Creating visual metaphors: Alex Castro’s illustration tools

Whereas The Verge is a spot the place tales are advised, they wouldn’t be almost as fascinating if it weren’t for the paintings that accompanies them. Alex Castro is the illustrator for The Verge, and he’s the most effective particular person to explain how his work enhances our reporting.

What follows are Alex’s ideas concerning the instruments he prefers to make use of.


I’ve heard illustrations described as “visible metaphors” that mirror the which means of the phrases. I create paintings for Verge articles that communicates the feelings of a narrative and catches the reader’s eye. Generally, it’s creating batches of easy graphics that could possibly be used for plenty of tales. Different occasions, it’s studying and rereading stories and options attempting to dissect what the primary takeaways of the tales are and creating visuals particularly for them. Typically the toughest a part of a challenge is the preliminary brainstorming once I’m extracting themes and making an attempt to translate them into visuals.

What you want

An illustration setup may be so simple as a laptop computer or as elaborate as an unbiased artwork studio, crammed with artwork provides and instruments. It actually depends upon the model of labor. Many digital artists make use of drawing tablets and shows with a purpose to draw instantly into their laptop software program of alternative. I do most of my work on the pc, so I are likely to not have an excessive amount of round me. I prefer to maintain a sketchbook and pen helpful with a purpose to sketch concepts down rapidly or take fast notes.

Pc, pill, and sketchbook

Once we have been within the workplace, I labored on a 27-inch iMac and a 22-inch Wacom Cintiq drawing pill. Since I’ve been working from residence, I’ve switched to my Alienware Aurora R7 system and bought a 19.5-inch Huion Kamvas Pro drawing pill, which I don’t love as a lot because the Cintiq, nevertheless it’s a fantastic price range possibility. I even have used a Wacom Intuos pill, and generally I choose its workflow over the show tablets since I don’t should be hunched over the show to attract.

Wacom Cintiq 22

Prices taken at time of publishing.

22-inch creative pen display

Regardless of what computer I’m using, I always have a pen and sketchbook handy. It’s much easier for me to brainstorm when I’m able to scribble all of my ideas freely.

Photoshop and added apps

Photoshop is my go-to for all of my artwork, as I’ve been using it since I was nine years old. It serves as the main hub for my work. Then I bring in assets from other software like Cinema 4D, where I create 3D objects, and Illustrator, where I can design high-res logos and icons. When animating or compositing video, I’ll jump into After Effects, which allows me to put together layers of video. I also use Photoshop plugins such as Topaz Studio and the Nik Collection to apply effects like AI-generated paint strokes, lens distortion, and double exposure. I usually paint these effects in using a layer mask in order to use them more as finishing touches rather than large overall effects.

Sometimes Alex will create the foundation of an image in Cinema 4D, then layer on top of it in Photoshop. A good example is this Verge illustration for a feature on a lost Stranger Things game.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Other times, Alex will create images in Photoshop then build 3D assets around it, trying to match depth and perspective. This is what he did for this single cover for rapper KB, using a photo of him performing on tour as a base.
Illustration by Alex Castro

When working on user interface designs, I usually use Figma, a web-based design software specifically made for interactive design. I really love its vector editing features, sometimes preferring it to Illustrator. For projects that could use some 3D work, I’ll occasionally use Blender instead of Cinema 4D. I personally prefer it to Cinema 4D, but since our team here doesn’t use it, I have to be proficient in both.


Prices taken at time of publishing.

This is the standard software for photo editing, compositing, digital painting, animation, graphic design, and other image production. Monthly subscription.

For beginners

If you’re just starting out, I think the cheaper Wacom tablets are a great start for any beginner digital artist. As far as software tools are concerned, I think Photoshop is a must-learn. GIMP or Krita are said to be great free alternatives, but I admit I’m not very familiar with them.

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