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Coney Island Creativity

By Terri Stone

Rik Oostenbroek is a modern-day explorer. Instead of oceans or jungles, he explores the lands of design, illustration, and software, figuring things out as he goes.

That adventurous spirit served him well when Vault49 gave him a Creative Cloud Library of images, textures, brushes, and color palettes the New York design agency had gathered in Coney Island. Oostenbroek’s assignment: Use those assets to create art for a billboard to be displayed on the island.

Oostenbroek had never visited Coney Island, so he dove into research, listening to Lou Reed’s “Coney Island Baby” and strolling the distant streets via Google Maps. Although he was initially inclined to make his piece purely abstract, he decided to include type as a nod to the signs and lettering in the amusement park. He began with Helvetica Rounded, but it wasn’t quite right. Instead of looking for another typeface, he took things into his own hands, modifying individual letters in Adobe Illustrator CC. “For example,” Oostenbroek says, “the bottom of the Y, it had the correct thickness, so I grabbed the points and copy-and-pasted it. The same with the right and left part of the N—I rounded it up so it was a little thicker, had a little more body.” 

Rik Oostenbroek created billboard art using Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Illustrator CC.

The type after Oostenbroek altered it.

This experimentation is characteristic of Oostenbroek’s process: “I start with one thing and then I try another. I didn’t sketch this out. It just came together.”

Except for the letter modifications, Oostenbroek did all of his work in Adobe Photoshop CC. He chose the Pen tool to make the original flat swirls of color. To add the illusion of depth to the swirls, he switched to the Brush tool with its Hardness set low. “Using the same color as the shape,” he says, “I brushed the sides for shadows and set the new layer’s Blending Mode to Multiply. Where I wanted highlights, I again brushed the shape using the same color as the main shape, but I changed the layer’s Blending Mode to Screen.” It’s a deceptively simple technique that requires an understanding of how light and reflections define shapes. 

This screencap video shows Oostenbroek’s technique for making a two-dimensional shape look like it’s three-dimensional.

This screencap video shows Oostenbroek’s technique for making a two-dimensional shape look like it’s three-dimensional.

Vault49’s CC Library contained several textures. “I keep my work very clean, and very liquid with highlights,” Oostenbroek notes. “So at first I didn’t know what to do with the textures. Then I thought, ‘Why not give it more structure? Give it a decayed feel.’ I tried to keep the shininess but give it a little soul. This is one of those projects that came together because of the assets they gave me. When I’m free to do what I want, I wouldn’t have used the textures, but it wouldn’t have been this level without them.”

One example of the applied texture is in the subtle stripes on the swirl coming out of the letter O. “I brought in the vector shape, rasterized the layer, and transformed it,” Oostenbroek explains. “I warped it with warp tool to make it curvier, so it flows with the shape.  

At the end of his exploration, Oostenbroek added a low-opacity noise layer over the entire piece. “It feels more authentic and looks better printed,” he says.

Here, Oostenbroek demonstrates how he incorporated textures into the art. 

Oostenbroek is a self-taught designer who started learning Photoshop in 2006, when he was in high school. “I could express myself through my computer. I put all of my spare time into it. Everyone else wanted to be a millionaire or pop star and I said, ‘Just let me do my thing.’”

“I’ve done tutorials for 3D but never for Photoshop or Illustrator. I don’t want to copy stuff. I want to be as far from a tutorial as possible to keep on doing my own things. I try to go crazy myself.”

Rik Oostenbroek created billboard art using this library of assets from Vault49.

Vault49 captured this CC Library of assets.

This project was his first experience with Creative Cloud Libraries, but he’s now a convert. “I’m so hooked right now. I’m creating my own libraries.”

Are you inspired to explore the assets Oostenbroek received? Download the Vault49 library and give it a try.

The photo shows the billboard in place in the Coney Island neighborhood.
The final billboard illustration

The photo shows the billboard in place in the Coney Island neighborhood; below it is the final billboard illustration.

For more about this project, see "Make It: Rik Oostenrboek...From Book to Billboard."