LA-based illustrator Leonardo Santamaria shares his passion for creating images that make a social impact.
I was born with my twin brother in Manila, Philippines. Then as a young child, my family emigrated to New Jersey. My dad had accepted a programming job at one of the World Trade Center buildings and would commute each day by bus from New Jersey to New York. Not long after that, his next job took us to bright and sunny Orange County, California, where I spent the majority of my youth growing up.
From there, I took community college classes where I was lucky to discover illustration through a professor I was really fortunate in having, Moira Hahn. After that, I applied to several art schools and got accepted as a transfer to ArtCenter College of Design. I packed my bags and moved an hour north to Los Angeles.
As far as illustration goes, I am at the early stages in my career. But it’s at the point where even though it’s early, I feel like it has the momentum where it’s going to happen no matter what now. It doesn’t feel as ephemeral as it was before! It seems like a waiting game of putting in the work while creating the awareness for art directors that would allow a more consistent livelihood as a freelance illustrator.
So far on this journey, my favourite project has been an independent short film poster I illustrated and designed about a Trans woman who finds solace in an end-of-summer swim. From the content to the execution the project really hit the nail on the head on the kind of work that I’d like to do. To make work that extends beyond just smart image-making and moves into social impact is a space where I’d like to find myself working in often.
At the core, meaty part of it, my process is a traditional one that embraces digital editing. I start off with drawing concepts directly into Photoshop, where I find the most flexibility in designing the piece. From there, I tighten the drawing and then transfer it on to a sheet of printmaking paper. Using graphite powder and isopropyl alcohol, I then paint in the linework. After that, I do several layers of acrylic washes using watercolour techniques to build up values, colour, and a general cohesiveness. Once the painting is at a finished point, I scan it and do slight photo-editing to make minor tweaks and fixes to the colour.