04 Oct


Note: This blog post is much longer than usual. If you’d like, you can skip down to the announcement portion.

When I was in the third grade in Alaska, I wanted to be a world famous cruise ship designer by day, and a taxi driver by night. I would lie in my bunk bed drawing elaborate floor plans for imaginary cruise ships. Cruise ships with three-story libraries in them. Cruise ships with large chimney standpipes à la Titanic, and cruise ships with large riverboat paddle wheels on the back. On nights I was feeling extra ambitious, I’d craft up a Frankenship with both chimney standpipes and paddle wheels, practicality be damned.

And I thought that by now, surely, taxi cabs would be able to fly.

But here I am, turning 29 this month, a graphic designer by trade. I no longer live in Alaska; I now call the Philippines my home. So what happened?

In cruise ship parlance, it’s called…


When I was twelve, my parents changed my life. For Christmas that year, they bought me my first computer. A Mac! This was a really big deal. My family had been going through a severe rough patch, both emotionally and financially. My brother had died a couple years earlier, and we had incurred lots of debt. We’d wake up in the mornings to garbage bags full of used clothes on our doorsteps left by generous neighbors. One Christmas, charitable strangers showed up to our house with bags of presents. My parents did a great job of shielding me from the knowledge we were poor, but I still knew they must have made large sacrifices and spent everything they had on that Mac.

Not long after getting the Mac, I started designing web sites. First for my middle school, then for some local small businesses. I quickly realized I could start making money at this, so with my parents’ help, I got a small business license and set up shop.


Ten years later, I was still running a small design shop (although it had evolved from its web design roots into a more full fledged identity design shop), when I came across one of the most stunning portraits I’d ever seen on Flickr. The photographer—Ralph, from the Philippines— had an incredible knack for capturing the soul of his subjects. When I saw that he wasn’t a Flickr Pro member and was nearing his 200-photo limit, I quickly gifted him a Pro membership and introduced myself. We became long distance friends.

I was getting bored with doing client projects day-in and day-out and wanted to start a project of my own that I could be proud of. I talked to Ralph about possibly collaborating on a documentary film project about the plight of the Filipino family. He was on board.

Some people wonder why we mention the sex industry in some of our marketing. The documentary was the reason why. Some of the youth who were to star in the documentary worked in the sex industry. They were friendly, loving people, and they accepted me into their homes as if I were just another member of their tight-knit families. Far from being “sluts,” they were good people with high morals, caught in a terrible situation.


A couple of them were also brilliant artists. Knowing I was a designer, they’d talk to me about art and design matters. It was obvious they wanted to become designers too, but there were no options for them. They couldn’t afford training.

My plan was to buy them both an iMac, and spend an extra year or two teaching them everything I know about graphic design, in hopes that they’d be able to get better jobs.

But then we cancelled the documentary before it even got off the ground. Why? Well, we didn’t want to hurt the families. Their neighbors didn’t know what they were doing, and if a documentary came out, their secret would be revealed. It wouldn’t matter if we portrayed them in a positive light, the film would hurt them—the opposite of what we wanted. I still hoped to teach graphic design, though, so I needed a reason to stay here in the Philippines.

That’s how Ferdinand was born.

The same way my life was completely changed when my parents bought me my first computer, I believe graphic design education can completely change the lives of young artists who are stuck in unfavorable situations. And by starting a center, we could help so many more people.


Ferdinand Center for the Creative hasn’t gotten off the ground yet, but today I’m thrilled to announce we’re accepting new student applications.

Are you interested in studying graphic design, but can’t afford the expensive art school tuition? Apply to be a student at Ferdinand Center for the Creative. We charge NO FEES to our students.

Or perhaps you know someone else who’d benefit from studying under us. Encourage them to apply!

We haven’t yet reached our fundraising goals in order to build our Center, but before we do, we’d like to get to know our future students better. (Also, it helps our fundraising efforts if potential donors can understand just who we’d like to help.)

We also have a few openings for one-on-one training, if you just can’t wait.

After completing your student application, we’ll give you a call to schedule a personal interview. Don’t be nervous, we’re excited to meet you!

