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looking back, looking forward and being in the moment

Her’s one ambigram design I thought would aptly help usher in a positive new year.

When I first started the draft for this post, what formed was a short essay on my fascination with time, as it is portrayed in sci-fi series of my youth, peppered in with dashes of trivial sci-facts and musings on concepts like its apparent entanglement with space. I was trying to find ways to lay some ground work to link it with steampunk and time travel that would eventually be unraveled in some future post featuring some connective ambigram themes, but I had to put it off a while as I thought this month’s featured design feels so much removed from the essay – or the other way around.

And then some recent not-so-spectacular event prodded me to go off on a tangent. This new composition I thought was more appro… relevant to the ambigram than the older draft. I have embedded below the recent post from my personal Facebook account from a week back recounting what led to my resolving not just the essay problem but how I was to present the final ambigram as well, if you so care to read up about it. It’s a couple of lines below… somewhere.

The past, the present and the future.

The proper Filipino terminologies of these words are nakaraan (past), kasalukuyan (present) and hinaharap (future). And while the words kahapon, ngayon and bukas could be substituted to convey the same concept, but with more urgency as they are more commonly used vernacular, they respectively translate literally to yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The first to be created of this three-part ambigram was Ngayon. This was in October, last year. I don’t exactly remember what led me to try out the word but what I do remember is immediately recognizing that basing the lettering on Avante Garde or Futura lends to very legibly formed glyphs. Ngayon was a naturally ambigrammable word, and it was created straight up vector with ease. As a side-note: you pronounce the “Ng” (the 16th letter of the Filipino alphabet) of Ngayon as you would the initial “ng” of bringing.


Feeling kinda smug about it, I decided to take on Kahapon and Bukas seeing if I could turn it into a symbiotogram. I got totally ahead of myself with a 3-tier stacked word art with Ngayon smack center. The more I forced the issue the more the glyphs became convoluted and illegible. Turns out though that,  individually, Kahapon and Bukas could be designed into chains quite nicely. I decided to go old school Blackletter with Kahapon starting off with the “o” as the link, then based the glyphs of Bukas from Bahaus – which kind of have this utilitarian simplicity feel to it – a common futurist theme, working it out from the “S” as the link.


Okay, I could have left it at that. Usually, when doing a circular chain ambigram I would just export the final vector .png file over to Photoshop then apply the Polar Coordinates filter and use whatever was produced on my final presentation. Of late, however, I had been taking an extra step. Some might say. could be achieved, probably far quicker and more efficiently when approached with or through some other means. Anyway, I import the outcome back to CorelDraw, my usual vector editor, and recreate a second iteration based on the newly filtered graphic, which at this point is – by all accounts a raster graphic. This way I’d have a crisp editable vector file of the chain now laid out in a circular pattern. I did this for both Kahapon and Bukas. It’s tedious and probably time consuming but not unnecessary as the practice is well worth it.

Still wanting to stack one word over another to – this time – simulate progression (in time), I decided to fashion them layered as a single piece. I really was – am – happy with the final outcome and I had it set like that, ready for posting intended for this month. With this blog’s 50th issue published last month (December) and out of the way at last, I started experimenting with the finished ambigram in my free time by laying it over different photographic images to see how it’d fare if such a requisite arise.

2017 danadonajr

I went through a series of images from my personal archive and commercial stock. Some were okay but others were trying hard. The one above is from a series of silver lining photographs I had recently taken. Pairing the ambigram with this one seemed appropriate enough, but once I did, it looked dreary and frankly lends nothing to the ambigram and rendered the very image useless and unrecognizable. So I decided to forgo with the idea or at least set it aside and procrastinate until I really had to go through with it. It was after all almost just a whim on my part, as the composite ambigram design seems to be doing just fine by itself.

danadonajr 2017

This one could be used as a steampunk clock face.


Until, a couple of Fridays back…

Okay, technically I could have just re-written or copy-pasted the texts here. But there were two reasons for me embedding the link here and presenting it as such. First (and likely the real reason) was I wanted to see if it would work! Embedding the link, I mean. On the previous post I had successfully embedded a video from my Youtube channel, and this time I wanted to try it out with some other social media platform. And there you go. Second was I wanted to show the image that inspired me – ‘though that really was a non-reason as I can just as easily, and independently, insert the image into the post. Sorry, but not really.

The final piece.

2017 danadonajr

Laying the ambigram over the panorama was done in under a minute. While created at different moments and for different reasons, both elements it seems fit and complemented each other and I liked it a lot. Level completed, Ability unlocked, +1 Life added… press X to resume. It could just be bias, or you know fluffing my own feathers, but to me this final piece became more… poetic, as I currently grasp for a more fitting adjective. As to why –  I can’t yet put in words and who cares, right now that is all that matter, to me at least.

