Justine Gilbuena - Illustrator & Designer

Justine Gilbuena is an illustrator and designer from Queens, New York. The array of enamel pins, patches, embroidered pins, and apparel in her shop are delightfully feminine and whimsical. Justine's designs like the banana ketchup bottle, jeepney, and butter cookie tin that is repurposed into a sewing kit are relatable and reminiscent of growing up in Fil Am community.

Website: justinegilbuena.com

Sampaguita Patch 2.jpg

How did you find your career path? Did you have a more "traditional" career before being an artist?
When I was a kid, I always loved art and was always drawn to illustrations and handmade objects. I used to paint on tote bags and shirts during high school and was really passionate about photography and creative writing in college. After I was done with school, I worked a lot of odd jobs while continuing to make art and signed up for workshops like natural dyeing, sewing and book binding. I realized that designing and making objects was something I needed to do because it just makes me really happy.

What inspires you? What inspires, influences your designs?
Probably some of my favorite artists like Margaret Kilgallen, Quentin Blake and Agnes Martin. I love coming of age stories and films, spoken poetry, and anything by Hayao Miyazaki. Growing up in a first generation Fil-Am household definitely influences a lot of my designs too.

How do you get into the creative flow?
Getting into a creative flow can be difficult sometimes. When you start making art, you just do it all the time. But when you have a small business, especially when you work by yourself or have another full time job, your days are often spent packing orders, writing emails, creating invoices and contracts, and managing inventory. When you do what you love, it doesn't feel like work so you end up working until midnight. Sometimes I have to remind myself to take a break so I have a chance to design new products. I try keep my phone ready to take a note whenever an idea pops up into my head during the day. When I'm ready to design, I just look at my list and work on one of those ideas for hours.

Please describe your illustration style.
I don't know if I have an illustration style yet. I try to draw as much as I can and experiment with different materials to see which I like best. I am most happy working freely, making "imperfect" drawings and working with a limited color palette.

What are some of your popular pin styles?
The sewing related pins have been really popular with the sewing and quilting community. My sewing skills are pretty basic but I designed these pins because it reminded me of growing up - visiting local fabric stores in Queens, our tiny family apartment filled with vintage singer sewing machines, bins brimming with fabric and butter cookie tins filled with sewing supplies.

Your Filipino inspired pins are quite nostalgic, what's the inspiration behind those them? Have the Filipino pins been received well/do you get any comments about them? How do you feel about creating something/art that represents the Fil Am Community?
The pins are inspired by stories shared by my family, like the one about my mom making and selling sampaguita necklaces as a kid. They're memories I collected whenever I visited my family in the Philippines. I want the pins to tell a story that other Filipinos, both in the Philippines and U.S., can relate to and see their own stories in it. I love when people reach out and let me know that one of the pins reminds them of their Nanay or Lola. I understand that not everyone's story is the same and I hope that I represent our culture in a respectful way. That's why it's also really important for me to reach out to the Fil Am community, be updated about things that are going on in the Philippines and finding out what somebody in my position can do to help.

Do you have any new designs or projects coming out soon?
Recently, I've been embroidering pins and and patches and would love to continue doing that! I would like to get better at sewing and create new items for the shop with my own fabric pattern designs :) 


Photos courtesy of Justine Gilbuena

Jeannine Roson