Creative Talk: Alberto Santiago

Creative Circle works with the most talented creatives in the business! One is our beloved freelance illustrator, Alberto Santiago. Here’s what Alberto Santiago had to say when we asked him about his freelance journey:

What’s your name?

Alberto Santiago

Did you grow up in Brooklyn?

No, my mom was born here. But I was born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico. It’s been five years since I moved here.

What’s your creative process? So when, if you’re working on something for yourself, or you’re working on something for a client, like take me through your thought process and like your creative process to get it done?

So, first, I do a very rough sketch. Usually, if you see it, you aren’t going to be able to understand what it is, but I get it. So I draw a bunch of shapes of what I wanted. And then after that, I just start doing the line work. And then I just color. Sometimes if I’m out of ideas, I go to Pinterest or stuff like that. Just to see stuff. But usually, inspiration comes out of nowhere, and I just start drawing. One thing leads to another and then I have the image.

So what do you do if you feel stuck creatively?

I feel like the best way to get out of artist’s block is to keep drawing. Because even if you’re stuck creatively, you know that you can do it because it’s your skill versus inspiration. Inspiration comes and goes, and that’s okay. You always have your skill, so just keep doing what you know/what you need to do. And eventually, skills will pick up again and so some sort of inspiration or motivation will come back again.

What are some things that inspire you?

A lot of stuff from back home. Especially after moving to New York, I like a lot of architecture and fashion. I like reading, so sometimes visualizing what I’m reading gives me ideas to draw, also.

When do you feel most inspired? Are you a morning person or a night person?

I always try to be a morning person. I like waking up and having a super productive morning, but it always ends up that – I get an idea late at night, so I can’t sleep. So, I end up working a lot at night. So, I like the idea of being a morning person, but I always end up being a night owl.

Conversation about Dreams

Sometimes I write down dreams I’ve had. I had my iPad right next to my bed and I wake up and I have this feeling that my dream is like an award-winning movie. Often, I feel like my dreams make more sense in my head. So I’ll write something, then go back to sleep. And when I read it the next day, I kind of don’t understand what it’s about. But in that moment, it made so much sense. My dreams are mostly like, more of a narrative. But sometimes I do get like visual dreams that I say, oh, this would be a nice drawing. And sometimes I end up drawing them.

Is there a person who inspires you?

Ah, yes, I would say the most – the person that most inspired me it’s Hayao Miyazaki. He’s a Japanese film director. He did Spirited Away, and Ponyo, I don’t know if you’ve seen them. They’re animated films. Howl’s Moving Castle, I really like his, it’s motive. His work is very beautiful. Well, he’s a very pessimistic person. But translates his, I guess his pessimism into beautiful stuff. Like, so I would say he’s my number one inspiration. Even though my style is not similar to his, I do get inspired by him.

Another inspiration is Edward Hopper. And I’m about to go to one of his shows here in New York. He’s a painter. He’s dead but they’re doing a show in New York. And I really like his style. It’s very American, or Americana. I’m always like, people by themselves. This kind of like a lonely vibe. Very beautiful work.

Do you feel like you create better when you’re happy or sad?

Definitely sad, I don’t know why, but it works. I think most of the time people are in a neutral state. But one of the ways I express myself, especially like my depressive side, for example, is through art. So, I would think that even though like I have a good sense of humor and stuff like that usually when it comes to art it’s more of a more serious side.

What do you listen to when you’re creating?

When I’m drawing, I like to have on relaxing music in the background. There’s a bunch of Japanese 80s instrumental music that I found out during the pandemic that I’ve never heard before, and I have like a playlist of them. I usually just put that on shuffle or relaxing video game music. I just put that in on Spotify and it has a bunch of playlists. But I also like singers and writers, mostly in Spanish. But when I’m drawing, I like instrumental music, jazz stuff like that. I like background music.

That’s very specific. 80s Japanese music. How did you find it?

YouTube just started playing the whole album for me. Do you know when you have the autoplay on? One thing just kept playing after the other and I was like, damn, never heard this before! It’s like super obscure Japanese stuff. They are mostly instrumental. Sometimes they sing. My favorite is the Summer Bridge one, I like the vibe, it’s very California. YouTube just get – put the whole album and then you know when you have the autoplay, one thing just kept playing after the other one was like damn, never heard this before. Like they’re like super obscure Japanese stuff. Then they mostly instrumental sometimes they sing but for the Summer Bridge one I’d like the vibe it has like a very California vibe

Okay, when did you realize you are good at illustrating?