And that my friends, was the first post of the year and the 51st, thanks to all who hung around and kept an eye out for this issue. Here’s hoping for a productive year, everybody. Now I’m going to have this printed large fomat and mounted in a wall in my house… just need to find that wall first.
#suliktad #ambigram #danadonajr #imagefoundry

how I make ambigrams

I initially wanted this to be a “How To Make…” write up. But with what I had learned starting from the first time I tried my hand out at ambigramming straight through when I had decided to dedicate this blog mostly to my personal exploration of the artform, was that while – just as with other discipline – ambigramming could be taught, I wondered how will I be able to make a step by step instructional presentation when ambigrams can be created through a number of different methods. So I decided to focus on one, my method. But the thing is – my methodology may only make sense to me and maybe even more difficult to put in words.

After multiple rewrites on the content (wrote the first draft 24 May 2015) – and title changes – I opted to forgo with the instructional format as the tone, voice and language sounded a bit of a put on (and another version that seemed to be a long winded anecdote) and settled with the idea of just flat out sharing my creative process.Personally, I don’t think I am anywhere near the point where I could impose with authority the way I do things anyway.

49 published posts (two were non-ambigram related), over a hundred ambigram designs, 24,373 words as of last count, hundreds of unsorted stack of scrap paper, over 1TB disk space and 4 years later, it all remains to be just a bunch of jumbled up mental post it notes – a mishmash of pointers I remind myself, plus some actual written stuff at the back of virtually every sketch or some notebook  to remind me how I came up with certain solutions or what inspired me to do the piece and tips I picked up from other designers and a couple of orphan .doc files. This for the record is my attempt (fourth, actually) to put them all together in one place.

*** sidetrack ***
Yup! 50 posts. And while I never really set out to find readers and followers for this blog (as I just  needed a regular outlet and a place to put up my work on so I can force myself to not procrastinate too much), I have managed to get a few likes, a re-blog and 30+ followers with only one of them I personally know, not to forget some very nice people who became clients! I know, 30something in an era where a hundred followers is considered lame, yet for me having even just one person mildly interested enough in what I do already is a biggie!

danadonajr 2016

So, as a gesture of appreciation to everyone kind enough to have followed, liked and all that stuff, AND whoever else stumbled upon this inconsequential parcel of web space, whether intentionally searching for the topic or not, I present a hopefully helpful insight – of which I do not impose on anyone – how I do ambigrams.

First, a couple of caveats…

  • I believe there is no right or wrong way to make an ambigram. Whatever works work.
  • This is not a “How-to” guide, it’s more of a peek in to my process -pointers I check myself with while I draw my ambigrams.
  • The list of tips below are just that – tips. They are not commandments to live by. My process may or may not work with anyone else’s. You may think that my notes here are all bull and that’s fine, go with what you feel will work for you and you’re free to cherry pick.
  • Ambigrams, I think, are just the same as optical illusions, or as Neil deGrasse Tyson put it: ‘brain failures’. In concert with the eyes – our complex but somewhat flawed primary organ for observation, our brain is easily tricked by patterns, lines, shapes and forms when seemingly arranged in such a way that titillate our own biases and preconception. Also our brain has evolved to recognize and pick out patterns (especially faces) even and especially in a clutter or among “background noise” the way our precursors saw the zodiac patterns in the night sky, or the faces on toasted bread or sides of a mold laden wall. Therefore, our objective is to try and trick the brain, or exploit that shortcoming, into recognizing a word where that very word was formed not necessarily with its “proper” parts. Where characters and glyphs are setup trying to convince the brain into thinking it is what it appears to be.
  • Most of these tips assume that you do intend to push through with this artform and willing go and actually get your hand wet with it. Because like in any discipline you need to work on it, learn as much as you can about it, and dedicate time to honing the craft. A person just don’t go applying a “Y” incision on anybody without first going to med school expecting things to turn out just fine or pick a fight with Conor McGregor on a whim without going through some form of training. Talent can only take you so much.
  • It also assumes that we are aiming to craft a proper ambigram. Not even a perfect one, but a proper one.
  • Not all words are ambigram friendly.


Somewhat In Order Unordered List

There are no rules in ambigram making. Well, sort of.
So long as it’s legible, it’s all good. However, a really successful ambigram (as intimated by those better at this than I am) is one that even with all the manipulations applied to it, follows basic typographical fundamentals.

Keep the letterform consistent.
As with making a poster (or most printed materials) try not to mix up types and fonts. It gets too busy and taxing to the reader. Another characteristic of a good ambigram is that it does not seem to be a specially lettered word until after you rotate or flip it. If you began with a Sans Serif type then there shouldn’t be a Blackletter glyph in there unless of course the ‘concept’ calls for it.

While it is mainly aesthetics I try to keep all forms fairly similar, I try my best not to mix my “double storey a” with “single storey a” on a piece unless there really is no way around it. I have a similar problem with placing caps between lower cases but sometimes you just have to roll with it.
Keep the letterform consistent II.
Or define the ambigram’s personality. This comes in the later stages, usually as I finalize (mostly done digitally) the piece. I take on the most prominent letter and work on it first. It does not need to be the first letter, but the letter that will appear most frequently (especially with Filipino words: the letter A appears with great frequency in Filipino words). Once that letter has been interpreted to my satisfaction, I use its parts in building up the other letters employing as much (or little) modification necessary. This help ease in the reader with the word as they do not need to decipher each letter, since, as seen on the figure below, certain letters appear somewhat similar to its previous incarnate. Similarly looking parts and ligatures lend a consistent personality to the ambigram  – as if it was set to a very specific type, the way one would apply a font selection to a regularly typed word on a word processor or a graphic design program.
tadhana_sampleWhich leads us to… typography.
A little background knowledge on lettering basics IS a big plus.

