The senior art director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Groupe Singapore spoke to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about her journey through illustration and why helping others through art is the most important thing in her career
With a love for painting and developing characters, Valerie Villaflor, senior art director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Groupe Singapore, says she fell in love with art at a very early age. Drawing inspiration from children’s books and making her own character design, she knew that all she wanted to do was to make art…she just wasn’t so sure about the specifics.
Later on, through trial and error, Valerie found her place while studying Fine Arts, majoring in Visual Communication at the University of the Philippines. “There I discovered my love for illustration and advertising; it was also when I started illustrating children’s books and did an internship at BBDO Guerrero.” During her time at university, when looking at the bigger picture, Valerie thought her best course post-graduation would be to work at a publication house or as a freelance illustrator.
“But, like most young art school graduates, I went into advertising while never losing sight of my first love, illustration.” She then started her career as a junior art director at Dentsu Philippines in 2012, later moving from BBDO Guerrero to Ogilvy Manila and going up the ladder to finally reach senior art director at Dentsu Jayme-Syfu and now to Publicis Groupe / Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore as regional senior art director.
During those days when she moved between agencies she created some of her most influential work, as well as her favourite works. “I am passionate about helping others through my creativity,” says Valerie. “My favourite work helped people and moved society forward positively.” One of her best examples is her anti-sexual harassment chatbot GABBIE.
“The #MeToo movement inspired this idea. The idea stemmed from one question: How do we get people to overcome their fear of shame and report sexual harassment in a conservative country like the Philippines?”
The answer was simple – people would judge and talk, but an AI wouldn’t. “Thus, Gabbie was born! It works because it is on a platform that people already use daily (Facebook Messenger), thus making it easy for them to report sexual harassment wherever and whenever.”
Another of Valerie’s best works is the ‘Learning Boats of Leyte’. “When typhoon Haiyan destroyed over 18,000 boats and 90% of schools in the Eastern Visayas, Philippines, we decided to help rebuild their livelihood and education. We donated these boats to fishermen who had lost their livelihood, and at the same time, we transformed these boats into outdoor classrooms for children who lost their schools,” Valerie says.
Overall, helping people through her work and the flexible nature of her career are one of the art director’s favourite things about her job. To her, being an artist and hybrid creative in the advertising industry is an ‘edge of advantage,’ as she can still incorporate her love for illustration, design and art into her ads while still working with meaning, as well as being able to impact audiences in tangible ways.
When it comes to inspiration and people in her sphere that she particularly admires, Valerie points to Adhemas Batista due to the colourful and distinctive illustrative style he brings to his ads. “He is most widely known for his creative work for Havaians and Coca-Cola. Because of him, when I am working on a brief that suits my style, I incorporate my vibrant and colourful style through concepts, designs, and illustrations.”
When it comes to downtime, Valerie never stops thinking about art – it seems to be both her hobby and her career. “I spent most of my career in advertising, but never lost sight of painting and illustration. I’m very passionate about painting and customising toys. I am also very passionate when it involves children, from creating children’s books to even teaching art.”
Since having started painting during lockdown, Valerie saw the benefits of it helping with her anxiety in a highly therapeutic way. “I wanted to give back and use my creativity as a tool for healing, so last year, during the lockdown, I held my first online art class for kids with disabilities in Manila.” She hopes to further influence people who are having a hard time through her art, be it by teaching or just reaching them with her work that might inspire and help them.