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Quarantine in Santiago


Santiago en 100 Palabras is an annual short story writing competition held in Santiago, Chile that asks Chilean citizens and residents to submit 100-word stories about life in the city. There is an accompanying illustration competition to select who will illustrate the winning stories, which are then displayed in the Santiago metro stations.

In 2020 the brief for the illustration competition was to create an illustration in response to a past winning story. A translation of that story follows:


Adrian and I


Adrian and I live in the city center. He makes me laugh a lot. He’s convinced he’s a serial killer. “I’m a soul stealer,” he says while swimming restlessly from one side to the other of the aquarium I bought him. Lately he’s been very quiet. I tried to pet him, but he immediately started doing somersaults trying to bite my fingers. He thinks he’s a piranha. One Sunday he seemed devastated, so I dissolved a quarter of a Prozac in his water and took one myself as well. We stayed all afternoon staring out the window, murmuring songs in English. It’s just that sometimes we feel very lonely.

by Paloma Amaya



In this case my research was carefully reading and annotating the story for clues about how to depict it visually. The two important characters are the protagonist and their pet, but the story isn’t explicit as to what the protagonist might look like, or exactly what kind of pet they have. I was inclined to think the narrator was a woman because of the author’s name, and the most obvious pet was a fish, but that still left a lot of options in terms of what kind of woman and what kind of fish. I did some visual research of different kinds of fish, and some other aquatic animals as well.


After I was sure I understood the story and had collected my reference images, I started creating thumbnail sketches of possible compositions. Eventually I had a lot of sketches and variations, and I picked the ones I thought were strongest to do some small color tests to help me decide which to bring to the final step.


Since I wasn’t working directly for a client on this project, I asked for a little feedback from other illustrators to get a second opinion on my concepts. They agreed with me that the mermaid option was a surprising and unique take on the story, and was also shaping up to be a great composition and color selection.


In terms of medium, I decided digital would be the best option because of limited time and also, due to the pandemic, limited resources.


With the final direction decided, I started working up the actual drawing – making sure my dimensions were correct, creating different layers for the different colors, and adding details that weren’t in my tiny sketch; though ultimately following the blueprint I laid out for myself in the ideation stage. I did play around with the colors a little more just to test that I had picked the best combination, but ended up sticking with my original orange and teal.


After finishing my drawing, I waited a day or two and then came back to it with fresh eyes to check for any details I had missed. I also asked a friend for a final look over as well, then submitted the file to the judges.



The result was an illustration of a mermaid and her pet fish who live in Santiago, with a view of the Andes mountains – this was a perfect example of being able to infuse my personal style and interests into an illustration assignment. Though I wasn’t selected as a winner of the Santiago en 100 Palabras competition, this piece was longlisted for the 2021 World Illustration Awards, sponsored by the Association of Illustrators and the Directory of Illustration.

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