By Marley

Being an artist myself, you are constantly inspired by the things around you. Your life, the people around you, stories they tell you. Some inspirations come from nature but in Kitchen Dutch case it’s anything from politics to headline news stories too much-loved cartoons and more.

I met AJ van Niekerk, the man behind Kitchen Dutch, on the MK 6de Avontoer back in 2010/2011. He has been the same person with a tongue-in-cheek humour and love for music and photography. He is also the man behind the Small Town Music Blog’s logo, which still sets us apart. Based in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, we made a date online to catch up and speak about the brand that is becoming a popular t-shirt trend in South Africa.

STM: Let’s start at the beginning. When did you start with illustrations?

KD: I started playing around in my free time with different drawing techniques while I was busy with my fine art studies. After classes, I would focus on “non” traditional art, following the comic book style that always influenced me. But officially, when I finished my studies back in 2013 it was impossible to find a job with a Fine Art Diploma I decided to become a freelance illustrator.

Illustration by Kitchen Dutch - Cookie Monster like you never seen him
Cookie Monster like you never seen him

STM: Where does the name ‘Kitchen Dutch’ come from?

KD: In the book, Kringe in ‘n bos” by Dalene Matthee, characters in the book would label Afrikaans as “Kitchen Dutch“. That made a huge impression on me. When you move to a city like Port Elizabeth, people would make fun of you if you spoke broken English. When I had to decide on an artist name, it felt like that Kitchen Dutch fitted perfectly.

STM: You are all the way in the Eastern Cape, how does this affect you as an artist? Where does your work requests come from?

KD: We are living in a new age for an artist. Nowadays you just need a broadband connection and a camera. Geographical placement isn’t an issue when you can promote your work online. The only problem about the Eastern Cape is that it is really a very industrial focused area. If you really want to make an impact as an artist in South Africa, Cape Town would be a much better place to start.

STM: You studied Fine Art at university, why did you decide on that course?

KD: After matric, drawing was the only thing that I could do properly. I wanted to learn how to create illustrations that could be used for poster design, album covers and T-shirt design. I applied to study Graphic Design but I did not qualify. So I took the course that could improve my drawing skills and I taught myself how to use Design software.

Illustration by Kitchen Dutch
Illustration by Kitchen Dutch

STM: Your illustrations can portray anything and everyone including well-known bands and vocalists. How do you decide on who to draw?

KD: Either I really love the band or I stumble upon a live performance photograph that captures something beautiful of the band. I dabble myself with a camera and take live band photography. So when I capture a certain moment I am always curious to see if I can recreate that moment. I get a certain type of rush when I recreating that moment on to paper.

STM: What has been your most popular illustration thus far?

KD: My “Kanye my skroewe vir my vasdraai” illustration showed me the power of the internet.  It went viral faster than the time I spent on the actual illustration.

Illustration by Kitchen Dutch - Kanye my skroewe vir my vasdraai illustration
The design that broke the internet

STM: Your drawings have also been a part of Oppikoppi. Tell us more about that?

KD: First of all, I am an Oppikoppifanboy. Back in 2013, I worked at Koppi just to be closer to the festival. Somehow rumours went out through the staff that I am an artist. Misha Loots (One of Oppikoppi’s organizers) came to me and pitched the idea of starting a collective where different artist draw scenes of the festival. We went full force in 2014. Capturing the beauty of what Oppikoppi is, we would try to recreate that beauty onto paper. 

Illustration by Kitchen Dutch - For Oppikoppi

STM: Your designs are also being used on posters for some popular venues in the Western Cape. Can you tell us more?

KD: Back in 2011, I won a competition to join the music tour Avontoer. I met the crew of DPK. Connecting with them opened up the doors for me to create content for great Western Cape venues and bands. It exposed me to event organizers that became a huge connection in my career. If it was not for DPK I would not have had the opportunity to work with the founder of RAMfest, David Fourie, when they started Park Off. They gave me a chance to create some of most expressive posters I have ever made.

STM: Have any bands used your illustrations? If so can you mention a few names for us?