Back in college I passed LETTERING 101 and 102 by the skin of my Speedball C-tip. I was not an exceptional calligrapher nor letterer, I was average to say the least but I had this knack of retaining useless information that works just as well with useful ones. I am not bookish but I read a lot and pay attention to things I know I should know even after college. Printing is a big part of my profession so I tried to be as much informed as I could in the early days, and typography has got a lot to do with printing. What I had learned then(well mostly), added to my design studio and freelance experience has provided me adequate practical understanding of the basics of typography.

So, empower yourself, know the basics, read up on it, learn the difference between types and spacing… and kerning, and width… and the parts of a type… etc. Like me, you need not be a John Hancock but you have got to be able to know a bit of it since you are basically making word art.

With that I offer a link to a downloadable type cheat sheet that I made for myself at the bottom of the post, with no obligation on your part. It focuses mostly on the anatomy of type – could be helpful in identifying or discerning which part of the type you’re supposed to be manipulating in the construction process of your ambigram. And whodathunk that types have parts and classification, amarite? At the very least it could be useless trivial fodder at boring parties, but you are free to keep it for yourself or share or pass it around if you so wish.

Research. Explore. Exploit.
This is an integral part of any creative undertaking. When I do logos, poster works, album covers and even when preparing for a meal I already know how to make, I do my homework. And this goes also with ambigram designing. Study the word you intend to work on. Include in your study word association and etymology, not just the meaning of it. Better understanding of the word will greatly help you in interpreting and setting it to appropriate type.

If you go over my ambigram work you’ll probably notice that I mostly incorporate or design them around a theme. Call it Conceptual Ambigram… or don’t. Anyway, with the research I had done for the ambigram itself, I am able to plan out an even bigger idea than I started out with. And if done correctly, would inevitable make the ambigram more well rounded. Of course not all ambigrams need to be this elaborately designed as a good ambigram can, should and will stand on its own merit. But I feel it should also be flexible enough to be incorporated with an even bigger concept and play well with its environment and not only exist in the vacuum of negative space. (Negative space, hehehe… get it..? vacuum..? space..? typography joke..? lame? ah well)

brand-x_sampleBut before you jump into doing convoluted pieces…

Take up simple words first…
Take it easy. Start tackling simple word problems first, and after you’ve got the hang of it, it’ll be easier finding solutions to more complex word combinations after having gone through with the easy stuff.

… then interpret it in mono weight letterform…
The simpler the better. Besides, having created your ambigram in mono weight first, you now have the foundation you can build upon should you decide to stylize the piece.
sting_samplelost01…then try doing it in Blackletter.
Like it or not Blackletter is THE welcome mat for beginners. I found that it has the flexibility needed to “coax” a glyph, or at least a part of it, to form the letter you need. Blackletters, usually, are created with parallel vertical parts that you can easily re-purpose for the flip. What type can afford you the bowl or stress of an “o” to turn into a stem of say… an “r”? Yup, Blackletter, while being an old-timey font is probably the most flexible and ambigram friendly type classification.

Spell the word out…
And then below it- spell it backwards. With my early works, this was a system I devised so that I could actually see which letter correlates with which when flipped. I have not done this for a while now because I had become increasingly familiar with letter correlation and seeing which combination works best, but I do go back to it when the word I’m doing require very complex combinations, especially with chain ambigrams. This system, though, has its limitations, as sometimes a letter with two legs will match-up with a single stemmed letter thus prompting you to “borrow” from the next which kind of messes up the match-up. However, for beginners this could very well be a useful step as you try to manage your way through your own system.


Use less of flourishes…(gasp)
I am the biggest transgressor of this. I did not realize I enjoyed putting too much flourishes on my earlier works (now, I only sparingly sprinkle them around as crossbars). While these are great runaround solution, too much of it tends to be distracting.thewitchinghour_sample

The ambigram above was both my debut piece and first foray to competitive ambigram making, bagged 2nd place I believe. Ooh, look at them lovely flourishes! Remember kids: do as I say, not as I do… hehehe

For coupled words and phrases, layering them may be a more effective solution than having them on the same plane. Only be wary to not overlap or overcrowd where it’d be too busy to read. Sometimes this too work on single words where a ligature could overlay itself  on top of the next glyph to act as part of the corresponding overturned letter. Choosing to do this, however, you may have to flex a lot more creative muscles than you’d normally use with mono-weight and monotone ambigrams but the reward could be very satisfying having made the ambigram more dynamic.
bigbang2_sampleLayering a medium “Bang” over a heavier “Big” and a couple of larger iterations somewhat created a gradually expanding radial motion suggesting an explosive origin of sort. And while “Bang” was on top, you are still prompted to say “Big Bang” because “Big” is more imposing (and probably familiarity with the phrase helps a lot too).

