Nelleke Verhoeff on the making of Muscle Man

What follows is a short interview with Dutch illustrator Nelleke Verhoeff. Nelleke won our latest Design us a Tee competition with a design called Muscle Man. Her illustration was chosen as the winner from over a 135 submitted entries and is now for sale in our T-shirt shop. In the interview, Nelleke reveals her design process and how the fabulous Muscle Man saw the light.

Hi Nelleke, thanks so much for your beautiful Muscle Man.

You’re welcome. I joined the competition and wanted to make two designs: a sturdy one for boys and a lovable one for girls. I know that’s pretty stereotype, but I wanted to play with that. I made Muscle Man and Little Red Cat. I was happy to see the former win the competition.

How did you come up with the Muscle Man?

I had just finished a few illustrations of macho men for The Delicious Dudes, a fun project in which I collaborated with 11 illustrators to make card sets for a quartet game. One of the cards I designed is called Biceps Billy. I’m sure you’ll notice he has the same heavy mustache as Muscle Man:

Biceps Billy by Nelleke Verhoeff

That’s beautiful! But why macho men?

I’ve always had a fascination for machos. I find them quite inspiring. Back in the days when I still made theatre for kids, we had a circus show that featured a muscle man as well. He was called The Strongest Man of Belgium. He could lift a thousand kilos with just one pinkie.

Interesting. So when starting an illustration for our contest you were in the macho mood.

Yes, I had been sketching strong men for a while and I had been doing research, looking all over the internet searching for pictures of macho men. Check this particular find of a strong fellow dating back to 1885:

Strong man black and white picture dated 1885

He was a major inspiration for the Muscle Man.

That’s really great to see. So you then started doodling?

Yes! There was a 2 color limitation for the T-shirt, so I wanted the design to be very simple. I made these couple of monoprint drawings:

Monoprint doodles of Muscle Man by Nelleke Verhoeff

That looks a lot like our Muscle Man!

Yes, but I wanted the final Muscle Man to be more smooth. So I made it in Photoshop with a pen tablet. I love working with a tablet because it allows you to draw in Photoshop like you would with a regular pen. You can create lines of variable size and thickness. Your drawing appears on your screen immediately, like magic!

And like magic, Muscle Man saw the light!

Yes! When I saw the golden T-shirt color I knew immediately that was going to be the right color for Muscle Man. The color reminds me of old theatre shows, vaudeville and cabaret. So a golden outfit suited him perfectly. I gave him a heavy mustache and of course gigantic muscles. This is the final version:

Muscle Man by Nelleke Verhoeff T-shirt print for kids

That’s a great read, Nelleke. We’ve asked previous designers for a picture of their working space. Can we see where you make your illustrations?

Sure, though I’d much prefer to draw it:

Workspace drawing by Nelleke Verhoeff

As you can see I do not only work with a computer, but I also sketch on paper often. I like to cut and paste as well. I then mostly scan my work and further enhance it using Photoshop. That’s really my favorite piece of software.

I get a lot of inspiration from art and picture books. Google is an endless source as well. I enjoy a good latte while working. :)

Thanks so much, Nelleke.

Kids will be delighted to hear that Muscle Man is available for purchase in our T-shirt shop. The price is a steal.