Sometimes I think I’m good, sometimes I don’t. Every artist struggles. But I have always drawn ever since I was a kid. That was my main interest in high school. I didn’t go to art school, but I always liked reading comics and drawing. And everyone always liked my drawings. Then when I went to college, I kind of stopped drawing because I was studying. Around when I was 25, I picked it up again. I realized that I could work on these and people would buy them and maybe I could make money off it. So, I would say around when I was 27, I started realizing that I could make it a job.

Is there someone who has always believed in you, in your work, your abilites?

A lot of friends have always had my back, they have given me words of encouragement or the push I needed when I needed them. In terms of my family, they’re not super into art, so they have my back, but they understand it. I do have friends in the art world, so I go to them when I need an opinion or just words of encouragement.

So growing up when you expressed you wanted to be a painter, you don’t think you got any pushback from it?

When I said to my mom that I wanted to be a photographer she didn’t like the idea. She never stopped me and she’s very supportive in that way. But she’s also very practical so she just wanted something practical. But, as an artist or someone who is creative, you know that it won’t make you happy to do something only practical.

What advice would you give to other artists other freelancers about their careers?

To never stop working, even if you don’t have the inspiration, you can always just work. Inspiration will always come and go. Consistency will be what eventually brings you clients, ideas, and more inspiration. Although I say that, it’s something I’m always trying to improve on myself

Would you suggest your career to anyone else?

Well, I would say it’s hard. One of my friends is a doctor and sometimes I rant about my career and they ask, “why don’t you get a practical job?” and I answer that I know I’m not going to be happy. My art is what gives me meaning in life. So, if someone feels the same way, I would say to just do it because I know it’s fulfilling. If it’s someone who needs to make art, it’s the only thing that will give meaning. Even if it’s hard. So, I would say yeah, go for it!

What’s your biggest fear career-wise?

My biggest fear is that I might just stop making art because of fear. I also fear working on something I’m very proud of and it gets discarded. It’s already happened once and it wasn’t because they didn’t like the work, the project didn’t work because of other factors. But I did spend a bunch of time on something, and I couldn’t even use it. That was frustrating. It was for a big client, and I put in 82 hours into a big illustration. In the end, they weren’t able to get permits and the project got discarded. I got paid but it wasn’t just about the money, I wanted to be able to use the art. That was frustrating but I guess it’s just part of the job.

So how do you deal with that?

At first, they didn’t tell me why the project was discarded. So, I had this imposter syndrome thinking that they just didn’t like my work. But then they were like oh the project wasn’t continued because of other factors that don’t have to do with my art. So that made it a little bit better, but it was still frustrating that I just had to discard something I worked on.

What’s the most interesting place that you drawn or illustrated or done photography?

Well, I don’t know if it’s an interesting place, but I spend a lot of time in the Upper East Side because
I work around there, too. I always like sitting in Central Park and drawing. It’s very relaxing, especially during autumn. Drawing there is going to be harder because it’s colder, but I really like drawing in the park. I think you see a lot of people and it’s inspiring. And back home, I really like the countryside and the idea of it. So, sometimes I spend a few days in the countryside. I get inspired. But, eventually, I’m ready to come back. But I really like drawing about it. I think it’s a very peaceful place to live and, and I don’t know, it just inspires me. Right now, I’m working on a drawing of my dad’s house.

What do you think you’re gonna do with it [sketch of dad’s house]? When you’re done.

So far, it’s just a sketch. But it has some magical realism elements to it. It’s his house from a kind of isometric kind of view. And he lives in the countryside. And in the backyard, there’s a river. So, there’s going to be a giant camouflaged element going through the bushes and maybe like a giant fish in the river, or something like that. I don’t know if I’m gonna do something with it, it’s just something that came out while I was sketching at night.


About the creative. 

Alberto Santiago is an illustrator based in Brooklyn. He was born and raised in Puerto Rico and graduated from the University of Sagrado Corazón with a BFA in Photography. Alberto has always had an interest in art and visual arts, growing up he spent his free time reading comics, watching cartoons, and drawing what he saw. After graduating from college, he decided to pursue illustration as a career alongside photography. In his drawings, he likes to incorporate small details, from everyday things with magical realism to the contrast of living in the city in comparison to the island he grew up on.