No contemporary illustrator puts joy to paper with such exuberance and ease as the Dutch Jordy van den Nieuwendijk. Known best for his wiggling, rainbow colored line drawings of smiling, sunny figures, Nieuwendijk’s work ranges from thick, modernist-inspired personal paintings to editorial illustrations for a range of clients from Elle to Vice, from Bloomberg to The Sunday Times Magazine.
He has a passion for the light and silly, and although his name is among the who’s who of young illustration talent today, Nieuwendijk originally studied as a graphic designer. Today, Nieuwendijk shares the story of the first thing he ever designed as ‘Jordy van den Nieuwendijk’—a funeral for the alter ego he’d been working as during his teenage years, and the moment that he first grew into the image-maker that he is today.
“I found myself in a lot of trouble and had a lot of anxiety while studying graphic design at The Royal Academy in The Netherlands. It’s a four-year course, and so to me that meant four years of struggle.
“At home I felt confident and got work as my illustrator alter-ego, named Superoboturbo. But back at university though, I had no clue who Jordy van den Nieuwendijk the graphic designer was.
“Superoboturbo had been an MSN-chat name and my Hotmail account as a teenager. Later, when I registered my illustration company for tax/VAT purposes, I figured my name ‘Jordy van den Nieuwendijk’ didn’t really suit the cool robots and colorful butterflies and aliens I was drawing, so I used my old MSN username. So ‘Superoboturbo’ started as a username, then a company name, followed by an artist name–a mask to draw and publish semi-anonymous work.
“It became not only my pseudonym but the successful version of myself. An alter-ego. I even had a red sweater that made me feel like him.
“Growing up, I’d draw Looney Tunes figures and cartoons, so in my first year at high school (aged 11), the girls in my class thought I was cute. I found it flattering, but preferred to be thought of as cool… Who doesn’t at that age? It took me a while to know what ‘cool’ would be, and I ended up doing graffiti at night to find out. It made me work in one color palette and in one style so that I could be obviously recognizable—this was the hand of my alter ego Superotourbo.
“So when I got to university, I was using this exact same style. I became bored with it: always the same figures, the same colors. For five years. This, plus the fact I was struggling at art school being Jordy, made me jealous of my alter-ego for being so confident. I decided I had enough of him. Classic Jekyll and Hyde, I guess?
“I decided to give him a funeral. I needed it to look and feel like a traditional funeral in order to make it work for myself. I also visualized my alter-ego as a car and drove it off a cliff—it would be spectacular—but not enough of a big bang. So instead, I started digging a big hole in the backyard of the Academy. I told the tale of Superoboturbo in drawings and used his visual elements to adorn the coffin itself. It has all the colors he ever used on it, as well as loads of recognizable details from the drawings I’d been making.
“The backyard of the Royal Academy with its brown tiles and classic ornamental architectural style was the perfect place to bury him. As it was my final year project in my last year studying graphic design, I figured it was appropriate to leave my alter ego and the academy behind, starting a fresh, new life as Jordy van den Nieuwendijk—able to design, draw, and create without any fixed style or color palette. I invited my closest friends, colleagues, and family members.
“I didn’t really have permission, I just started digging, and made some enemies at the academy. But I saved the project by placing a huge deposit with them and promising I’d fix the backyard. Some teachers knew I had to do it. They were worried about my emotional state and advised me to ‘talk to someone.’ Other teachers saw it as a stunt, and could see the humorous side of the whole project.
“I guess I discovered that it can be really refreshing to take a good, big, fat look at yourself, see what you are doing, what you are making, and don’t feel that working in the exact same style, with the same materials, and in the same environment, for the same clients, is always a good thing. Experimentation is key to fun discoveries. I think it was Einstein that said that if you have never failed, you have never tried.
“I don’t want to say what is good or bad, I can just give advice based on personal experience, but the whole experimenting and trying new things-thing sometimes makes my creative progress a whole lot more exciting.”