Approach it as you would any puzzle.
Not only is ambigram an optical illusion, it’s also a puzzle to be solved. And as you would with any puzzle, you first look at all the parts available to you and recognize which would act as the linchpin or the keystone or a cipher that could thread through or hold together or break the code to help you set things in motion. How do you do that? (Un)fortunately, through multiple failures.

ACTUAL TIP –> Make each glyph slightly elongated or taller.
The brain can recognize (most of the time) the top half of a letter at a glance. Familiarity will get you halfway through recognizing the word. Remember, we are hardwired to recognize and pick out patterns. Try covering the lower half part of the ambigram below, and see if you can make out the word.

danadonajr 2016 ambigram
By the way, this is the world premiere of this ambigram. And after a painstakingly long time debating with myself what to call it, I have finally decided to name this one “theory”. Its proximity to the Big Bang ambigram was purely coincidental.

Keep on sketching…
When developing a piece, explore every possibility. Try different combinations, letterforms and ambigram types. Sketch away… use the back of misprints and discarded reports from ten years ago… save a tree.

Keep a pen handy (better if with a notebook) wherever you go, you’ll never know when the muses shall visit you next. The idea for the piece below came to me while I was stuck in traffic with no pen and paper around and I had to consciously block everything else out until I got home, so I wouldn’t forget. You can check out the final ambigram by clicking >>> this link <<<.

stop&gostop&go sketch01

While not necessary, learn a graphic design program.
You can create great ambigrams by hand, so you don’t actually have to. Computer programs just get things done a lot faster, not necessarily better. But wouldn’t it be nice to have that know-how in your arsenal, ready to be pulled out when needed? So if you do decide to try your hand on a software, invest on a vector based program.

Use an existing font… as a jump off platform.
While it’s easy and novel using a readily available font and work it to form an ambigram, more often than not the final product appears to be forced and awkward. Believe me, I used to edit fonts straight away. It’s a great exercise, I can attest to that, but there seem to be no pleasure (at least to me) gained from it. Now, I usually try and approximate the general characteristic of a certain font but still work the ambigram from scratch. The ambigrams below were based off Serpentine.

titanium sample

Take advantage of all the glyphs available.
You don’t stop with just the letters, no, you have at your disposal every numeral, symbol, punctuation and diacritical mark! Use them if necessary. Best example I can give you is my most favorite piece, PASKO! Take notice of the last two glyphs, the “O” and the “!”, as they were kerned tight enough to form the “P” when overturned. Of course, I had to adjust all the other letter spaces to even them out.
danadonajr 2011Hey! It seems that while this piece has appeared in Nikita Prokhorov’s Ambigrams Revealed and other places, this is the first time it has graced this blog!

Ask for advice.
A lot of people have been doing this a lot longer than you’d imagined. And the people that I know who have and still are, are so generous with their feedback and advise. Look for and try going on forums or join a community. I belong to an FB group called Fellow Ambigrammists.

Check out other ambigrammists work, and wallow in sorrow with the realization that you’re too stupid to have not thought of or done that piece first! You’re never going to be as good as them! (That last line was a self-deprecating sarcasm, just in case it went whooosh! by you.) But really, you don’t have to be as good as anybody, you just have to find your voice, your style, your niche. So, learn from their work… digest… take inspiration from them… interact with them… ask questions… then incorporate whatever you’ve learned from all these with your next attempt.

Show your work and take a hit.
Not every “ambigram” you make will be appreciated the way you thought it’d be and get an A+ grade or raving reviews. Take note: just because you can “read” the ambigram doesn’t mean others will be able to. Sometimes the best comments you can get are those that ask “What does it say?” or “This so and so letter seems weak.” or “Can’t read it.” And that is just fine. What could come after that is an intelligent discourse on better approach to specific faults in the piece and all these new information will provide you new and different perspectives that’ll challenge you in to coming up with more creative ways to tackling the next iteration or an entirely new piece.

Much as it feels good to get a “like” when I post on the Fellow page, my actual intention is to get relevant feedback that could bring attention to possible flaws that I might have missed due to my own biases. I try as much not to prime the members with captions obviously to test the ambigram’s legibility. That is why I even put up Filipino ambigrams, or as I call them Suliktad, for the same reason.

If at first you don’t succeed…
Try the word out on a different ambigram type. Aside from the usual rotational, you could try it as a chain, reflective, perceptual shift or a symbiotogram. Yes, there are other types of ambigram you can exploit. Go for it, just remember each type operates on slightly different principles.

If that don’t work as well… do not be fixated on a single word/phrase/name.
Be open to the possibility that the word/phrase you are trying to create is a non-ambigram friendly word, maybe it’s just not doable. Find a more suitable synonym or another form of the word. There are plenty of words that I have been working on and have just recently cracked and there are even more that I haven’t. Or…

Just, Walk away… Renee…
When you’re at your wits end, walk away. Go read a book, binge watch The Night Of, listen to Tina Fey’s Bossypants audiobook, immerse yourself in the discography of MC Miker G and DJ Sven, climb a mountain, ford a stream, follow a rainbow, take up line dancing, do gardening, repair that leaky faucet you promised your wife you’d do or work on other materials and designs. Put it out of your mind. Then after a spell, come back to it with hopefully fresher eyes. You might realize that you are just being stubbornly myopic and looking for a solution to the wrong problem.

