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A Hydrant Flows in Bushwick

By Terri Stone

Birgit Palma is from Austria, lives in Spain, has worked in America, and was visiting Hungary when I caught up with her. She’s comfortable in many cultures, and her illustration styles are wide-ranging, too. So when Adobe gave her a Creative Cloud library packed with diverse images, textures, brushes, and color palettes and asked her to use the assets in a billboard, she was up for the challenge.

Design agency Vault49 collected those assets In the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. (That neighborhood was also the eventual destination of Palma’s billboard.) For the story on how Vault49 captured the assets, read “Finding Fresh Inspiration.” You can also download the library Palma worked with for your own use.

Palma is a fan of Brooklyn. “It’s much more creative than Manhattan,” she says. “A little grungy and dirty, graffiti everywhere. It’s more down to earth. It has a creative flow.”

Birgit Palma at work on her billboard.

Palma knew that she wanted her illustration to have something to do with creativity and flow. At the same time, she was drawn to a hydrant photo in the asset library. I don’t think I would have seen the connection, but Palma did: “It’s beautiful. It was the first object in the illustration. I left it in until I knew how I could use it.”

She began with a rough sketch in Adobe Photoshop CC, playing with the bits and pieces in the library. “I started to think about the creative spirit. My billboard could be a bird that collects all those different shapes and textures and pictures.” She switched to Adobe Illustrator CC to refine the composition.

“I used the Photoshop sketch as the background in Illustrator, where I’m faster.” One speedy Illustrator technique: After Palma made one half of the bird, she mirrored it to create the other half.

Once she created the composition and shapes in Illustrator, she returned to Photoshop. “I like Illustrator, but in the end, I like to f*** it up in Photoshop. Illustrator is clean. I like to make it dirty.” 

Three stages of Birgit Palma's billboard art in progress.
Three stages of Birgit Palma's billboard art in progress.

She used nearly all of the assets, although not all of them are recognizable. “The guys photographed a wall and made a brush out of it,” Palma notes, “and I used that for textures on the feathers.” When the “sharp edges” of some of the vectors (captured by Vault49 with the Adobe Shape CC mobile app) were at odds with the piece’s scruffy aesthetic, she softened them. One technique was to add a blur on top of a vector, such as the iron shop door image, and multiply it. Palma also used Photoshop’s Transform tools to change the assets and her own work; for instance, she made the feathers in Illustrator, but when she brought them into Photoshop, she realized that she wanted them to curve more. Time for Edit > Transform.

The PSD file that became Birgit Palma's billboard in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.

Photoshop layers and Smart Objects are key to her organic illustration-building technique. “It’s easier to change my mind,” she explains.

Before this project, Palma hadn’t used CC Libraries. “I didn’t know they existed,” she admits. Now she’s a convert. “It was pretty intuitive. If you’re collaborating, it’s really nice. Now I use libraries for my own things, too. You can put elements in your library and use them later on.”

 

OUTSIDE INSPIRATION

Palma was unfazed by the fact that the assets she worked with came from someone else’s creative exploration. In fact, she says, “It was more interesting to get inspiration from someone else. I could do another couple billboards!”

What will you make from the Bushwick library?

 Birgit Palma's finished art
 Birgit Palma's finished art in place

For more about this project, see "Make It: From Stone and Steel."