Some important advice: be completely honest with your answers. Think of your application as a survey, not a test. Give your best answers, but don’t worry that any of your answers are going to disqualify you from becoming a student.

So what are you waiting for? Be one of the first to sign up for this life changing opportunity!

Best wishes,
Lester Nelson, Executive Director

If you’d like to change a student’s life and support them in reaching their dreams, please make a donation today. They can’t do it without the generous support of people like you. Thanks.

Comment & Trackback

Posted by micah on Oct 05 11 at 10:17 am

This is really great. Awesome project you have here.
I know of some kids who might wanna. Do you have age restrictions? Deadline for the application? Thanks. Good luck to you guys.

Posted by Lester on Oct 05 11 at 6:22 pm

Thanks, Micah. Sorry for the late reply; I was working all night so got some sleep today :)

Our students must be 16+. There is no age ceiling. We look at our applicants and try to find who would benefit the most from our program.

We haven’t set a deadline, because we don’t know yet when the school will be built. We will keep the application open year-round though, even after we’ve accepted our first batch of students.

Posted by Tara on Oct 05 11 at 8:37 pm

Hiya! Super quick question: is this a distance program? Or will I have to be near your location? Thanks!

Posted by Lester on Oct 05 11 at 8:38 pm

Hi Tara! You will need to be able to attend classes in person.

Posted by adeth on Oct 05 11 at 9:11 pm

hi, i was wondering if continuing college students can apply here? its super awesome! thanks! :)

Posted by Lester on Oct 05 11 at 9:15 pm

Anyone is free to apply. We will try to find who will benefit the most from our training, and we are especially looking to help those who cannot afford college, but our application is open to all. :) Once our school is built, we will also have openings for volunteers, and occasionally have free classes for all volunteers, which is a great way to learn if you don’t get accepted as a student.

Posted by Macky on Oct 05 11 at 10:14 pm

Wonderful. I applaud you for this. I’m a Filipino Children’s Book Illustrator and I’ll make sure to spread the word as best as I can.

Posted by Lester on Oct 05 11 at 10:15 pm

Thanks, Macky!

Posted by jay on Oct 05 11 at 10:38 pm

I am so excited…

Posted by Kaye on Oct 05 11 at 11:03 pm

This is pretty exciting! I’m a graphic arts student but I still wanna learn more on this field. i wonder if i am allowed to join? I am about to finish college, but this is pretty interesting. I’d like to be part of it. :)

Posted by Lester on Oct 05 11 at 11:07 pm

Kaye, you sound to me like an ideal candidate to be a volunteer (which is still an excellent way to learn, and won’t require you to sit through classes where we’re teaching stuff you already know) :) Once our building is built, we’ll have single-serving classes for all volunteers. Plus, you’ll get to make a big impact in the lives of others! How cool is that?

Posted by Kaye on Oct 05 11 at 11:28 pm

Lester, Oh wow, honing young minds through design? that’ll be amazing! i just don’t know if i am fit to teaching. /shrugs but i’d really like to be part of it. n___n

Sounds awesome more likely! :D

Posted by Lester on Oct 05 11 at 11:33 pm

We’re actually not looking for teachers currently (although we will welcome guest instructors). You could help by being a teaching assistant, or helping organize events, or with feeding street children, doing arts and crafts with them and helping with their literacy. There will be lots of ways to help out :)

If you’re interested in that, send an email with your resume and contact information to volunteer@ferdinandcc.org

Posted by Kaye on Oct 05 11 at 11:37 pm

I can try and help. But how would I know when it will start? I will really try to give my best. Ah street children are my weakness. whenever i pass by them in United Nation Street, it pains me that they have to resort into doing things they shouldn’t. At least I could give them something nice for a change. Please let me know. :)

Posted by Lester on Oct 06 11 at 9:30 am

Just to let everyone know, for the next three days I will be on a rice farm in beautiful Hermosa, Bataan without Internet access, so if you email me, please be patient for your response. Thanks, and take care everyone.

Posted by Ellie on Oct 06 11 at 6:35 pm

Do you have that in Makati or Mandaluyong. I am interested.

