TAKING inspiration from the comic books he avidly read as a child, Mark Deutsch used to make comic strips on bond paper and sold it to his neighbors for P1 each issue.
His family used to move around a lot, he said. He had lived in Baguio at some point, and he had been exposed to various sorts of experiences he shares through a painting, a photograph, a story, or even a hand-crafted item.
When Mark returned to Cebu, perhaps it was fate that he bumped into Johanna Velasco, now his wife, who likewise spent her childhood days doodling on walls and filling her notebooks with drawings and stories.
Two creative souls who found happiness in sharing stories met, and together they started their own art and design studio, Happy Garaje. Since its inception in 2009, the studio has been creating visual artworks for individuals and institutions, both from here and abroad.
“Many times, when we do a piece, we think of what it is that is going on in this world that we want to show. We are always attracted to projects that have some sort of narrative,” Johanna said.
Happy Garaje was born inside an actual garage that Mark and Johanna have since transformed into a creative nook decked with trinkets and vintage cameras, action figures and books, and fairy lights dangling from the ceiling, which their young daughter insisted on having.
“We liked the feeling of starting and running something that belonged to us,” Mark said. “A lot of the things that we do in Happy Garaje, we do it because they’re interesting to us—these are things that we are passionate about, things that we love and fancy.”
“And because we run it ourselves, it gives us some control over the creative process.
One of the best things about having our own studio is we can initiate projects on our own, and make work that is personal and meaningful,” Johanna added.
Before Happy Garaje, Johanna was involved in market research and brand management, while Mark used to be with the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc., where he did graphic design and fixed computers.
Today Mark and Johanna split their time between doing creative work for clients and self-initiated projects. Their commercial work mostly revolves around visual communication and branding, while their personal projects center on paintings, illustrated stories and animation.
“Our work, in general, is inspired by childhood memories, everyday people and strange yet beautiful instances where things are not quite what they seem. Most of what we make has their roots in our personal experiences. These are our hopes, fears, struggles and victories,” said Mark.
Although their personal art styles are quite different from each other—Johanna likes to paint while Mark is more comfortable creating digital pieces—the creative pair are united by a similar design philosophy which is to create things that are smart, heartfelt and beautiful.
“We take walks, read books, watch movies, look at old travel photographs and reference material to get inspiration,” shared Johanna.
In their line of work, Mark and Johanna take on the roles of art directors, illustrators, copywriters, designers and editors. “For bigger projects, we collaborate with friends who help us get the job done, like programmers, video editors and other talented artists,” Mark said.
Recently inducted as members of the Happy Garaje team are Mark Charles Tesch, who does the tech and mobile aspects, and Ryan Anin who is also an illustrator and designer.
Happy Garaje’s past works include creating visuals for AyalaLand, Bank of the
Philippine Islands, Calyx Centre, Aboitiz Power Corp., the Asian Institute of Management and international brands like Mead Johnson, The Four Seasons Resort in Marrakech and the prestigious century-old Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
“We have also illustrated for magazines and for corporations that require art for exhibits and their corporate offices. And whenever time permits, we like being involved in animation projects as well,” Johanna said.
Their works have likewise been internationally regarded through awards they have garnered over the years. For three years, Happy Garaje received certificates of merit from the Society of Illustrators, Los Angeles and in 2011, Johanna was one of the nine recipients of the society’s gold award.
They have been cited by advertising index Luerzers’ Archive as part of the 200 Best Illustrators Worldwide for the past four years, and have been recognized by Tokyo Designers Week and the Philippine Graphic Fiction Awards, among others.
But out of all the tales Mark and Johanna have weaved, their love story is perhaps the most beautiful, one that seemed to be the kind of “happy accident” they never saw themselves getting into.
They met in a grocery store, Mark said. Months later, they began to get to know each other until one day, Johanna let Mark walk her home.
“It was a very strange walk because I knew exactly where she was going,” Mark recalled. Turned out that Mark’s family used to live in the house across Johanna’s.
“She said she remembered that house from years back because that was the house where a monkey sat on the fence all the time. I don’t remember having any monkeys so I asked my mom, and she told me I used to sit on the fence the time,” Mark said.
After getting over that case of mistaken identity, Mark and Johanna were wed in 2009.
They have one daughter—still in her toddler years—named Summer Leila.
“One advantage of working together as a couple is that we know each other very well, so we already know how the other might think. Of course, we also have differences in opinion, but in the end we’ve really just learned to find a balance where each has a chance to express him or herself creatively,” Mark said.
When the two aren’t devoting time to creating stories through text or visuals, Mark and Johanna spend their free days with their daughter, going on movie nights, hanging out with friends and going on road trips.
An art store, one day
A couple of years down, Mark and Johanna said they would like to put up an art store one day, and sell stories in different forms. They want to explore different media and collaborate with more people of different backgrounds.
“We want to travel more and learn things from far and not so faraway places. We would be playing music and painting many days and nights at the beach,” they said.