KD: I have worked with acts like Mr.Cat and the Jackal, Pink Lippz, Undead Generation and Die Wasgoedlyn.

Illustration by Kitchen Dutch. Photo via Facebook

Illustration by Kitchen Dutch

STM: In recent times your designs have now been printed on t-shirts, can you tell us more about this?

KD: Even though I have a huge passion for music, I have also a passion for parody and satire. Taking something old and giving a totally different perspective just gives me excitement. At first, when I made parody designs I made them just for the laughs. In my back brain, I hoped it would become a T-shirt design. T-shirt Terrorist discovered me on Facebook back in 2016. When he came to me and wanted to sell my illustrations on their site, I was in shock. Finally, I had the connection to make t-shirts I only dreamt of. We launched my t-shirt line that July. 

STM: Your t-shirt designs have also slowly started to gain popularity, is there any famous faces wearing your shirts?

KD: I am aware that the rapper Jaco van der Merwe from the group Bittereinder has bought my “Jy weet moss” t-shirt design.

Photo provided by Kitchen Dutch. Jaco van der Merwe (Bittereinder)
in one of Kitchen Dutch's T-shirt designs
Jaco van der Merwe (Bittereinder)
in one of Kitchen Dutch’s T-shirt designs

STM: Where can we order your t-shirt designs from?

KD: Just visit the site

Illustration by Kitchen Dutch
Design and artwork by Kitchen Dutch

STM: Some of your illustrations are designed with coins, can you tell us the concept behind this.

KD: Back in 2013, I was bored with the standard illustration mediums. It felt like everybody is using the same technique. I remembered as a kid, I loved to trace money with pen on paper. Was always an easy way to make a decent drawing. I went back to that technique, realized I could tone different shades of the illustration. I discovered I could explore the role we as the humankind have in capitalism.

STM: When it comes to drawing/designing the drawings, what mediums do you use? 

KD: When I started, my mediums would range from fine liner, watercolour and pencil. I was solely focused on handmade craft. Recently I switched over to a drawing tablet. I have mixed emotions between hand-drawn and digital illustrations.

STM: Your page also mentions you do photography. Does this also play a role in your illustrations?

KD: Indeed. When discovering how a camera uses available light it somehow helped me to play with light while I am drawing. I also discovered how to composition different layouts. 

STM: You are also from a small town, Uitenhage. What can you tell us about what happens there? Since we’re both in small towns.

KD: Beyond teenage pregnancy and “skinner tannies” nothing else really. Uitenhage is a type of place that Bruce Springsteen would sing about. The industrial movement made the entire town creatively constipated.

STM: Who is your favourite band in South Africa and who must we listen to according to Kitchen Dutch?

KD: A day without Fokofpolisiekar is a day wasted. Fokofpolisiekar showed me that there is a future for creative people in South Africa. The effort those guys put into a product is astonishing.

STM: Have you ever had really wired requests for design work you can share with us? (like ridiculous requests clients can give a designer)

KD: A client wanted a self-portrait of me. I am not a dead famous artist, owning a self-portrait of mine is not really that valued. The fact that some would pay me was such a unique experience.

The shirt fans - get your favourite design from T-Shirt Terrorist. Illustrations by Kitchen Dutch
The shirt fans – get your favourite design from T-Shirt Terrorist

STM: A lot of people think freelancing means you can sleep in, do your work when you want to but they don’t realise you still need to work hard for your money. How difficult is it as a freelance illustrator?

KD: My doctor did not understand me when I wanted to pay him with exposure. I still can not afford a medical aid scheme.

STM: Where can people can find you? Social media, website? 

KD: Best place to find me is on;

Check out T-Shirt Terrorist to order your illustrated shirt today. Thank you kindly to AJ for taking the time out answering our questions and we are forever grateful for the awesome designs coming from his pencils (pens, paper, ink etc).

Marley is the founder and owner of Small Town Music. Born and bred in Nelspruit aka Nelsparta. Marley loves music (rock being a firm favourite), tattoos, festivals, animals and South Africa. Self-taught photographer and writer.