Forget everything I said…
After churning out designs after another based on your methodology, things start getting… familiar. And familiarity keeps you blind and numb to creeping faults in your system. You tend to be complacent and dependent on it because it works for you, you’re accustomed to it. So, once in a while, go against your gut. Move out of your comfort zone. This might or might not deliver a pleasant looking piece, but it’s beneficial either way in the sense that it’ll keep you in check, on your toes, and not rest on your laurels. Shake things up. Challenge yourself.



If it is truly necessary for creating ambigrams to have a rule, even just one… then definitely, an ambigram needs to be legible. A really successful ambigram can be read easily even if you are not familiar with the word or its meaning.

There you have it, my ambigram making process. Winding it down, let me add this one “WHY” to the list. Why I do ambigrams.

The “Yes!” simultaneous with a fist pump moment.
Or simply put- the Eureka! or Aha! moment.

This is probably the biggest driving force for me, something that I thought was lacking in my attempts with other discipline and artform. I tried Visual Arts in my college days, it’s not for me. Experimented with photography and then video production, which I both enjoyed very much and still take on from time to time, but it wasn’t my calling.

Easily, over 75% of my ambigram solutions were followed immediately after with fist pump gestures. In fact, to me, ambigramming provide twice the gratification. First, this rush that happens midway through the process after having solved the puzzle. And second, as I contemplate on a finalized version of the ambigram. There’s this feeling of satisfaction and completeness I get after cracking the code and finding a solution to the problem at hand, and then looking at the final piece. Not better than sex – as nothing is, but relatively close.

And now we’ve come to a not-so-real-time  account of me doing an ambigram.
First, apologies for the camera work. As you’d soon find out it’s not easy shooting yourself (with a phone) as you draw. The camera tends to wander off the subject as I zoned in on sketching, and at times the pencil would just hover about as I shift my focus on the phone to see if I have it all still in frame. Also, there was supposed to be an annotative track over the video but the recording was awful and I sounded nervous so I took it out. Maybe on my next attempt. The video was sped up enough so we can still follow the process without getting a headache because at normal speed it seemed to be just dragging on. Am sure no academy award will find its way to my mantle with this stuff.

The Oprah moment we’ve all been waiting for… Freebie!!!
Finally as promised here is the >>> link to my cheat sheet <<<. Enjoy!

Hmm… nice way to celebrate my 50th post, 4th year with WordPress and end 2016 with. Hopefully you could all check back in for issues 51 and 52 for an ambitious multi-layered rotational and chain combo suliktad and journey back to the Ambiverse. Maraming Salamat, po!!!

aking kulay, aking lahi

#suliktad #danadonajr #imagefoundry


Could not really find time to write a full essay for this suliktad as I had been busy with my workload for the past weeks. And the coming weeks will prove to be just as crammed (although I have a full week of Eid Al Adha vacation) as I fortunately landed a couple of design jobs that’ll need my full attention.

I made two ambigram versions of the word KAYUMANGGI. While fairly similar in construction, the first one is sort of a script/brush type rendering of the ambigram and the second iteration is more of a serif type. These two, however, are recent versions- a remake if you will… after a thoughtful “autocritique” on the merits of the earlier version’s form.

Kayumanggi is a word that both refer to the Malay skin tone and to the Filipino as a race. However, the use of the Spanish moreno in the vernacular in reference to our skin color elevated the word kayumanggi to a regal descriptive word for the Filipino ethnicity.

So, I proudly celebrate the Filipino (with its faults, flaws, misgivings and imperfections) with the suliktad, Kayumanggi.

oratio paganus

According to Philippine urban legends, it is around Semana Santa (holy week) when the power of talismans (or agimat or anting-anting) manifests itself fully. Especially on Good Friday.

When I was young, I hear of tales told of men and women largely from the Southern Tagalog provinces, testing (or showing off) their talismans, which by the way is pronounced talis-man as opposed to the western tal-is-man, in what could be described as a grand fiesta or parade.agimat-talisman danadonajrAfter an oracion – a prayer spoken in “Latin” – was made, usually around 3pm, to a revered piece of rustic coin-sized smelted metal engraved or cast with either pagan symbol or Catholic imagery, that is either folded inside a similarly venerated cloth or worn around the neck tied to a crude leather twine as a jewelry, the test begin. Since my Latin is limited to those I learned in Biology, I cannot attest to the veracity of any Latin prayer in the stories, ‘tho I think that it’s mostly broken Castellano. Sporting a big grin, participants would hack themselves with a recently sharpened bolo (or any similarly fashioned exhibition) showing the bewildered spectators that indeed the power of prayer and faith in their talisman of choice prevent any harmful affliction.

Supposedly there are number of different specialized agimat. The one I described above is a typical one that block any harmful physical effect. There is also a tagabulag (bulag = blind, blindness) which renders the wearer invisible, and there are those that prevent sickness or poisoning. There are those that are supposed to enhance one’s virility and endowment, and there are those that increase chances of instant financial gratification, yes, a charm for gambling.

