A Day in the Life: What It's Like to Be a Freelance Visual Artist

Visual artist Auggie Fontanilla gets real about freelancing.

PHOTO BY War Espejo

(SPOT.ph) "I'm Auggie FontanillaNagdo-drawing ako ng madaming-madaming drawing every day para sa freelance work," the visual artist cheekily tells SPOT.ph when asked about who he is and what he does. Contrary to whatever your parents may have told you about going into art, Fontanilla pays the bills with his. 

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The artist lives with his fiancée, Alex Lizares, their three cats (Pearl, Pepito, and, Potato), several plants (no names), and lots of art (not just his), in a sunlit apartment along a narrow road somewhere in Mandaluyong. The second bedroom in their apartment has been retrofitted into a studio—the first space Fontanilla has ever had exclusively to his own art—and this is where you'll find him most of the time. Filled to the bursting point with his own pieces, works by friends, keepsakes, toys, and curios, Fontanilla arguably has one of the coolest offices in town.

Visual artist Auggie Fontanilla at his studio.
PHOTO BY War Espejo
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The window of Fontanilla's studio has been turned into a display board full of his works.
PHOTO BY War Espejo

You may have already spotted his work—which consists mainly of wonderfully warped figures of animals and icons (from religious imagery to popular culture)—in restaurants and shops, in galleries, and maybe even on jackets. SPOT.ph recently followed him around to see what it takes to survive as a freelance artist in the cutthroat world of Metro Manila; here's what we found.

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A Day in the Life

PHOTO BY War Espejo

Morning

Fontanilla's day starts with his cats. "Seven a.m. gising ko para pakainin yung cats kasi makulit sila," he tells us. After that, it's time for husband duties. He drives his fiancée to her office, then comes home and enjoys a good cup of coffee before he gets on to his own work.

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Fontanilla fueling up with a cup of coffee and enjoying some quiet time at his studio.
PHOTO BY War Espejo

There is no fixed schedule to follow for Fontanilla; no time-in, time-out, or lunch breaks are set out for him. "You're on your own. You have to be responsible enough to schedule your own time," he says. "Doing freelance now, full-time," explains the artist, means that, "hawak ko yung sarili kong oras": a double-edged sword.

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Afternoon

A piece the artist was working on for a client.
PHOTO BY War Espejo

After a quick lunch, Fontanilla sometimes heads out to run errands, attend meetings, or deliver his pieces to clients. At three p.m. he's back at work in his studio. "Siguro 70% ng oras ko [in a day] nasa bahay, nagtatrabaho lang," he says, adding, "Mas gusto ko na nga nagse-stay sa bahay; lalabas lang ako pag may nagyayà." If he's lucky, he manages to squeeze in a little catnap, as long as the cats don't bother him.

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Evening

The artists enjoys some down time with one of his and Lizares' cats, Pearl.
PHOTO BY War Espejo

Fontanilla picks up his fiancée around six p.m. and they prepare dinner at home together. They enjoy some free time before Fontanilla heads back to his studio to finish up. One of the better things about freelancing, Fontanilla says, is that you can “Work hanggang gusto mo, and then tulog na ulit." Lights off is usually around 11 p.m. or 12 a.m., before another round starts again the next day.

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The Unsure World of Freelance

On the artist's desk: One of his pieces and a one-foot-tall, two-headed King Kong toy.
PHOTO BY War Espejo

The daily eight-to-five grind has nothing on Fontanilla's life now, but it has made its mark on him. If not for his start in the corporate world, things would have turned out very differently—to say the least.

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In freelance life, there's no comfort of a sure salary every 15th and 30th, so, "kung wala kang trinabaho dahil tinamad ka, wala kang kikitain," jokes Fontanilla, adding, "pero masaya." It takes a certain level of grit and experience to get to where the freelance visual artist is now, but Fontanilla has worked hard to get here—and he isn't about to stop.

Pepito can usually be found at this spot in the studio, snoozing the day away.
PHOTO BY War Espejo
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Fontanilla was the art director for Preview magazine when his journey into the world of freelancing began. "Pasok ka sa umaga, [habulin ang] deadlines. Labas pagkatapos ng trabaho, punta ako somewhere; inom sa Cubao Expo, sa Makati, [kung] saan man—unload lang din ng stress after work—tapos uwi," is how Fontanilla describes what his typical day was like back then. "Bukas ulit, ganoon. Kung may time, konting art," he adds. It's not that he wasn't happy working full-time, but something about the lack of a space and time to create what he wanted did not sit right with him.

PHOTO BY War Espejo
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In 2011, he decided to resign from the magazine—with no real concrete plans for the future. "One year akong walang trabaho, doing odd jobs: delivery, dishwashing, raket kung saan-saan. Just to sustain [my] everyday life," he says. But he stuck to it.

On the side, he was able to explore more creative work: Fontanilla teamed up with some his friends to build THE Clothing, a shop in Cubao Expo where they sold shirts, hoodies, and other stuff they designed. 

Fontanilla has learned the art, and dedication, of managing his time.
PHOTO BY War Espejo
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Eventually a friend also offered him a teaching job at a multimedia arts school, where he taught part-time for three years. But even with the teaching job and the creative work, "'Yong oras ko hati pa rin to do what I love most: art," says Fontanilla. This led him to resign from his teaching post and do freelance full-time in 2019. "Masaya magturo pero parang dito pa rin 'yong direction na gusto ko," he says.

A peek into the studio.
PHOTO BY War Espejo
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After everything he has been through, Fontanilla can now live on his own time. "Nasu-sustain ko naman na 'yong sarili ko dahil sa ginagawa kong art, so might as well do it full-time," he says. While he still has clients and deadlines to meet, the visual artist is in control of when, where, and how he works. 

This enviable schedule has taken a lot to build up. Fontanilla admits he isn't a very extroverted person, so "Nami-meet ko 'yong mga kliyente ko kasi meron na akong portfolio na nagawa, alam na nila 'yong type of work [ko]," he says.

PHOTO BY War Espejo
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The artist needed all those years in the rat race to get to where he is now; to a point where he can do, and be paid for doing, what he loves. For Fontanilla now, his work and his passion are one and the same: "Focused na ako sa sarili kong craft, sa art ko." And in an urban landscape where so few can say this without hesitation, the artist proves it can be done.

Photos by War Espejo

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