This Illustrator Loves Change

By Catherine Wagley

Miniature worlds, robots, organic explosions of color, and more—Yann Sadi, the Paris-based illustrator who goes by “blindSalida” online—contains multitudes.

In early 2016, when Sadi designed a teaser for a yet-to-be-announced Chrysler model, he inserted subtle clues to the car’s identity. The whole illustration consisted of the numbers 880, though each number became a self-sufficient storyboard of sorts. The design firm Wieden + Kennedy had seen the way Sadi turns numbers into stylized miniature worlds, and enlisted him because of it.

A two-lane road that turned into a fuel pump wound around itself to make the first 8, while a family of eight, a puppy, a few bicycles, a stroller, snorkel, and smooth, silvery vehicle popped up out of stripes of watery blue surrounding the road. The road that made up the second 8 turned into an electrical plug-in. This excited Chrysler aficionados, who began picking apart the image on discussion forums, hoping to divine what Chrysler would unveil at the upcoming North American International Auto Show. On Torque News, blogger Patrick Rall guessed that the 880 would be a next-generation hybrid minivan, pointing out the large family and “variety of scenic-looking locations” as evidence. On Reddit, commenters guessed at the numbers' meaning—“8 passenger? 80 MPGe? 80 mile electric range?”

“It’s really fun for an illustrator to have fans just trying to get the answers about this car,” says Sadi, speaking by Skype from Paris.

Over the past decade, Sadi has built up a portfolio with impressive range, though he still returns to certain themes and tropes. Vintage tech reappears, as does numbering made up of that dense, meandering imagery, and three-dimensional graphics alongside flattened geometry. He’s done jobs for a number of highly visible international clients, including Duracell, Honda, Kiehl’s, and Google. Sadi works exclusively in Adobe Illustrator CC.

When Sadi began his career, the millennium was dawning and it was unusually easy for a young creative to slide into a design industry that was still trying to understand the Internet. His first stint was as an art director, and a subsequent job involved producing events. “We put jeans on trees, for example,” he recalls. “Another event that was funny involved ninja turtles in the sewer.” His break as an illustrator came when a client asked him to produce ten digital paintings that could be printed on canvas. He used the linear, wiring-inspired visuals that he still occasionally employs, and the magazine write-ups about the paintings jump-started his illustration career. “It was a great acceleration in just a few months,” he remembers. He continued to art-direct during the day for the next two years, working freelance at night.

Lines remained his core tool at first: three-dimensional electrical wires would circle around and double over themselves, making letters or the outlines of gadgets. “We can do anything we want with line,” notes Sadi, adding that the intricacies and contours of new and old technology, wiring, cranks, speakers and dials intrigue him. “I always think they’re really beautiful.”

In 2014, Sadi created a series of self-portraits: his own profile composed of dripping, swirling volumes of color. It had a high-tech, sci-fi quality—perhaps some future hologram technology will render human form by pulling together light and color so fluidly. It also had an organic look that differed from his wire images. “For a long time, I was really interested in liquid, and I still think there are so many ways to navigate with liquid.” These portraits, which he did for himself initially, led to other jobs. For example, he illustrated a lush container of Kiehl’s body cream with milky drips, leaves, and nuts flowing across the picture plane. 

The Duracell commission came to him in a similar way, prompted by experiments he’d done with boxy, quaint-looking robotic imagery. For Duracell, a battery company nearly a century old, he illustrated a robot with a simple radio for a head and a camera with a zoom lens for a body. No limbs are attached—they float above a background, thin lines showing us how they’ll come together. The pieces resemble components of a kit. “It’s more like the models you do when you are a child,” explains Sadi. This illustration won a Bronze Lion award at the annual Cannes International Festival of Creativity. A “stamp of approval,” Sadi says of the award, though he downplays its importance. “It’s not like a movie star winning an award,” he jokes. 

One illustration Sadi recently made as an exercise for himself has a sweating man at center. His longer-than-life arms loop around to hold onto a padlock and a calculator while eight additional arms reach out to do everything a modern man feels pressured to do: lift weights, make dinner, give flowers, read a book. Each action is numbered and labeled: “1. Romantic, 2. Wealthy…” 

“My idea for this one was to mix my liquid style, which I’d done before, with my infographic style,” says Sadi. He says that the older he gets, the more he enjoys doing work with a discernible message. “Illustration of infographics has a straight focus. I know a lot of people think it’s less creative work,” he acknowledges. “But I like to find a clear way to give the message.”

 “I’ve changed,” he adds. “Ten years into this work, I think I’m more interested in the substance and less in the form.” This is not to suggest his infographic work tends toward dryness or didacticism. His illustrations still have elements of whimsy or mystery, and a dimensionality that makes them seem like little worlds unto themselves. For instance, his series for French mobile service provider Bouygues Telecom starts with a phone in a pudgy hand, then traverses a wide variety of terrains, from suburbia to a farm, a factory, and a solar-fueled city center. Always, mobile signals keep these places functioning. 

“I work on several things at once,” says Sadi, who draws from his home and rarely travels for work despite his international clientele. “I don’t want to repeat myself again and again.” He maintains diversity in his practice intentionally, taking on jobs that push him to think differently; for example, the Cannes Lion festival invitation he made for Google resembles a Richard Scarry storybook in its visual density. Still, he’s not sure he considers his craft art.

“To be honest, I’m not sure illustrators are really artists with a capital A,” he says. “I mean, an artist has something deep inside his mind or heart and he wants to provide and to express this to the world.” Sadi wants instead to adapt to his circumstances, and he welcomes client-imposed limitations. “Without limitations, my mind goes in so many directions,” he says. He also relishes the way certain clients challenge him to think and then create differently. “I like a lot of change,” he says.