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Many signs in NYC could use an artist’s touch. This man is doing it for free, incognito.

Max Kolomatsky, who redesigns fliers and hangs them next to the original, says he wants the new signs to seem like they ‘appeared out of thin air’

Max Kolomatsky, a Brooklyn-based digital artist and filmmaker, has been redesigning fliers around New York. (Max Kolomatsky)
6 min

Earlier this year, Max Kolomatsky, a digital artist and filmmaker, found himself in a creative rut — and he wasn’t sure how to get out of it.

Then one day he was walking the streets of Brooklyn, and an unusual idea hit him. He spotted a flier taped to a pole and decided the sign could use a pick-me-up.

“When I see something poorly designed, it’s in me to imagine how I would do it differently,” said Kolomatsky, 24. “That got me really excited.”

The flier was soliciting people to join a game-night group. Specifically, the group was looking for individuals interested in playing Catan, a popular board game.

“Hey! Do you like to play Catan?” the sign read. “We recently moved to Bushwick and we are searching for people for awesome game board nights!!!!!”

Kolomatsky thought the sign was cluttered and text-heavy. He didn’t know who made it, but he was compelled to give the sign more charm.

He went home that February day, and unable to get it out of his head, he created his own digital illustration that was like the original but “a little bit more fun and magical,” Kolomatsky said.

When he was done, he taped the revamped poster to the same pole, next to the original.

Maria Barambio, who created the first flier, was tickled to see Kolomatsky’s overhauled version.

“I have very limited knowledge of photoshop,” said Barambio, 32, who moved to Brooklyn from Paris in July. “What he did was super heartwarming. It was very cool.”

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Kolomatsky’s redesign reignited his creative spark. He started noticing that there were signs all over New York that could use an artist’s touch.

“There are a lot of interesting fliers out there,” he said, noting that many were not achieving their full potential.

So he stayed on the lookout for other signs to improve, specifically ones for local businesses. He wanted to support those who would appreciate his work the most.

“I’m definitely focused on people that could use the assistance,” said Kolomatsky. “Good design really can benefit a small business.”

His next project was for a small appliance shop in Brooklyn called Jose’s Refrigerator & Stove. Behind the store window, he noticed a boring and tattered sign, written in Sharpie, and decided to give it a makeover.

Kolomatsky maintained the original sign’s simple black-and-white look, but he added bolder text, a cleaner layout, plus illustrations of a refrigerator, a stove and tools.

Rather than hand-deliver the finished piece to the store owner, Kolomatsky simply taped it outside the window, above the original.

“I like to think that from their perspective, it sort of appeared out of thin air,” he said.

Jose Muhammad, who has owned the store for 38 years, was stunned to see the sign when he arrived for work one morning.

“I had made one myself, and he made the design better,” said Muhammad. “I’m grateful.”

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To preserve it, Muhammed moved the poster behind the glass and also made some photocopies. He placed one on the front door.

“It looks good to me,” he said, adding that he hopes the artist will visit him one day, so that he might say thank you in person.

Kolomatsky, for his part, was thrilled to see his sign being put to good use.

“It was very cool to see that they’re using it,” said Kolomatsky, explaining that each redesign takes him a day or two, though it depends on the complexity of the piece. “Some days, I’m just not feeling as creatively sharp, and I can struggle with an idea for a while.”

Since starting the spontaneous project, Kolomatsky has completed five poster redesigns — including for a handyman, a band and a mover. He shared his creative process for two of the posters on TikTok, and his videos have had millions of views. The reaction has been “overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

“I’m a big believer in encouraging artists,” Kolomatsky said, explaining that he shares his artistic strategies on social media in the hope of inspiring other illustrators. “I’m anti-gatekeeping. I think there’s a lot of room in the world of art for people to have careers like mine, and I’d rather share the knowledge than close the door.”

Kolomatsky also hoped that chronicling his sign redesigns might motivate people to do their own good deeds.

She was lonely. So she started a club to make friends, and 35,000 people joined.

“It was very encouraging to see that people connected with it,” he said, adding that someone in Germany began doing similar sign remodels after seeing his work. “That is a very cool side effect of this going viral.”

Kolomatsky’s videos caught the attention of the software company Adobe, which has a creator-led TikTok account. A representative contacted Kolomatsky and asked if he would be interested in partnering with Adobe to produce illustration videos for social media.

“We’re regularly on the lookout for creators and members of our community who are making compelling content, and Max caught our eye,” said Stacy Martinet, Adobe’s vice president of marketing.

Her team was struck by Kolomatsky’s “creative way of helping the world through design,” Martinet said. “That really spoke to us. We wanted to work with him and support him in doing more of this work, and amplifying it to more people.”

Given that Kolomatsky — a full-time freelancer — is being compensated for the video series, “it’s a way that I can focus more intently on this project,” he said.

Regardless of the partnership, Kolomatsky intends to keep doing the free sign redesigns.

“This project is definitely something I plan to continue, and go a little bigger with it,” he said. “I have a backlog in my camera roll of dozens and dozens of options for myself. Whenever I have the time, I try to come up with some better ideas for them.”

The impromptu initiative has revived his inner artist, Kolomatsky said, and in that process it has helped others.

“There is an obvious net positive effect on the world when you’re going out and improving design,” he said. “Design is really powerful.”