Posted by zia on Oct 06 11 at 10:22 pm

hi Lester,i wanna apply as a student but there are some questions i really can’t answer,like i don’t have a favorite artist but i do want to be one. can i still join? because i’d really love to. Thanks!

Posted by Joperson on Oct 08 11 at 4:52 pm

Sir it says that the form has been closed temporarily. I want to apply too. :(

Posted by Lester on Oct 09 11 at 5:52 pm

@Ellie: No, we aren’t located in Makati. Our temporary headquarters are in Grace Park, Caloocan City, with plans to build a larger facilities in Camarin, Caloocan City.

@zia: You can still apply! I would recommend doing some research on design industry first, in order to decide who your favorite designer is. Perhaps an easy way to find out who your favorite designer is would be to think of a design you’ve really loved, and use Google to find out who designed it.

@Joperson: Sorry about that! I was away on a rice farm in Bataan for a few days without Internet, so I couldn’t fix that. The form should be working again now!

Posted by Jay on Oct 10 11 at 4:04 pm

Hi. Lester. I already sign up the application form. I just want you to know that i am so gratefully to see such kind of opportunity to learn Graphic Arts for free.

You said on your previous post that you haven’t set a deadline for applicants, because you don’t know yet when the school will be built. If i may suggest…don’t you want to consider the idea of temporarily renting a room or a building? so that you can start the class as soon as possible.

I’m too excited for this.

Posted by Lester on Oct 11 11 at 1:27 pm

Hi Jay. When we first started a couple years ago, we were looking for space to rent. The problem is, renting is still expensive and usually requires a year-long commitment; we couldn’t find a space that was right for our needs and in our price range, and we’d still need to buy the computers and equipment needed. Then we were given property to build on. We have found building plans that could allow a wonderful learning space at a bargain of a price (more on that in a later announcement, though).

So until then, I will teach one-on-one lessons while working on raising funds to get our center built, unless we happen to run across an awesome rental at a low price.

Posted by Jena on Oct 12 11 at 7:23 pm

Thank you for this. :)
Just applied. Hope I will be one of the lucky ones who will benefit from this awesome opportunity. :)

Posted by Camill on Oct 14 11 at 3:39 pm

Hi, I’m an Entrepreneurship student but graphic design has always been a passion. I’d love to apply and take classes. Are you considering holding short courses for people who can and want to pay for them? To help subsidize the free classes/other initiatives?

Posted by Danci on Oct 26 11 at 11:35 pm

I’m so excited for this free learning program. I really love to pursue a career about arts and I really love to learn more through this program. :)

Posted by Freddy Panaes on Nov 25 11 at 2:18 am

this is really a wonderful program and the world should know about this. please grant us permission to print some portions in an article that we may publish in the future in our MPW newsmagazine (My Pinoy World). Thanks and good to know that Ralph Matres is also involved in this.
Please keep me posted.

Posted by Lester on Nov 26 11 at 7:34 am

@Freddy: Sure, you have our permission. :)

Posted by arthur on Nov 27 11 at 7:57 am

Hi, I sent my application few weeks ago. I really wanted to become a part of something like this. I thought the only way I can is by being a student, but I’ve read some of the comments and found out that I can also volunteer. I hope that if I can’t make it as a student, at least you can give me a chance to volunteer. This project is really great. You are a great person sir, and I’m really sure you’ll succeed in your goal.

Posted by Lester on Nov 27 11 at 1:47 pm

Hey Arthur, we definitely got your application. We got so many more applications than we ever expected that it is taking us longer to reply to all of them and schedule meetings, but we definitely got it and I’m looking forward to meeting with you. I’ll try to improve our communications with all applicants. Thank you for your patience.

Posted by Kent on Feb 08 12 at 12:01 am

I have just sent my application and I hope to hear from you soon because this has been posted since October last year and I can’t help but think that I am too late. I pray for this wonderful project.

Posted by Lester on Feb 08 12 at 12:24 am

Not to worry, Kent, you’re not too late! Our school hasn’t opened yet; we’re still raising funds to get it built, so your application will be among those considered for enrollment. :)

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