This pagan exercise has become intertwined with our Catholic faith, wherein a number of proliferating agimat now bear Christian iconography and mostly all of the deities prayed upon were replaced with names of Catholic cast of characters, however, our version is tied to our South-East Asian (Malay) roots. While the west have just as much rich narrative in their versions of the talisman, I think that the innate nature of Filipinos being a superstitious society made the amalgamation of multiple influences seamless. We are very much welcoming of other nations superstition and brew them in with ours.

Our pop culture is littered with references to heroes owing their powers to such items. A usual story would be of young men seeking hermits and after proving their worth were presented with a highly sought after talisman. While most agimat now can be commercially bought along the side streets of old churches, it used to be that amulets and charms were handed down by elders in their death beds- these are supposed to be the more powerful ones. Although, I remember that talismans provided by nature are even more powerful. Most popular is the Mutya ng Puso ng Saging, where one would need to religiously wait at midnight for it to drip from the tip of the banana blossom and catch it with their tongue. The actual power gained from this ritual seems vague as most story present the hero with whatever the storyteller come up with or as maybe required, ie, plot convenience. But the Mutya has got to be the most romanticized story of the agimat ever.

Personally, my draw to the agaimat is a result of me being a writer/dreamer/artist/creator and I celebrate its place and hold in my culture. But to its efficacy?… nah, maybe when I was 10. Although Manila is a very techie world now, to a certain degree a lot of Filipinos still swear by the agimat, which again I attribute to our superstitious nature. And admit it or not a lot of our historical (and present political) figures and leaders as well believe in the agimat.

talisman danadonajr

talisman only carve3danadonajrdanadonajrThe talisman and agimat suliktad were created a few years apart. While I have sketched agimat sometime 2008-9, it was only finished early 2015 to what it currently appear after a series of re-designs. Talisman was sketched early 2016 and was finished to the current style just recently, after a series of re-designs as well, which was an afterthought to make it similar to the style of agimat after realizing that I should put these two together since they are basically the same thing.

Although in creating talisman, I have the option of designing it to a fairly doable rotational ambigram, I opted to create a chain instead as I wanted to preserve the “s” flip more than anything and I really intended for it to form a ring around a symbol, which in the final design turned out to be the word agimat.

The coin and the oracion page were recent edits. However, the coin was a poor scan of the 70’s Jose Rizal peso coin that I had made around the same time in 2008-9. The distressed oracion paper is the same one I have used as background material for other ambigrams you might find in this blog. Finally, the generic pagan prayer in the oracion is a quick English to Google Latin translation, which I found out, oddly translates back to English quite differently.

love potion

ambigram by danadonajr

This suliktad (ambigram) took me  years to make.

It’s one of the first words I tried out back when I started doing ambigrams. I think I may have saved the old sketches back home but I remember setting aside the idea since I did not like what I had done then. (I found one of the initial design exploration! See below.) I tried using different “font” style that would fit in with the essence of the word, but nothing seems to fit.danadonajrI’d come back to the word now and then but I’d set it aside in favor of other more cooperative words.

And while NOW it seem that I had arrived at a “no-brainer” solution, I only was able to visualize it in my mind and put it on paper a few months ago. Makes me feel stupid trying to flip the “U” for over four years. And also probably because I stubbornly wanted to retain the em-width of the “M”. The trick I found was to keep the initial stroke of the “U” detached from the next stem and add a tail that when once inverted- would form the “Y” with its ascender just casually resting over the initial stroke of “U”. GENIUS! I think… The vector process took a while to be done as well because… you know… procrastination. Hehe…


The final vector was a result of multiple revisions and form exploration.


While I felt the letterform in the sketch was great, the initial vector output was not really working for me so I made changes that I felt was warranted. I replaced the small individual crossbars of all the “A’s” with a longer ribbon as crossbar to sweep across two characters, and instead of having the initial stroke of the “U” tilted, I just italicized the whole word. The “G/A” flip looked forced and droopy so some node edits were done.

And here’s the result.danadonajr


Gayuma is as you may have guessed, love potion in Filipino. Similar to most western pop culture references it it supposed to be ingested (unwittingly) to rouse up some sort of blind affection(?) to someone’s object of infatuation. Come to think of it, in today’s setting such a thing would definitely be considered illegal.

Anyway, I already have something ready for my next post, so just stay tuned, if you will. Happy Valentines!

hashtag suliktad

Matagal-tagal na rin akong gumagawa ng ambigrams.

At mula pa noon ay marami-rami na rin akong nabuong koleksyon ng ambigram mula sa mga pangalan at samu’t-saring “concept pieces” na ang iba ay trip lang gawin at ang iba naman ay isinali ko sa mga friendly competition sa international ambigram community.

Minsan ang mahirap sa pagbuo ng ambigram ay hindi iyong mismong paggawa nito. Mas mahirap iyong paano ka makakarating sa mga solusyon sa piyesa mo nang hindi kagaya (sadya man o hindi) sa mga dibuho ng ibang designers. Kadalasan mapapansin mo na lang ay may pagkakahawing ang solusyon kahit hindi ang aktwal na hugis ng isang piyesa. Kaya minsan halos parepareho ang solusyon kahit magkakaiba sa estilo ng “lettering”.

