The artwork of Linda Vesperman

You may not know the name but you've probably worn Linda Vesperman's work

Photographers: Phil Cooper

LINDA Vesperman has been designing paint schemes for Australia’s best street machines and automotive T-shirts for more than 30 years. Karen Keves’s Mission Impossible Monaro and Mick Fabar’s Zero’d Ford XR — both unveiled at MotorEx 2012 — started life as sketches on Linda’s computer.

This article was first published in the December 2012 issue of Street Machine

Like so many of us, Linda doodled her school hours away, drawing cars when she probably should have been paying attention to long division. She also drew rock bands, inspired by what she saw on Countdown, and while she did dream of making a career out of her sketches, she never imagined it’d be so successful.

When did you realise you could make a career from drawing cars?

I always told myself I’d be an illustrator. I told my grandmother when I was 15: “I’m going to be an automotive illustrator.” She said: “You need to set you sights lower.” She was being practical, saying it’s a job for two or three people in Australia but now Rohan Day and I are those two people.

Linda did a stack of work for poster company Top Heavy in the 90s, including drawing Disney and Warner Bros characters under licence

What other jobs have you done?

When I left school at 15 I applied to BHP as an apprentice fitter and to Newcastle Art School and I got both. I started at BHP because that came first, then went to art school. Art college didn’t teach me a thing about drawing except to put in the hours.

Then I painted cars and introduced myself to panelbeaters as someone who could paint murals. I picked up an airbrush and murals happened naturally but I couldn’t get in with the big guys, Gary Pocket and David Styles, who both did murals in Newcastle.

That lasted a couple of years, then I worked at Cobra Fibreglass painting ready-made murals on hood scoops. I learnt bodywork there, moulding spoilers, fitting scoops and painting cars. We did an IMSA-style body kit for the VB Commodore that was shown at the Sydney Motor Show and was in Wheels and we did an RX-7 kit for Mazda based on the Moffatt race cars.

I built fibreglass swimming pools and boats for 10 years before I met [speedway photographer, publisher and merchandiser] Bill Meyer. I spent that time despising my work but earning good bucks. Every day I wasn’t drawing was soul-destroying.

Packaging and templates for radio control cars is another string to Linda’s bow, such as this tough ‘67 Mustang

Was it through Bill Meyer that you got your break in full-time drawing?

On weekends I’d go to the pits at the speedway and draw the cars. Gary Rush saw me and said: “I want you to do my T-shirt.” He put me in touch with Bill Meyer and I worked for Speedway Star Shirts through to the mid-80s.

Steve Turner was my big break. He had Ralphus doing designs but needed someone new and I got the job. That’s where I got my detail figured and got better with it. With Turner, we did shirts for the big race meetings such as the Winfield Triple Challenge, the Nationals and the Winternationals and for top racers like Jim Reed, Victor Bray, Graeme Cowin, Rachelle Splatt and others.

How many T-shirt designs would you have done?

Maybe 1000 with Turner and 2000-3000 in all.

Do you have a favourite design?

I think that Greentree Hearse Doorslammer is my favourite at the moment because everything worked. Another Roth-styled one was the Sydney Dragway Nitro Champs. The caricature style is fun because you draw everything without having to reference it. I can caricature a Hemi because I know how it should look, how the injector and fuel system should look.

Linda’s current favourite poster is the Greentree & Sons Undertaker Doorslammer

Do you aspire to be like Big Daddy?

No, it’s just something that’s come in the last couple of years. As a kid I aspired to Ed Newton, who was Ed Roth’s illustrator, but he’s what everyone aspired to back in the day.

Greg Tedder is the greatest automotive T-shirt illustrator of all time and is still an influence, as is Steve Stanford and the drag racing illustrator Keith Thorne. Kenny Youngblood asked me to paint for him years ago but I was already swamped with work at the time.

Plenty of builders turn to Linda to get their projects on paper, including the new version of Karen Keves’s HQ…

Newcastle’s always had a strong street machine scene. Owned any cool cars?

Not really. There was an HZ GTS, a VK 5.0l, and in Sydney I had a 180SX turbo with 18s that was unique in Australia at the time. I had an HSV Grange, which was awesome. You could drive it all day and get out fresher than when you got in.

… and Mick Fabar’s Zero’d XR Falcon

How did you get into doing work for magazines?

I did Sketch Pad for Fast Fours with Todd Hallenbeck, then he took over Street Machine and asked me to do Expression Session. I was too busy so I said I’d met Jeff Haggarty at the Triple Challenge and introduced them. Then I worked with Ewen Page at Street Machine and when he went to Auto Action I did all their illustrations until I got the job in Sydney and had to pull the pin on all my racing and car work.

What was that job in Sydney?

I ran the art dept at Illustrated Sports Clothing and we did the 2000 Olympic Games. We did more than T-shirts — we were designing 100ft billboards for the airport and anything we could get out hands on. That was awesome but after the Games I got bored with it.

Linda does plenty of work Stateside, including poster work for events such as Hot Rod Power Tour

The technology must have changed a lot. How did you do it in the old days?

I’d sketch it on paper, then trace it to sharpen the edges up, then transfer that onto a piece of board and do the ink. So it’s five draws before you do the colour separations and that would involve hours in the darkroom. It was so time-consuming!

I was at a screen print trade show when I met the boss of Mirage Graphics. He introduced me to Photoshop and that was the end of that. Working on the screen is just like airbrushing.

While I was at ISC in the 90s I made a program for colour separations that is still used today. The technology has changed a lot; the computers now have the horsepower we need. We used to do functions then go across the road to the hamburger shop and come back and it would nearly be finished. Now those same functions take seconds.

Your Facebook page buzzes with ‘names’ from the industry. Do you get work that way?

A large chunk of my work comes from Colin Farr at Action Corp, all the Aussie drag and speedway stuff. But yep, a lot comes from Facebook. It’s the best advertising. People often ask if I can draw their car but when I tell them it costs $700, you can hear the crickets; it’s just silence down the line. But 30 years of experience doesn’t come for nothing.

The best thing about Facebook is being able to chat with some of my heroes, guys like Von Franco, Charlie Smith and Greg Tedder.