Creative Tablet Interview with Christian Musselman

Creative Tablet Interview with Christian Musselman

I found Christian Musselman’s Illustrator work very exciting and with a lot of detail of architectural elements combined with great color combinations makes his work unique. His reason for architectural elements is to “spark a new awareness of the hidden and undetectable ornamentation”

Christian Musselman Detail

TCT. What got you started in illustration?

CM:  Coloring Books. As a very young kid I was constantly working my way through coloring books. I was maybe 4 or 5 years old and trying to figure out how to use shading and outlining to round-out the flat images! How ridiculous is that? …but it shows how involved in the process I was, even at that age. Early on, I knew I wanted to be an illustrator, not a fine artist.

I loved the work of Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker…and I wanted to be part of that kind of career path. That interest in illustration just keep growing from there. it has been a progression, but some form of illustration has always been “ front and center”. I liked the sort of “figuring it out” that comes from working with a client who’s directing the project and relying on me to bring their vision to life. That’s what makes it fun for me. This new series “Deco Next Door” is one of the first I’ve worked on in a long time, that’s totally driven by my personal interests.

Christian Musselman Art Deco

TCT: What software do you use?

CM: I only use Adobe Illustrator. My brain just likes the organization, editability and limitless options a vector program like Illustrator provides. I can just keep playing until the project feels done…or, frankly, I need to stop.

TCT: What is your favorite software tool or tools?

CM: As a production time-saving tool, I use an Adobe Illustrator plug-in created by CValley, called XtremePath. It saves me tons of time using some of the features that they offer – that frankly – should be part of the basic tools provided within Illustrator. Any place I can shave some time off a mundane task…is good by me! Within illustrator, I use a lot of gradients and screens to get the dimension I’m looking for. This series of deco entrances is an exploration of flat color…the only gradients used were for the “multiply” screened, graphic light-shines.

TCT: How did you learn the software?

CM: For most of my early career, I created all my work by hand. Digital wasn’t an option in the 80’s. When things started changing in the early 90’s, I was lucky enough to be working with a company that wanted to shift all their illustration products to digital. They provided me with the training and support I needed. At the time, putting together a digital workspace was not easy. I bought my first Apple product from a company that sold them out of a warehouse! …and there weren’t many options for putting together a great system.

Christian Musselman Art Deco

TCT: What attracted you to Art Deco? Any outside influences (architects like Frank Lloyd Wright or? or artists like Cassandre or Erte?)

CM: Movies! I grew up in a family of movie-lovers. Primarily older Black and White classics. For the most part, my first introduction to deco was through film. Even the typography of the credits was of interest to me (still is!). Art Deco fonts are my passion…and have been since I was a kid. Being introduced to early Astaire and Rogers movies, as well as Busby Berkeley films set me on the path.

TCT: Describe your illustration process?

CM: In general, the idea happens first…usually sparked by something that caught my eye….book, movie, magazine, or on the streets. From there it sort of percolates until I get a sense of how to make it my own and add my twist to it. Sometimes I need to work it out on paper, other times I go straight to digital, then back and forth between the two. Working with paper and pencil, usually brings a more organic feel to the artwork. If I go to the computer too quickly, things can sometimes feel very rigid. Basically, I just keep experimenting until I feel like I’ve hit an “ah-ha” moment.

TCT:  Tablet or mouse? If tablet which one and why?

CM: Definitely tablet. Wacom Intuos Pro. Even though I’m only using it to draw vector lines vs. pressure sensitive tools, I just feel it has a more natural feel to it. It’s funny because I don’t use ANY of the features of the tablet other than the pen and the pad surface. The dials and buttons are lost on me. I use a lot of keyboard shortcuts…so one hand on the pen, the other on the keyboard.

TCT:  I agree and use it myself and it is indispensable with design work. Do you do your own lettering on the art or use stock fonts?

CM: For these illustrations, I did all my own lettering. I wanted to match the font exactly as it’s used on the building, and be literal to the design. Somebody took the time to design the lettering, and I feel that being accurate to the original detailing of the type is an important aspect of why I’ve created this series.

Christian Musselman Craftsman Home

TCT:  Your gateways are very elaborate. How long does it take to do one and how difficult or explain the process?

CM: It’s a rather new process for me since the style I’m working with is a departure from other work I’ve done. I start with a ton of photos! The optics of the camera seems to change everything. For instance, the typeface is rarely able to be shot straight-on. It always has some perspective to it that needs to be altered to get a flat 2D representation of it. The same is true for almost all aspects of the building. So having many photos (and counting bricks and other common elements) helps to keep the illustrations very accurate, but stylized.

In the case of the “Deco Next Door” series, I wanted to create a suite of illustrations that all shared a basic template and color palette. The designer in me wanted the series to be really unified, as though I was creating a deck of cards. It took a while, and a lot of experimenting to come to a resolution of how to do that. In this case, I used the door heights as the “constant” throughout. Also, I created a deco-inspired color palette of about 25 colors, so they would all feel unified.

Basically, the series evolved over the course of about a year…but with lots of time in between when I wasn’t working on the job at all…percolating in the background while doing my commercial work.

Christian Musselman Logo Design

TCT:  That is a great logo design for your name. How long an how many attempts before the final one?

CM: Thanks! I’ve been using the logo for a long time…maybe 20 years or more. It’s evolved a bit, but has stayed very close to my original design. It was inspired by deco monograms from 30’s. In this case, it has a bit of an Art Deco look to it, but feels contemporary enough to not feel dated (I hope). I now use it as a sort of watermark signature at the bottom of my illustrations.

TCT:  Do the ideas come to you or do you research past Deco art?

CM: Both. I’ve got a ton of Art Deco books that I use for inspiration. There are so many great books out there to pull information from; Wallpaper patterns, Typefaces, Poster illustrations, Logos…I even use Pinterest for Art Deco design inspiration…you name it!

TCT:  Any suggestions for beginners using your software and doing illustration?

CM: It’s all about experimenting, and giving things time to evolve. When I meet and work for younger illustrators and designers, I think the one thing that I notice as being a hindrance to creativity, is the desire to come to an art resolution too quickly. Working digitally, you can get such a “finished” product so quickly, that often, younger illustrators and designers will feel a project is “done” before maybe it really is. Experimentation and evolution are really invaluable in finding what makes your art unique. Adobe Illustrator is a great experimentation tool…it gives the ease and freedom to keep altering the illustration; adding, deleting, changing color and content, on and on…it’s a trap! …but a fun one.

Thank you Chris for your time participating in our interview.

You can see more of his work at:

The Creative Tablet

FYI: If you are an artist (or know one) and would like to be interviewed please let me know. Email me:

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