Interview: Philippine Script Designs


Christian Cabuay
How did you get into baybayin and when?

Michelle Ruschman
In 2007 I was on the internet looking for jewelry celebrating the Philippine culture and came across it then. I instantly fell in love with it and it really became a PASSION to learn it and express it.

My mom and I immigrated from Cebu when I was two. With my mom believing in immersion (learning English to help me in school and embracing our adopted culture) and my American dad (who adopted me), I became more American than Filipino in how I expressed who I was. My dad eventually joined the air force and during an active duty assignment we were stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. It was during this time the ousting of Marcos was going on so we got to witness the revolution first-hand. As a young Filipina who was really being introduced to her culture for the first time, it changed how I would see myself forever. Watching my countrymen fight this oppression was more inspiring than I can express. At one point, when I was 15, I was sitting in a bar in Manila (I wasn’t immune to teenage rebellion) and the elderly bartender, hearing my American accent, said, “No matter what you sound like, you remember the blood that runs through your veins.” It was the moment I knew what it was to KNOW and FEEL Filipino pride. It truly is a tangible thing.

PhilippineScript Designs came about so that my daughter knows this feeling of pride in her heritage. She’s mestiza (half German descent and half Filipina…our little Gerpino, if you will) but I want her to know about being Filipino in a way that I missed as I was growing up. Of course, I’m still finding my own way but this business, my legacy to her, will be a way for us to do it together.

Christian Cabuay
I get feedback that Baybayin is too hard to learn. How was it for you? Do you consider yourself fluent?

Michelle Ruschman
I didn’t think it was too hard to learn (you don’t think of something as hard when you love it so much!) but it definitely takes PRACTICE and commitment. It’s about knowing the “rules” of baybayin and then finding your style in how you express it. I think, too, if someone is going to learn baybayin, it’s important to know about the history behind it, especially if you’re going to do what we do by bringing it to the public. 

I’m definitely comfortable in translating Tagalog to baybayin but being able to read it easily is a work in progress. I actually immigrated knowing Cebuano and only took Tagalog in high school. When I first started PSD my brother-in-law, Allan helped me get many of my translations started and currently my friend, Yazmin, who I met on Facebook, continues to help me. Their input has been invaluable and I’m grateful to them for helping me realize my vision for this business. Learning the Tagalog that helps me do my work is another practice in getting in touch with my heritage.

Christian Cabuay
What’s your opinion about “traditional” vs “modified/modern” Baybayin? Some artists opt not to do modifications like cancellation kudlits due to the “colonial origins”?

Michelle Ruschman
I’ve learned to do baybayin and alibata but in my work, I do exclusively baybayin. It’s a personal choice to do pre-Hispanic work, especially as a Cebuano. On one side of the island people come to see Magellan’s Cross and then on another is a huge statue of King Lapu- Lapu, the source of Magellan’s demise. I’m certainly thankful for the contributions of the Spanish culture to our own but I also feel a loyalty to the pre-Hispanic version of baybayin. As a result, on a rare occasion, I’ve had customers look elsewhere but it was because they wanted to be able to read each part of a name or sentiment. For the most part, though, I’ve had a very encouraging response to what I do and how I do it.

Christian Cabuay
How’s business? I assume this isn’t your fulltime job. What’s in store PSD? 

Michelle Ruschman
My full-time job is being a mommy but PSD helps me contribute to the house while doing something creative. I really do believe PhilippineScript Designs was a gift from God because I’d been praying about a way to work and still be home to raise our daughter. It was during that time that I found baybayin and things started to fall into place.


Business has been a surprise this year! With the way the economy has been I was prepared for a huge decline. On the contrary, my average sale has gone up! What’s changed is the REASON my customers are buying. Because all my pieces are custom-made, it allows for an extended dialogue about what my client is looking for their piece to say. Last year, the general vibe was about cultural expression. This year, I’m finding it’s more emotive. I’m doing more memorial pieces and pieces that celebrate family and love. People want to express who they are inside. I’ve also made pieces for folks going through illness and they want to wear words that keep them strong. So many friendships have been formed through this time together because it can be a very intimate process. 

As for what’s in store for PSD, I’ve been wanting to play with metal stamping so in the next few weeks I’ll be adding personalized sterling silver charms as an option. The stamps only come in the traditional alphabet so it will give me a chance to do Fil-Am pieces and personalize further with initials. I’m also using metal stamping to develop a line that helps me express my faith. It’ll be available on my original website but it will be in addition to the baybayin jewelry I’ve been doing. I’m really excited about it!

Christian Cabuay
Are you “in-touch” with the Baybayin community? There’s only a few of us….at least online.

Michelle Ruschman
I’m very sporadic about “outreach”. Very serendipitously, I’ve come across your websites and others but I’d say the person I’m most connected to is Christine, the owner of Suku, New Sun Artistry. We “met” on Myspace about a year ago and with her also being a baybayin jewelry maker, it’s wonderful that our relationship has been one of support and respect for the other. Our styles are very different so we compliment each other very well. These days, we’re baybayin sisters on Facebook.

Christian Cabuay
Cool, thanks for your time. Any shoutouts?

Michelle Ruschman
I just want to thank the people who have come into my life as customers and continue to be friends. The support and kindness has been amazing and I’m so grateful that they allow me to be part of their celebration of the Philippine culture. Mostly, though, I want to thank God for this blessing, my husband, Mark, who works so hard for our family and supports this work without question and our daughter, Marianne, who continues to be the inspiration for everything we do. 

Thanks so much, Christian. I appreciate your taking the time to find out about PhilippineScript Designs and doing so much to keep the art of baybayin alive.

One thought on “Interview: Philippine Script Designs

  1. Michelle, you're the bomb! Congratulations on the success of PSD!!!!! I'm sooo proud of you and the artistic work that you do. I'm glad you're able to put into practice your God-given talent and creativity. With God's blessings you'll go a long way. Keep smiling. I'ts contagious. I love you.

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