It's a twin thing

In summary: 
  • Twins, Maricor and Maricar Manalo, specialise in handcrafted and bespoke art designs and illustrations 
  • The visual communication graduates are making their mark with their own unique embroidered designs

Design duo Maricor/Maricar went into their UTS Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication degrees without really understanding what ‘design’ or ‘visual communication’ meant. They just knew being creative was how they wanted to make their living. With a focus on handcrafted and bespoke art designs and illustrations, the talented twins tell us how sisters really are doing it for themselves.

Sale sign featuring embroidered backgroundMaricor/Maricar embroidery, photo self-supplied

Maricar Manalo
Maricor and I grew up, for the most part, in the south of Sydney, very close to the airport, so the sound of airplanes is a very strong reminder of childhood. We moved here from the Philippines with our parents and older sister, Maridel. Actually, Maricor and I followed a year after my parents and sister arrived, when we were two; I think that helped make us very close. My aunt looked after us that year in the Philippines. When I think about taking care of two infants on my own, I realise the sacrifice she must have made. I’ll always be grateful.  

We first started embroidery during our time at the Sydney design studio Mathematics – we created an animated music video for the band Architecture in Helsinki. The entire animation was created using embroidered graphics. We taught ourselves using a Reader’s Digest book on embroidery and by watching tutorials online. Since then, we've honed our skills by experimenting. I think this trial and error way of working helped us approach embroidery in a less traditional sense. The processes involved are much the same for other designers or illustrators, except we also have a pre- and post-production phase where we have to wash and stretch fabric. We go through the design stages from the initial pencil sketch to refined coloured final previews with the client before we commence embroidery, as changes from then on are difficult.

We find inspiration in so many different things, people and places. Pattern, texture and colour feature heavily in our work so we're really inspired by traditional textiles from all over the world, in any form, ranging from basket weaving to woven textiles and rugs. Recently Maricor travelled to Peru and Guatemala and visited a weaving co-op. She was able to see how traditional Peruvian textiles are made – from hand spinning the raw wool, to the natural dyes and the beautiful and inspiring hand weaving.

Working so closely with family would be difficult for some; yet working with Maricor feels very natural to me. We went to the same schools and university so we've developed what you could call a shorthand in the way we communicate with each other. It means conversations about design briefs are often streamlined since we usually don't need to finish sentences before one understands what the other is suggesting. I'm afraid we probably confuse anyone else who happens to overhear! The only way it has hindered us is that we can be very honest in our feedback, sometimes brutally. Thankfully we rarely disagree.

I find Maricor’s absent-mindedness both infuriating and endearing. She's the type of person who will forget where she's placed something only to discover it's in her pocket. She also has a habit of mixing up idioms which is pretty funny and has become a rich source of inspiration for our projects – 'get all up in my goat' is one of my favourites.

Embroidered words ' go play'Maricor/Maricar embroidery, photo self-supplied

Maricor Manalo
As children, our favourite toy to play with was a bucket of LEGO. We would create lots of different objects with them, including Tetris blocks that we’d use in our own lo-fi version of the game. We would start off making the different shaped blocks and we would each take a turn passing the other a block to try and fit them all neatly together until they filled up the board. I guess we learned how to be resourceful and creative from early on.

It became clear to me in my senior years in high school that I wanted to pursue a creative career. I wasn't sure what career exactly but I thought a design degree would give me a good foundation to start from. I was drawn to the UTS degree as it seemed more practical and industry focused than others. It was also versatile and allowed for specialisation later in the course. Maricar, on the other hand, was tossing up between design and pharmacy. It wasn't until she did work experience in a pharmacy lab that she realised it wasn't for her. We were encouraged to explore and experiment during our degree, and I think this helped put us on the path to where we are now.

Growing up we tried to go our separate ways as much as possible. Yet it was during our studies that we became increasingly interested in the same types of illustration, animation and design, and it made sense to work more closely on creative projects. We were used to bouncing ideas off each other and would get really excited about what the other one was doing. We were competitive with each other, but that ultimately gave us the motivation to keep pushing what we were doing and developing ideas.

We were never taught how to sew or embroider by our parents or grandparents. An animation project came up in the studio we used to work at with the opportunity to embroider the graphics. We've always liked learning new things, especially anything that involves making things by hand, so we went straight out to the bookshops and bought a book to learn from. We also looked up video tutorials online when the instructions in the book were difficult to decipher.

Our studio is still very young and we’re still learning about running a creative business. I’d like to say that in five years’ time we’ll have firmly established ourselves, both locally and internationally, and have begun creating larger-scale handmade graphics and visuals. We have the same aesthetic and interests in handmade design so it’ll be interesting to see how far we can push it.

I love my sister’s sense of playfulness, her whimsy, and she’s not afraid to keep that aspect of fun in her design. Maricar is also a lot more patient than I am – I tend to be impulsive and absent-minded, which can be a bad combination. Her patience balances me out, I think, and we work well together creatively. We always planned to work together professionally, and now we do. We're pretty used to each other's company.

Technology and Design