This Pinay painted over 200 murals in the past 7 years 2
Anina Rubio working on the mural at Starbucks' first community store in Abad Santos, Tondo, Manila.

She’s had 11 jobs in 16 years but she found success in painting entire worlds on public walls

Anina Rubio has painted over 200 murals in just the last seven years
RHIA GRANA | Sep 29 2023

You’ve come across Anina Rubio’s works for sure. She has one along Pasig River, near the Rockwell-Poblacion area, a 250-meter stretch of vibrant lines and colors. 

That captivating mural along Rizal Drive in Bonifacio Global City that seems to show the human heart, lungs and brain as part of human nature? That’s hers too. It’s called “Breathe Better” and it illustrates the importance of caring for our environment and how the act feeds our well-being. 

Anina Rubio
Anina's favorite mural is this painting called “Breathe Better” in Rizal Drive, BGC.

This proud Pasigueña is also the artist behind the image of the crawling foliage along One Ayala and the fantastical flora and fauna that adorn the walkways of Filinvest City, Alabang.

We recently saw her latest work up close, at the launch of Starbucks’ first community store in Abad Santos, Tondo, Manila. Titled “Brewing Knowledge, Blossoming Communities,” the mural weaves together the elements of books, native plant life, and animal life in coffee-growing regions. For the people at Starbucks, the artwork “symbolizes how education serves as the catalyst for individuals to rise to new heights and achieve their aspirations.”

Anina, an environmental and sustainability advocate, says it was the image that came to mind when she thought about a community. “For me, being a community is about growing together, where everyone is thriving and benefiting from each other. There is space for growth for everyone,” she says. “With Starbucks funding youth education thru this community store, it can help elevate our country because we’ll have more educated people and skilled workers.” 

Anina Rubio
Anina's mural at Starbucks’ first community store in Abad Santos, Tondo, Manila.

The mural is also Anina’s way of bringing a piece of nature in a place where it’s not accessible.

The 37-year-old visual artist has done over 200 murals all over the country over the last seven years, and she continues to enjoy the job. Prior to being a muralist, however, this Electronics and Communication Engineering (ECE) graduate from De La Salle University has had several careers—11 to be exact. 

Anina’s first job was being a barista at Starbucks. It was 2007 and she was on her last year in college. “I extended one term so I could finish my thesis. I didn’t want my mom to spend for [my education] anymore, so I decided to work as a part-time barista,” she offers.

Immediately after graduation, Anina was hired by Globe as a network engineer. “It was a high-paying job and it was fun in the beginning because of the people I worked with. But since the work was technical, I often suffered from headaches. I also felt like the office setup wasn’t for me.”

Anina Rubio
“For me, being a community is about growing together, where everyone is thriving and benefiting from each other. There is space for growth for everyone,” Anina says of her Starbucks mural. 

After 3 ½ years in an office job, the young professional left to pursue an unlikely prospect. Her friend's family had idle land in Bulacan that they were trying to sell. While they waited for a buyer, her friend suggested Anina use the space to start a small business. This gave birth to an organic farm. “Starting an organic farm literally just came out of the blue!” Anina recalls with a laugh. A city girl since she was young, the thought of running a farm sounded to her like an exciting possibility. 

“Never pa akong nag-business and I had zero knowledge in farming, so I attended seminars. I learned everything from scratch,” shares the artist. Anina rented a small space in her friend’s farm and there, she grew vegetables and herbs, and raised free-range chickens. “Yun ang nag-reconnect sa akin sa nature. Ang nice pala ng feeling na alam mo kung saan galing ang kinakain mo, alam mong wala siyang kemikal, walang pesticide. Kahit ang hirap ng labor, at the end of the day, nakangiti pa rin ako.”

But since she had no experience in sales, the farm as a business didn’t prosper. After a year, when the farm was sold, Anina had to shut down operations.

Anina Rubio
Anina's mural along Pasig River 

She found her next gig in her family’s corporate giveaways business—but she was there only for a short while. She would soon start her own online accessories shop using that ancient social media platform called Multiply. This was, of course, before e-commerce entities like Shopee and Lazada became a thing.  

After finally getting to seriously hone her entrepreneurial skills, Anina welcomed the opportunity to work as brand manager for popular streetwear brand TeamManila. There, she learned the ropes in marketing, communication, and event production.

