if we mixed up just one specimen. It actually happened twice!” says Encarnacion, but they pulled through.
On top of the tedious process of researching and illustrating, the designers also had to struggle with juggling their other creative commitments while working amid a pandemic. But the women were committed to finishing their work. Encarnacion shares, “Our working sessions/calls are my favorite moments. We usually had our calls every Sunday just to check in with our progress and it was a great mix of productivity and sabaw-ness. It’s funny because sometimes a week’s worth of tasks could be done in our 3-hour calls.”
De Vera adds, “Collaborating with Gii (Encarnacion) is so fun because we share the same passion [for] learning and creating art around Philippine flora. We’d meet every Sunday weeks before the launch talking for hours while finishing weeks worth of work after.”
The original plan was to launch the typeface back in October, but the artists’ busy schedules kept pushing the date back. The release of graphic designer Jo Malinis’ typeface Salbabida Sans to raise donations for fundraisers gave De Vera and Encarnacion the go-signal to release Ornate Ecology. It was their way to help out. “Shout out to Jo Malinis!” they joke.
The release received an overwhelming response from the Philippine typography community. Just a day after its launch, De Vera and Encarnacion drummed up P20,000 worth of purchases for the benefit of farmers, fisherfolks and the youth. Encarnacion found it heartwarming to see people appreciating their designs and getting acquainted with Philippine flora.
“I personally enjoyed creating the orchids we featured in this first book. Orchids are my favorite flowers, they look out of this world!” De Vera answers when asked about her favorite glyph. Encarnacion on the other hand says she cannot pick. “Oh this is hard. I love all of them! I cannot choose a favorite flower.”
The fonts are often used for Powerpoint presentations, social media posts and as borders for journals. The flowers can be used as bullet-points and dividers to bring life to documents. De Vera recommends “type smashing on your keyboard, and you will form a beautiful garden on your document!” One of their patrons used the font for DIY washi tapes.
The two came up with “Ornate Ecology First Book.” According to De Vera and Encarnacion, the name suggests that there are possibly more books and physical products to come. Originally, the two even wanted Ornate Ecology to be wearable pieces and have their designs on scarves and cloths. But because of the pandemic, says De Vera, they realized that they should start small and release a digital product first.
Through this project, Encarnacion hopes “to build a community that welcomes all types of Philippine flora art. In the long run, we hope we could bridge the unfamiliarity of Filipinos with our diverse biodiversity through art.”