Behind the Scenes of a Cartoon Billboard
Artist and designer Fredy Santiago (“Sugar Coated”) likes abundance — you can see it in his illustrations and in his working methods. So when design agency Vault49 presented Santiago with a library of images, textures, brushes, and color palettes, he had no problem embracing them. Santiago’s brief was to use the assets, all captured in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, in a billboard that would be displayed in the area.
For the details on how Vault49 collected the assets, read “Finding Fresh Inspiration.” You can also download Santiago’s asset library for your own use.
Santiago, who lives in California, had his own impressions of New York from prior visits. And, of course, he had the Creative Cloud Library from Vault49. But before he began work on the billboard art, he added another layer of understanding by taking a Google Maps stroll through the Williamsburg neighborhood. “I was excited to try to blend all these different elements,” Santiago says.
In early stages of an illustration, Santiago prefers the analog approach: “It’s just me and the desk, no computer.” For this project, he also had the CC Library of assets open on his smartphone. He went back and forth between paper and phone, jotting down ideas and noting which library elements grabbed his attention, such as the Adobe Shape CC capture of a traffic light.
“Then I started sketching, doodling, trying to figure out the composition,” he says. “I drew parts of it, scanned the sketch, and opened it in Adobe Photoshop CC. That helped me picture how it would look on a billboard far away. I didn’t want to make it way, way too busy. I wanted it to read well from a distance. I redrew that sketch three or four times.”
After Santiago was happy with the composition, he moved onto Adobe Illustrator CC. He says that Illustrator is a better fit for his aesthetic. “I can do it in Photoshop, but I prefer how sharp and solid it is in Illustrator.”
In Illustrator, he relied most on the Pen tool, Pattern tool, and Gradient tool. The Pen tool was essential for line work. “I always start with the line work as one layer and keep that in the front,” he explains. “It frames everything, all the layers underneath.”
Next came the main colors of the illustration. “I let color speak loudly,” he says. “It’s fun to mess with color palettes in Adobe Color CC and save them.”
Santiago also used the Pattern tool. “I dragged some of the Vault49 assets into the Pattern tool and selected different areas. Some are so big that you can’t see what image I used; for example, the pattern behind the word ‘BROOK’ is from one of the CC Library images. I love working in layers, showing little bits and pieces of things I find along the way that inspire me.” Santiago gave the building on the left a grungy brick texture with one of the Library’s brushes.
The final billboard art is rich with glimpses of the city. “That’s one of my goals,” he says. “Every time you look at one of my images, you see something different.”