ARTS & CULTURE

A Conversation with Paulina 

ALTERATION

Words by Katrina Swee | Photography by Carmen Del Prado

Photograph by Carmen Del Prado

All smiles and bubbly as ever on a Monday morning, Sydney-based graphic designer Paulina Paige Ortega took the time to catch up with us and share life anecdotes, her recent wellness platform Recess, and her never-ending passion for her profession. 

 

The multifaceted Cebuana has collaborated with international and local brands such as Uniqlo, Araw, Nami, Float Swim, retailer TROPA, and has also produced work for BENCH, Barbie, and Star Trek to name a few. Despite her many followers, various accomplishments, and recognition in the creative industry, it seems as though her past has remained obscure to this day.

Photograph by Carmen Del Prado

Growing up in Cebu, Paulina naturally spent most of her time drawing. She loved designing small posters and making cute fonts in her psychedelic Lisa Frank notebooks but didn’t have any concept of or exposure to graphic design. It was rather her escapement to an imaginary world. However, she was repeatedly asked for help on projects at a young age by classmates who weren’t as talented with pencil in hand.

Photograph by Carmen Del Prado

“If there was a school play and the school needed a backdrop or help with costume design, it would always fall on my lap and I loved doing it. Funnily enough, I always thought I would grow up to become a lawyer so I never entertained the idea of doing anything with design. It was always second nature to me to be creative. I didn’t imagine it as something I could do in and itself during that time which was in the mid-2000s when there wasn’t much visibility on graphic design.”

 

By sixteen, she realized it was a viable career path she wanted to pursue. She moved to Manila and enrolled at the Ateneo de Manila University, majoring in the very first batch of Fine Arts and Information Design. Paulina hasn’t looked back and was very much involved in the art and design community ever since. Grateful to longtime friend and renowned artist, Carina Santos, both of them would frequent art exhibitions as college students, using their free time to absorb as much as possible alongside her involvement in the Heights Literary Publication  and the Ateneo Musicians’ Pool.

 

“I think in terms of design, I am the kind of person who finds it hard to sit still. I was always active in college organizations and every time somebody would hit me up about releasing an album or doing something along those lines, I would always ask to design for it. I have been very active in that sense since I was a teenager.”

Photograph by Carmen Del Prado

After several internships with local design firms, Paulina worked as an art director for TBWA but decided to look abroad for opportunities as the design scene in Manila was not as robust as it is today. She and her then-boyfriend, now husband, Clark Kent Koga moved to Singapore where she resided for two years working as an art director for creative agency Tremendousness. Describing herself as “malikot,” she then decided to hop on a plane to New York to continue her studies at the School of Visual Arts and eventually settled down in Sydney.

 

With the current pandemic, the juggling, however, has not stopped and Paulina evidently does this effortlessly.

Those who have been hooked on Instagram while staying indoors may have stumbled upon Recess, a platform and safe space focused on wellness and self-care. The page is updated regularly, sharing positivity while helping others to embrace uncertainty. Little does the audience know, Recess was born unexpectedly during the pandemic with previous intentions of being a brand.  

 

“It was something that I, along with other partners, have been working on for over a year now. From a brand and design point of view, it was something that I definitely put so much thought and research into and part of that was gaining insight into the women’s wellness and active spaces. There was a lot of exploring regarding women’s relationships with their bodies, self-care, and how they live their lives but once the pandemic hit, it affected our production and everything was put on pause. At the same time, Belle, one of my partners, and I kept checking in with each other thinking, if only we had come into existence already, there was so much we could do to help.

 

One day, I just thought, ‘Screw it. We don’t have a brand or our products yet but we’ve done all this research and have our colors, thoughts, and brand assets to roll out. Let’s do it.’ The pandemic experience made us face who we wanted to be and put that into action outside the bubble of trying to sell products or actively be a brand. It was a good kind of confrontation as well as an exciting exercise.”

Photograph by Carmen Del Prado

The founders still want to launch and come into existence as a brand despite how it came to fruition. As Paulina reflected on the beginnings of Recess, it was clear that the unanticipated launch gave her and her partners a better and deeper sense of purpose to be of service to the female community while challenging them to think on their feet.

 

“Every week, I would say, is a learning opportunity and we are still feeling our way through the process. It definitely feels like the right decision in terms of being present and useful to people. What has really been surprising and re-affirming for us are the responses we’ve been receiving. When we do regular checkups and ask women how they’re doing or where they’re at right now, our audience always first react by saying ‘thank you for asking me that, nobody has asked me these questions recently’ and it’s good to find that people are very responsive to talk about their mental and emotional well-being which I think has been left out of the conversation of self-care.”

 

Filipinos have caught on and remain the prime audience of Recess, jumping in genuine dialogues about their mental and emotional well-being. The platform has continued to inspire others to do the same, striking a chord in a community which undergirds stigma toward this particular discourse. Future plans for the brand are to normalize these conversations and lifestyle of taking care of oneself holistically.

Photograph by Carmen Del Prado

As Paulina dove into introducing Recess from a different angle during quarantine, she also rebounded from time indoors with other projects up her sleeve as she stepped in as co-creative director of Sunnies.

 

“I came in quietly until Martine decided to announce it recently on social media. It has been fun and a good exercise in pivoting regarding how to react to what people need during the pandemic. We recently launched Specs on Wheels where we built an optical shop inside a van that assists people, especially senior citizens, with services such as getting their eyes checked and repairing eyewear. I thought it was very innovative and very Jetsons of the company to create an optical shop inside of a vehicle. It was great to work on and to see it in action now is definitely very fulfilling.”

 

On top of all this, she has been taking on clients as a designer for CAON Studio and creative director for Estudyo Arte. Her talents are unending as she remains a driving force in the world of art and design with the ethos of solving problems and enriching day-to-day experiences in a beautiful way.

Adora is a department store in Manila that opened in 2008. It features an exclusive mix of brands, from premium to off-pitch, with an intimacy and focus totally fresh to the Philippines. Adora is Manila’s most inspirational center of fashion, beauty, accessories, and jewelry. 

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