Bilang isang Pilipinong lumilikha ng isang sining na hindi likas o mula sa Pilipinas, nagsimula ako na halos puro english words ang gamit ko. At ganoon din naman ang karamihan ng nakilala kong ambigram designers na hindi native english speakers. Kaya’t simula ng gasinong nahasa na ako sa paglikha nito ay inunti-unti kong buuin ang koleksyon ko na puro may kinalaman sa sensibilidad at kulturang Pilipino. Hindi lamang para maiba sa karamihang ambigram designers kundi para rin mailahad ko ang mga katangian na kinamulatan ko.

Medyo madami na rin ang nagawa ko – iyung iba na-ipost ko na dito dati pa – pero mas marami ang hindi ko pa mahanapan ng solusyon at gan’un din kadami ang nasolusyonan ko na pero hindi ko matapos! Kasi ang pangit naman na ipakita ko puro sketches lang pero walang “final piece”… At plano ko na sana’y mabuo ko itong isang aklat at maipalimbag, sa Pilipinas. (Madali lang gawing ebook pero goal ko ay iyong pisikal na nahahawakan).

So, habang nagaabang ako sa pagkakataon na maisakatuparan ko iyon – dito ko muna unti-unting ilalathala.

Kasabay nito ang pagkabit ko ng isang bagong likhang salita sa lahat ng ambigram na nalikha ko na at lilikhain pa na may koneksyon sa kulturang Pilipino. Kung ang salitang ambigram ay binuo mula sa ambi (both=pareho) at gram (letter=titik), tatawagin ko ang lahat ng Pilipino ambigram words na SULIKTAD. Mula sa mga salitang: sulat at baliktad. Self explanatory na siguro po.

Bakit ko naman kailangan pang lumikha ng bagong salita para tukuyin ang mga Pilipino ambigrams ko?

Iyong totoo, wala akong diretsong sagot, liban sa: para magkaroon ng buhay at kapangyarihan ang anumang bagay kailangan nito ng isang pangalan. At siyempre mas gugustuhin ko na ang pangalang itatawag dito ay hindi salitang hiram – iyong sarili niya dapat. At dahil walang direkta at literal na translation ang salitang ambigram (as far as I know, hindi pa siya officially included sa mga dictionary as of this writing), dapat sigurong bigyan ko siya ng Pilipinong pangalan.

Sa huli, para mas gawing makabuluhan ang sanaysay na ito (o ang matiyagang pagbabasa ninyo sa mga pinagsasasabi ko), malugod ko pong ihahayag ang isa sa mga bago kong suliktad.

tiyaga/nilaga suliktad ambigram tiyaga/nilaga suliktad ambigram

Sa ating mga Pilipino madalas mabulalas ang sawikain na ito. May kinalaman ito sa pagpupursige at pagtitiyaga, lalo na sa pagharap sa hamon ng buhay. At hindi ko na siguro po kailangang maging Helen Vela, Eddie Ilarde o Dely Magpayo para himaymayin natin ang kahulugan nito. Alam kong alam na natin lahat ito. Nawa’y maging inspirasyon po sa ating lahat ito. Hayaan ninyo na kung mayroon man kayong mapulot na kung anuman sa pagsilip ninyo dito sa pahina ko ay itong paalala ng ating kulutura. Sabi nga sa Kalyeserye: “Hindi lahat nadadaan sa pagmamadali, lahat ay may dahilan… sa tamang panahon.”

Maraming Saalamat po!

of things that go bump in the night (part2?)

Philippine folklore is a treasure trove of characters from the silly to the scary. Today, in line with the upcoming Halloween festivities, I present to you an ambigram of one of the country’s scariest. He’d probably rank somewhere between the Manananggal and the Tikbalang.


The Kapre is a dark skinned, foul smelling, cigar chomping, acacia tree dweller. Depends on who you ask, this gigantic night creature could either be a malevolent creature bent on impregnating an unsuspecting virgin or just a recluse who, if smitten, will not stop until he gets his way- kinda like a male Alex Forrest ( Fatal Attraction) with supernatural/paranormal powers. He is a prominent fixture in horror flicks and camping stories.

In coming up with the design, I thought it’d be appropriate (and cool) to set the characters to mimic the lettering style of classic horror movies. That green glow just add to the eeriness.

So, I hope this inspired you to create something for your Halloween needs, and sorry I had been a bit busier than usual to write on this space. Just keep checking back in for more ambigram works. The next few issues will be worth it. For other stuff I’ve done, please check out Thanks!

stuff myths are made of

I am dropping four “A”- bombs today.  This is to make up for nearly (okay…, over!) a month of neglecting this space. So, bahala na…, I’ll be starting off with…

created by danadonajr2013

BATHALA is a Tagalog deity worshiped by the pre-Christian Filipinos whose mythology still remain intact even after 300+ years of Spanish-brought Catholicism.

Belief in Bathala, whose name is derived from the Sanskrit “bhattara” (noble lord), came by way of Indian traders most likely via south-west of the archipelago. ( I just learned that in Indonesia, Batara is a traditional reference to a male deity.)

