Survival Instinct

From delicate patterns on paper to complex curves in calligraphy, Patrick Cabral’s craft reveals a fixation on detail.

by Patricia Chong, photo by Patrick Diokno

This was first published in the May 2017 issue of Rogue.


“Wala siyang process,” says Patrick Cabral. He’s almost confused at the question: What, indeed, is the process behind his paper cuts? “Magcu-cut ka lang.”





The answer seems too simple when one looks at his work—seen by most only through his posts on Instagram as dark gravity. In one corner of his workspace is a glass case containing various three-dimensional polygons and a skeletal ampersand, shaped with paper and a good amount of Super Glue in a whole day. Twelve boxes stand in rows on the floor, each containing part of his recent collaboration with AOK Life to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund. They are paper cuts of endangered animals, all of them detailed so finely that the material resembles lace. The style lends gentleness even to the image of a tiger, its gold foil eyes glinting as the layers of paper and masking tape that make up its face take the shape of the petals of a flower, whiskers, and fur tapering off in slivers. Cabral’s take on a white rhinoceros stares out of its own case, its character made almost delicate with patterns cut freehand from all over its body to resemble Albrecht Durer’s famous woodcut of the animal. This piece alone took 10 days to complete.


“I was born to a working-class family,” says Cabral. He grew up in Bicol, with no galleries, museums, and art subjects. His first steps toward art came as a child shadowing an uncle moonlighting as a calligrapher, lettering names on high school diplomas

“Sa amin, you count the value of work by how many days you put into it. Kung gaano kadaming pawis iyong binuhos diyan. That’s how you get paid sa manual labor. And with me, ganoon pa rin.”


The value that comes with the intensity of effort is the running theme across his entire body of work. His typography has evolved into art: Above his desk is his geometric lettering of Apple’s “Think Different chorva,” which took three days to paint. His first fumblings with web design and development are the entire reason he dropped out of college—something he says he intended to do anyway, so his parents could support his siblings’ schooling instead—to pursue a miserable first job coding in Legazpi City, and then motion graphics in Manila, where he spent six months living with a college friend in what he calls a squatters’ area. 

These ventures culminate in “Pugo,” a game (think Flappy Bird with a dramatic visual upgrade and a nationalistic streak) he designed with his wife, visual artist Camy Francisco. In progress now is an application that automatically designs and animates calligraphy.



The work Cabral chooses is all-consuming, elevating what he does not by explanations of his exploration, but by the difficulty of its execution—from lines of code making or breaking an application, or the cuts made entirely by hand that complete impossible patterns on paper. “Umpisa pa lang, creativity is about addiction,” he says. “I have addictive tendencies that manifest in my work. The more I consume myself—‘di ko na maiisip na iyong mga problema ng outside world. It really just so happens iyong nagiging fix ko is making something with my hands.”