Work at TeamManila was fun but also stressful. She felt the need to have a hobby. This was when she discovered calligraphy. Since there were no workshops on calligraphy being offered in the country at that time, she had to learn everything on her own. “Nagsulat lang ako every day. Ganun kasi ako e. Kapag may gusto akong aralin, kahit na meron akong day job, mag-squeeze talaga ako ng time para sa hobby. Nagta-timeblock ako para walang excuse na wala akong time.”

Anina Rubio
Anina worked on the Pasig River mural during the pandemic lockdown with only three assistants.

After six months, Anina realized she wasn't cut out for the job at TeamManila and resigned. She was offered a part-time job as operations manager of a family friend's fabrication business. She said yes for one reason. “The office was just two minutes away from my house.”

Anina stayed in the operations management job for six months before deciding to take a risk on art. She posted a sign-up announcement for a calligraphy workshop on Instagram. She wanted to test the market and was surprised many joined. This started her foray into the creative industry in 2014. “In a month, nakaka-60 students ako. Naisip ko, profitable pala ang art.”

Hosting workshops allowed her to discover her gift for teaching. “Dun ko na-realize ang saya palang magturo. Iba yung feeling ng fulfillment,” Anina recalls. She decided “art is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life.”

Anina Rubio
Anina's wall paintings adorn the walkways of Filinvest City, Alabang.

Immersing herself in the arts, Anina realized there was so much more to learn, like watercolor painting. Initially, she just watched YouTube videos. After a while she was joining a live painting class.

Her works, which were posted online, caught the attention of international arts and crafts brand Kuretake, which signed her up to become its brand ambassador. It would hire her to do demos in live events. When she and Kuretake noticed the watercolor painting demographic was getting younger, Anina was offered to try doing live art on wood. This time around, the medium was acrylic paint. She was able to produce her first mural—an 8 x 4 panel. Smiling at the memory, she says: “That kickstarted my creative career.”

In the mid 2010s, there weren’t too many artists doing murals. “Kasi noong una, ang iniisip ng tao pag mural, street art, graffiti.” But what’s popular in the streets usually gets co-opted by big business. Eventually, malls were tapping Anina’s expertise to make their murals. 

Anina Rubio
On weaving her passion and advocacy with her work: “You only live once. Why not make your life more meaningful and purposeful?" 

Wanting to debunk the notion that art is mere side hustle and is eternally unstable, Anina resolved to give her creative endeavors a serious business foundation. She hired an accountant, secured ORs, and put up a professional website. Her mural-painting biz would take her to different parts of the country. Nakapag-travel ako sa Philippines kasi nagpe-paint ako ng walls. Hindi ko yun in-expect ever,” she says.

Anina's favorite mural is “Breathe Better” in BGC. “I taught breathwork and meditation during the pandemic, and I had so many realizations about how we should take care of our bodies and the environment," she says.

The most challenging mural Anina painted was the one along Pasig River, which she completed during the lockdown with only three assistants. Painting six public schools in Northern Samar after Typhoon Yolanda was her most memorable project. “Iba ang feeling kapag makapag pa-beautify ka ng school,” she says. “I wasn’t paid for that project, but it was super fulfilling.”

Anina Rubio
Anina is grateful she’s able to make use of her art to push her environmental and sustainability advocacies.

When she started to get bigger projects, she began hiring more people. “Natutuwa ako na 95 percent of my assistants are women artists,” says Anina. “Dahil doon, madaming na-empower na female artists.”

She is also grateful she’s able to make use of her art to push her environmental and sustainability advocacies. Something changed in her after one swimming trip in Batangas. Excited to take underwater shots with her then new GoPro, she got the disappointment of her life when it wasn’t rich marine life that greeted her underwater but trash. “Pagbaba ko sa water ang nakita ko diaper, straw, plastic…,” she recalls. “That experience was an eye-opener.”

So when her following in the creative community grew bigger, she took the opportunity to weave her passion and advocacy with her work. “Since then, that’s what I’ve been doing,” she says. “You only live once. Why not make your life more meaningful and purposeful? Ang maganda sa profession na ito, ang daming opportunities. Ang dami pang walls all over the country na pwedeng pintahan!”