Robert Alejandro: Designing His-and Children's-World
(January, 1995,  WT Style)
by Arsi A. Baltazar

1-1-95.jpg (2664 bytes)What do you do when you meet a "children's book illustrator"?  First, you look whether his hands are clean or not.  Children's book illustrators use their hands in a lot of ways, so a lot of things get into them like ink, paint and dirt.  Second, you look at the way he looks like.  Children's book illustrators may look like they've been glued to their drawing pads for a long time - they either wear thick eyeglasses or blue, green or brown contact lenses and stare at you, blankly.  Third, you listen to how they speak, though chances are they don't speak much because they spend a lot of, if not most, their time imagining!

    What do you do when you meet "children's book illustrator" Robert Alejandro?  First, you won't look at his hands because they look okay.  Second, you will love the way he looks.  He's quite young and good-looking and he doesn't wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, and third, he speaks a lot, has a very good PR and won't give you a dull moment ever.

    So was our interview with him one balmy afternoon at the plush Alabang Town Center, base of his latest creation Kindertown, a haven of a shopping mall especially designed for kids.   Here each store entrance is designed with animal and cartoon characters, attractive enough for kids to play around and imagine themselves to be in some kind of wonderland.   "It took quite some time for us to create something like this," says Robert.  "Children fascinate me and give me the inspiration to create things they like and enjoy."

    Robert says his ardent desire to make children happy stems from childhood, "I had a very happy childhood.  My parents would take me and my sisters to fun places, one of which is Luneta.  I really enjoyed Luneta during my childhood especially at daytime when people would just be moving.  I would just sit and look at all the activity surrounding me and it fascinated me because I love to watch things move."

    While he was growing up, drawing characters became a constant activity he would spend time on.  He would draw different kinds of plants, animals and people.  "I'd draw them all in various shapes and sizes.  I always thought of being some kind of an artist," he quips.

    Apparently, that's what he became when he grew up.  He studied at the U.P. College of Fine Arts where he was graduated in 1984.  Then he worked at Cacho Publishing House where his talent in drawing for children's books came to life.  "I was just having a ball when I was assigned certain storybooks.  I just created whatever the stories called for and the resulting books came out so well I couldn't believe I drew them.  That's why I call myself a children's book illustrator!  That first break in the business was a source of inspiration because it made children happy, " he proudly states.

    After his stint with Cacho Publishing, Robert worked as a designer for Gibson Greeting Cards which he describes as a "rewarding" experience.  Then he made a bigger step towards the big league when he worked as art director for McCann Erickson, one of the biggest advertising firms in the world.  "I enjoyed myself there, too, but somehow, my work really turned out to be real serious work.  In an ad agency, client tells you what they want and things have to come out as they say or they reject your work.  At a certain point, I felt it was not my kind of ball game anymore to continue.  All I wanted really was to design, draw and create things for the satisfaction of children.   So I left," he adds.

    After making that bold step, Robert was suddenly flooded with offers to work on various projects.  His biggest project so far is Glico's Great Adventure, a children's theme park located at the Quad II of the Ayala Center.  There, his creativity as a designer was put to test.   The project took a whole year to create.  "When I was commissioned to create something out of bare space, my imagination ran wild!  It was a real dream come true!  Now, when I visit the place and see kids enjoy all the rides and games, it makes me wonder how that space came out to be as fun-filled and adventurous.  It just makes me ecstatic!"

    Robert's success with Glico's in the "make children happy" businss led him to bigger breaks.   Some of the noteworthy projects that came his way are : Time Out Video arcades located at SM City and Ever Gotesco and Toy Town, a toy store also at the Quad.  This year, Robert will fly to the South to supervise another great theme park located at the Ayala Commercial Center in Cebu. 

    Not known to many, Robert is the son of Papemelroti owners Corit and Benny Alejandro.  Papemelroti is a popular novelty gift shop with branches in the big malls in the country, and which sells mostly earth-friendly and recycled material, mostly paper, gift items.  The name represents the first two letters of each of their childrens' names.  Robert is the "ro" in Papemelroti.

    "I actually designed Papemelroti's new look." he says.  "When it started, the stores were quite dark wood.  After some time, I suggested we lighten the store by changing the color of the wood.  So we used a lighter shade and it really feels more comfortable now."  Robert redesigned all the stores and very recently finished the Quad branch using recycled wood.

    He plans to go full blast next year and target the international scene.  One of his attempts at going international came true when one of his designs for a calling card and a shopping bag was chosen among so many design entries and was published in a graphic book called P.L.E. Graphics published in Japan.  Negotiations are now going on for him to form a children's playland in Asia.

    Robert, now 30, says his life has just started.  "There is so much work to be done to be able to make the world a better place to live in.  I have this dream of designing really beautiful sidewalks, lamp posts and even manholes - things that would make people appreciate the things they normally ignore."  For him, designing the earth, though far fetched, is vital in giving its inhabitants the inspiration to go on with life and be creative in whatever field they choose.

    If that statement sounds like a wish (that eventually comes true) of a character from a fairytale book, who can argue with a children's book illustrator?  Robert Alejandro, take a bow.

 

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