The creation of all life is attributed to him by the Tagalogs (a Filipino ethnic group) and is believed to be living in kalawakan (heavens; or more like somewhere over and beyond the clouds), similarities he has with the Christian God which the Spanish friars used (exploited) in converting the natives. Thus the term Bathala became synonymous with God, however, the more common Filipino translation for God is Diyos (from the Spanish: Dios). Note that our ancestors, being animists as well, believed Bathala dwelt also in the trees, in rivers, in the air, even in rocks and mountains.

The somewhat fatalistic Filipino idiomatic expression “Bahala na” (which could mean: “God will provide”; “come what may”; or even “whatever”) is derived from Bathala. It’s a coping mechanism in times of uncertainty, where one cast all care aside and leave (and accept) his fate at the hands of God … Or where one rest his well-being on someone else,  as the terms: bahala (take charge) pamamahala (governance) pamahalaan (government) all can be traced back to Bathala.

The piece above, along with the next two, were submitted as entries to an ambigram challenge over at  Edited background used in this piece was from, check them out as they’ve got loads of free stuff for downloads there.

created by danadonajr2013

NOT the Marvel superhero but the Norse god to whom the same comic character was based upon. The character style was inspired by the History Channel’s Vikings series. And it was around that time (after completing season 1) that I made the initial drawings. A major design decision I had to make was to go with a central “O” or an “H/O” flip. I thought that former would be more of a challenge (and prettier ;-)) so I went with it. I will admit that I had doubts on the legibility of the ambigram as even my trusty audience had a long and hard time deciphering the word.

While the ambigram itself was done for some time now, only until the challenge came out did I decided to “finalize” it with Photoshop. I added the weave pattern, basically, to emulate those that are found on Mjolnir trinkets and other Nordic items. I would’ve wanted to add blood spatter on it but thought it’d be too much.

Medusacreated by danadonajr2013This piece is a gorgoneion. In ancient Greece (I read) warriors were said wear these kinds of amulets on their shields (and even on door panels) as protection or something to ward off harm. Though usually depicted with a disembodied head facing the spectator, I opted to go top view showing only the “snake-hairs” as they slither in and out beside one another. Then I finished it off looking as if it was carved on a marble slate.

There were a couple of other ways (I found) to doing a Medusa ambigram- but this way (a chain ambigram), I thought, suited my intentions.

and lastly, Maharlika.

created by danadonajr2013

Now, Maharlika is not a mythical character like the three above. Owing to its Sanskrit origin, “maharddhika” meaning, a man of wealth, knowledge or ability, it has come in modern times to be defined as nobility. During pre-colonial Philippines, however, the Maharlika were of lower class of nobility that served the lakans, datus, or rajahs in times of war, they were the warrior class. Above them were the freemen called Timawa and on top of the hierarchy were the ruling class called Maginoo ( the lakans). At the bottom  were the Alipin.

I included this ambigram in this post because it was created with the same character style as with Bathala. Since both  words were of Sanskrit etymology, I thought it would be appropriate to use the same character style. The Maharlika ambigram was created just a couple of weeks ago, after I started redesigning each glyph of the Bathala ambigram into an actual functioning CG font (which is still a long ways from getting published).

Below is a comp of the sketches and initial design exploration of all four ambigrams featured today.

created by danadonajr2013

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a gallant stand!

August 10, 2013 will now forever be regarded as one of the defining moments in Philippine basketball, when we finally broke our roughly 3-decade failed international campaign in this giant dominated game. When we  convincingly defeated the strong Korean cagers who for the longest time had been a thorn on our side. When we earned a very elusive spot on the FIBA world stage. Never mind us losing to a behemoth Iranian team the following night to bag the silver medal. All that matter is, while I myself (and Coach Chot Reyes, too) have no illusion of the national team winning the FIBA World Cup title, we get to show our wares there. We get a stab at the prize and make a gallant stand for the fatherland’s honor.

All thanks to the aptly named national team, GILAS Pilipinas!

Gilas in Filipino could mean any or all of the following: bravery, gallantry, nobility, courage, chivalry, heroic, daring, gutsy, virtuous and valor. I’d say the team most definitely lived up to their name that night (not taking away any admiration to the team’s previous incarnates). And to all athletes (not just cagers) who at any point in time had wore the flag over their hearts, this ones for you too,


The first version of the ambigram above was posted on my personal fb account, on 10 August. It was “rushed” as I came up with it with over three minutes left in the game. But looking at it again I felt (and so does m y wife) it read more like “SUNS” (note: there is a “SUNS” ambigram at the middle of Phoenix’s homecourt) so I reworked the design…


and came up with…

2013 by danadonajr

While I like the “a/il” flip here, I don’t think people will see the “a” as an “a”, so I went back to the drawing board and worked in a small capital A in its place for the final version at the top.

Implemented on the ambigram is the Philippine flag’s unique characteristic (blue field on top while at peace-time/ red field on top while at war). So when the tough gets going we turn the ambigram over to signify we’re no push overs and we mean business.

we mean business 2013 by danadonajr

Go Pilipinas! PUSO!