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Depiction of Essence
Ricardo Santos
Text | Henry Lau
Design | Answer Chui

Portuguese illustrator Ricardo Santos has worked for well known media like «Diário de Notícias», «24 Horas» and «Journal I» over the years and has won SND World’s Best Designed Newspaper Award, Folio-Ozzie Best Magazine Cover Award, Malofiej International Infographic Awards, The Best of Journalistic Design Spain and Portugal Awards respectively.


Having said that, Ricardo’s stunning illustrations take motorsports art in a whole new direction. His depictions of classic racing cars are as surprising as they are dramatic, and his ability to convey their essence is as much about what he leaves out as what he includes. At the time of this interview, Ricardo was also working as the art director of «Turbo» Magazine, but was preparing to move on to another challenge, so we saw this as a good time to review some of his best works.

When was your first automotive related illustration?
Like most petrolheads, I started to fill the pages of mathematics and Portuguese language exercise books with drawings of cars, especially racing cars. Today, almost all of my work is made in a computer but the habit of drawing with pencils and pens never stopped. From the schoolbooks it passed to little notebooks and every piece of blank paper that I found.

How did you get into professional automotive illustrating?
I have a degree in graphic design. I always liked design and when I was in college I was invited to work in the graphic department of the Diário de Noticias, one of the biggest newspapers in Portugal. I started working as a graphic designer in newspapers in the infographics department. I always tried to convince the sports editors to make cool graphic and journalistic pages about cars. This influenced a lot of the work I do today. After Diário de Noticias, I worked in 24 horas and in “I” where I was part of the design team that drew the journal and won in 2010 the World’s Best-Designed Newspaper Award.

 

I like to use strong colors and shapes, details and unexpected perspectives to surprise whoever sees my work and show how beautiful a car and especially a racing car can be.

What is your major role in your full time job?
I’m art director at Turbo, Portugal’s oldest monthly car magazine, but soon I will go on to accept a new challenge and become the art director of the Portuguese Autosport, a weekly motorsport newspaper.

Your work seems stylish, colourful and unique. Where does this concept come from?
The concept comes from racing cars. I usually say that my work focuses on the shape, the shadows, glows and colors of the cars to create simple, but eye-catching images. A car is a beautiful object, there are so many things in a car that can inspire work. I love to look at them and try to understand how all of the elements work together in a unified way. I believe this is a direct influence of my day job in newspapers and magazines trying to create simple and easy to understand work.

I like to use strong colors and shapes, details and unexpected perspectives to surprise whoever sees my work and show how beautiful a car and especially a racing car can be.

Sometimes I see a car that never grabbed my attention and think “wow, this car is great! I have to make something about this car.”

Is illustration still your hobby too, or is it just for work? 
It all started as a hobby but now it’s something more serious. I sell my illustrations online and work for some publications like «Racer», «BBC Top Gear», some car brands and other companies.

Are the cars in the pictures your favourites? Could you tell us how you choose the cars you illustrate?
Not necessarily. Sometimes I see a car that never grabbed my attention and think “wow, this car is great! I have to make something about this car.”

What kind of cars draw your attention the most?
Racing road cars. Formula 1 cars, rally cars, sports cars… for me they are beautiful. The form, the way the livery works with the form, the engineering, the story, the success or the failure, all of that fascinates me. I also like road cars, but racing cars have something more to inspire me.

Your works seem to highlight the graphics featured on racing cars a lot, any reason behind that?
When I illustrate a car I like to focus only on the car. I don’t like to draw the background. The car has to be the main thing in the illustration space so I try to use the graphics or the forms of the car and deconstruct or extend them to highlight the beauty of what I’m illustrating. All of this in the most simple way. Something that, when people see it, they can understand and feel.

It was great to see my work in big scale at such a big event as Le Mans.

What is your dream car?
Difficult question! I love the Lancia 037 with the Martini livery, and the Stratos, and the Lotus 72, and the Brabham BT52, and the Porsche 956 and the…

Do you have any hobbies besides illustration?
Besides being with my family, my hobbies always have something to do with cars. Books about cars, magazines about cars, scale models, talking with friends about cars, etc.

Do you have any objectives or goals when it comes to your automotive illustrations?
My goal is to do an illustrated book. Something about a brand, a team, or a racing driver. I have some ideas, but I can’t reveal them.

Do you still have your Math and Language Books with your first illustrations?
I don’t have the first one, but have tons of little illustrations that I used to make in my books. I cut them out and they are now inside two big envelopes.

Can you share any unforgettable experiences with automotive illustration with us?
In the beginning of this year I made a cover illustration of the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo for Racer magazine. Nissan saw the cover and liked it so much that they decided to use the illustration at the Le Mans 24 Hours as part of their communication material. It was great to see my work in big scale at such a big event as Le Mans.

Do you like driving? Racing?
Yes, very much. I have a small, but very fun to drive Peugeot 205 CTI (the convertible GTI) that I love to drive on the weekends.

With my passion for racing cars I always dreamed of an experience in motorsport, and I’m glad I did it. I’m a former rally and cross-country co-driver. I also had some races as a driver on circuits, but I preferred to be on the passenger’s seat and tell which way the driver has to go.


Depiction of Essence

Featured in BLACKBIRD AUTOMOTIVE JOURNAL VOL 08- REVIVAL –

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