Artist/Author Interview: Eric Tigley

Community News & Features Dec 23, 2016 at 4:48 pm

Round Brown Blues_coverBy Michelle Chermaine Ramos

Eric Tigley is a Toronto schoolteacher and artist/children’s book author. Born and raised in the Jane and Finch area, his childhood experiences struggling to fit in and grow as an artist despite limited resources heavily inspired the themes of his artwork and writing. His recently self-published children’s picture book titled, Round Brown Blues, sold out at his recent book launch at Lasa By Lamesa. I had the pleasure of chatting with him about his inspiration and the challenge of being a person of color finding his voice in mainstream publishing while questioning what it takes to be “Filipino enough.”

MC: How did being raised in Jane/Finch shape your artistic journey?

ET: Urban areas in Toronto are very multicultural so you learn about other cultures and what it’s like to not fit in and fit in. The first book I wrote in 2007 was called, Good to Eat. It’s about elementary school when I used to bring a lot of rice, fish, sliced hotdogs or corned beef and kids would make fun of it. I’d see them with sandwiches so I’d start making sandwiches instead so I could fit in.

MC: How long have you been a working artist?

Eric Tigley (right) at his book launch at Lasa by Lamesa.

Eric Tigley (right) at his book launch at Lasa by Lamesa.

ET: For the past 5-6 years, talking about book publishing and casually doing gallery shows again. The last gallery show I did was in 2008 and before that, I was in school. I’ve been officially teaching since 2007 and stopped doing shows and painting became a hobby. I just recently started taking it more seriously the past year.

MC: When did you realize you wanted to be an artist /author?

ET: Jane and Finch had no art programs so I went to Cardinal Carter. About becoming an author, it was when my Lola passed in 1996 and we had this Sinulog book, and just being pushed into folktales of Filipino history. That’s what made me wanna write these stories doing something visual, educational but also fun.

MC: What themes do you most enjoy exploring?

ET: A lot of urban art so definitely a lot of street themes, American Black culture, hip hop and graffiti. So whether it’s children or urban areas that don’t get a lot of attention, themes of being an underdog show up in my work because it’s people that don’t necessarily have their stories being told. But I like their presence because I think that’s where the richness of stories are.

MC: About the underdog theme, what challenges did you face?

ET: I ended up self-publishing and creating my publishing company. When I approached some major publishers, many didn’t like having moral themes. They had to care about making money instead of having a new voice heard. This was the third book I had to shelve because people thought it was too specific to Filipinos.

MC: Yet some Filipinos said it wasn’t enough?

ET: I don’t want to generalize because I can’t speak for the whole community. I don’t hold any hostility towards it, but what cut deep was being asked, “Oh, you’re doing this Filipino directed book but can you speak Tagalog?” And no, I can’t. I was never taught. The kind of books I’m writing is for me to make that bridge. I wanna be part of this community and it’s very important to me.

Eric Tigley (left) at the book launch of Round Brown Blues at Lasa by Lamesa.

Eric Tigley (left) at the book launch of Round Brown Blues at Lasa by Lamesa.

MC: As a teacher, I’d love your thoughts on this statement. Some say artists are born, not made. True or false?

ET: That’s a double edged sword because we’re all born as artists, but I think artists definitely are made. My high school teacher referred to it as a sword that always needs to be sharpened. The thing about being an artist that I find to this day extremely difficult is finding your voice and shaping your art or whatever you create to really tell people what that voice is or what you’re trying to say. So it’s a very loaded statement but I do think anybody can learn.

MC: Who mentored or inspired you?

ET: My parents, Lola, sister Marian and cousin Bobby. My grade one teacher, Mrs. Richardson, who read me, Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. In high school, Ms. Tagano and Ms. Kearney. I had many classmates who taught me a lot.

MC: Which artist living or dead would you most love to work with?

ET: Frida Kahlo. Her pieces are so meaningful to her and her style was just so unique. I’d love to see how she approached a narrative in her work.

MC: What is the true essence of being an artist?

ET: It’s really ensuring that what’s inside you comes out whether other people understand it or not. So I think it’s somebody that can in their best way create something that has a bit of themselves in their work.

MC: How long did you work on Round Brown Blues?

ET: I started three years ago and finished it within six months. When I pitched the book, many adults said kids wouldn’t understand it and I just read it to thirty kids and they got it. Some adults underestimate children.

MC: Have any favorite children’s books influenced Round Brown Blues?

ET: The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and The Little Prince.

MC: What’s one thing you want readers to take away from reading it?

ET: That you can do things for yourself that others might not like. Sometimes people get too used to the status quo and affect your decisions. There’s always a new way to look at something and sometimes people shouldn’t fear that.

MC: What’s your next goal?

ET: I’m doing a Filipino history activity book right now. Philippine culture is so rich and I don’t want younger kids to forget it.

View Eric’s work on his website: