sketchbook Stories :: Christina Ortega


I am not exactly sure how Christina and I met, but I’m glad that we did. We were in the same children’s book critique group, that met once a month for a little over 2 years. It was an amazing resource and support group. I think both of us grew from the experience. Christina studied Illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and received her BFA in Traditional Illustration. After graduating Christina has worked on small commissions here and there. She then pursued a career in teaching art at private art schools and taught Figure Drawing, Watercolor, Sculpture, Mosaic, and Cartooning Workshops for various college programs and organizations. Now living in Austin, TX with her two kiddos and hubby, Christina is still a teacher but now Yoga is the subject. 

Here is Christina Ortega’s Sketchbook Story ::

CO: Growing up I loved to draw, paint, color, on anything and everything. When I was four or five I drew a farmyard in my mom’s Betty Crocker cookbook and though she was none too pleased at me for ruining her favorite cookbook, she noticed the detail I added to all the critters (eyelashes on the horse, wrinkles on the pig’s nose, etc.) and didn’t admonish me too much. Though my parents weren’t artists themselves, they recognized my interest ran deep and encouraged me in any way they could providing me with paint sets, drawing kits and sketchbooks. My coloring books were meticulously colored page by page (within the lines, of course)  and when I quickly graduated to “paint by numbers” I chucked the directions in favor of my own way of adding color to the mapped out pictures. I am really inspired by N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, and Alphonse Mucha. I have always enjoyed working in watercolor so I’m drawn to Charles Santore’s work as well.


CO: The client wanted a unique t-shirt design based on their concept of a cupid with a banner reading “I Give Great Heart.” They sent me their drawing of what they had in mind. They were going for a classical, antiquated look and sent me some pics of background textures and sculptures to consider.


CO: I looked up some photo references and started sketching some ideas.


CO: I liked the idea of the banner unfurling behind the cupid and also felt a vertical composition would work better for the layout of a t-shirt. I really wasn’t sure how to incorporate the background textures of crumbling walls they sent me and figured it would be difficult to make that texture translate onto a t-shirt so I just focused on the cupid and banner. (BTW: That’s pretty much a nice way of putting, I didn’t like their texture idea and just wanted to work on the fun stuff!) When you’re working with a new client you don’t know very well, it can be difficult to ascertain what their concept encompasses as it’s not always clear. Initially, I try to give them exactly what they described even if I don’t agree with their aesthetics. Then I’ll, respectfully, pitch some of my ideas and maybe they’ll like them or maybe they’ll hate them but at least I gave it a shot. In this case, I became really obsessed with this old school tattoo idea. I didn’t want to go the Ed Hardy route, with bad tattoo overkill, rather, I thought it might look cool if there was this classic cherub figure juxtaposed with a more campy font treatment. 


CO: I changed the composition of the figure to arc to the left, shortened the cupid’s neck to give it a more cherub, youthful quality and added my tattoo font idea to the banner. The client liked it (yay!) and told me to move forward. I scanned my drawing then printed it out at 50% grayscale so I could still see my first drawing. I tightened up the drawing, added more detail to the banner and wings and added a heart under the cupid to anchor the piece (and to give the little guy a place to sit!) 

CO: Once the drawing was in a good place, I took it into Photoshop, added some value contrast, more detail, and finalized the font then sent it in for review. The client changed their minds about the tattoo idea (boo!) and really wanted me to go back to a more elegant, script font. I gave them a version with a stock font but they really wanted me to recreate the font they designed in the first sketch they sent me. Sigh. So I recreated their font in Illustrator, placed it in the banner and sent them a couple of concepts. By this point, they also wanted me to add distress to the heart to see what that looked like. In the meantime, I had figured out a way to add texture into the background without a distressed wall. I found a random script image, modified it and placed it behind the cupid and banner. They really liked that idea!. The distressed heart was thrown out but now the client had really zeroed in on the final design and wanted me to lay out some different compositions on t-shirt templates. To continue the heart and arrow motif, I made some in Illustrator and used them as another background element. Taking into consideration this design would ultimately be worn by a 3-D person (one would hope), I essentially had two compositions to think about: front and back and even the sides, to some extent. 


CO: Surprisingly, the finished product was done on purple and brown t-shirts, instead of black but I really like how they turned out. Unfortunately, the clothing company is no longer in business but at least I have the two t-shirts they sent me with my design on them. 

Here’s where you can find Christina::

   website ::

        blog ::

      email ::

  1. What a great design is very creative and was based on the classics to be created in a shirt today. that a good idea.

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