• Christoph-neinmann-hero

    Christoph Niemann: Abstract City. Published by ABRAMS

Illustration

Publishing and problem-solving; a quick interview with Christoph Niemann about his book, Abstract City

Posted by Bryony Quinn,

Abstract Sunday is Christoph Niemann’s online spot for The New York Times in which his personal world is revealed through down-the-line wit and everyday observations, all depicted in the gloriously straight-faced universal language of diagrams. Recently ABRAMS collected these brilliantly effective schematic stories and published them into as a book titled Abstract City which covers such ubiquitous themes as electric cable frustration, public transport irrationality, the love of/the hate of coffee and everybody’s favourite – creative block.

Looking at Christoph’s work is like getting great answers to FAQs about him and absurdity of life in New York (though he is now based in Berlin). The simplicity that one just “gets” his work belies a crazy talent to hide the metaphorical iceberg we like to call The Brief and it’s this sort of skill (plus an excellent sense of humour) that places him far and away from the crowd. We caught up with him to ask a few (hopefully non-frequently asked) questions about publishing and problem solving…

Hi Christoph, how did the original Abstract City start and why publish it in book form?

In 2008 I was asked by Brian Rea of The New York Times to start a series of visual essays for the opinion section of nytimes.com. I had always tried to give my drawings a personal twist, but had never come up with my own stories before. I was completely out of my comfort zone — which was exactly what I was looking for, because I was afraid that I would eventually become too comfortable with the work I was doing.

There was a considerable amount of anguish and despair involved in coming up with new chapters. But even though the process wasn’t pretty, there was a point where I felt that despite the varying styles and approaches, the different essays started having something like a narrative. And as much as I like the flexibility and reach of the web, I am just too old school to resist the temptation of a properly printed book.

Has your work always been so schematic and your subject matter always so personal?

When I started drawing, all I cared about was raw skill:  the more fancy highlights per square inch in a given illustration the better. I studied graphic design, and realised that the approach of picking a style based on the idea was much more powerful than the other way around. I am a fan of the visual style of infographics, but I especially like them for their deadpan quality to present puns. When you deliver a silly joke you shouldn’t giggle.

It was actually part of the assignment to do “personal” stories, which frankly freaked me out a bit, since I knew that my personal history is just way too bland to entertain an audience with more than 10 minutes worth of titillating tales. Ultimately I found that what I enjoyed most was connecting with the reader through the poetry and absurdity of our common experiences.

“Ultimately I found that what I enjoyed most was connecting with the reader through the poetry and absurdity of our common experiences.”

Christoph Niemann

Do you think that your particular role as graphic designer and illustrator could be generalised as “problem solver”?

I absolutely think of myself as a problem solver! Any assignment, whether self-generated or from a client, needs to be broken down into a set of problems that I then try to solve — a process that is a lot less sexy than one would think (I always thought this would feel like playing ping pong with ballet moves, but it’s more like doing math while lifting weights).
 
You must never forget though, that nobody enjoys looking at something that feels like it was created through lifting weights while doing math. It is crucial that once you have solved the problem you spend just as much time making things look like you just came up with it as you were sitting in a pretty café, dreamily slurping your macchiato.

So what is the best problem you have ever solved?

The thing I dislike most about these visual essays is the lack of a crushing deadline. When I work for newspapers and magazines I usually have days or even hours instead of weeks and months. I always liked the intensity of working under an impossible time pressure (my record is for an OpEd illustration about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal — 45 minutes from receiving the article to delivering the final illustration).

So to bring back the adrenaline of proper deadlines into my personal work I decided to live draw the NYC Marathon — while actually running it. I’m not sure if it’s the best problem I have solved. Maybe it was just the silliest one— but definitely the most physically challenging.

  • Christoph-neinmann-cover

    Christoph Niemann: Abstract City. Published by ABRAMS

  • Christoph-neinmann-4

    Christoph Niemann: Abstract City. Published by ABRAMS

  • Christoph-neinmann-3

    Christoph Niemann: Abstract City. Published by ABRAMS

  • Christoph-neinmann-2

    Christoph Niemann: Abstract City. Published by ABRAMS

Portrait9

Posted by Bryony Quinn

Bryony was It’s Nice That’s first ever intern and worked her way up to assistant online editor before moving on to pursue other interests in the summer of 2012.

Most Recent: Illustration View Archive

  1. Margheritaurbani-list-int

    Being huge fans of Andy Rementer’s cheeky work we’ve seen illustrator Margherita Urbani’s name bandied around a lot over the past few years, whether in credits in Apartamento or The New York Times, but it wasn’t until last week that we thought to look up exactly what she does. Which, as it turns out, is quite a lot.

  2. Mattpanuska-barbara-int-list

    In ancient times Matt Panuska would have been some kind of shamanistic guide, plying his wards with ayahuasca and leading them through their subconscious with a gentle hand. Unfortunately he lives in modern-day Brooklyn, where DMT-related healing is positively discouraged, so Matt makes his living drawing images that seem born from an altered mind.

  3. Brandon-celi-cold-storage-int-8

    Covering beer-holding Furbys, flaxen-haired Nickelback chump Chad Kroeger and laptop Scrabble, Toronto-based illustrator Brandon Celi’s subjects are as varied as his work is brilliant. He works in paint to bring to life hilarious scenarios including a reimagining of the Wizard of Oz scene where the wicked witch is crushed by a house, but this time targeting surely the most evil (aesthetically, at least) of all footwear: Crocs.

  4. Christophniemann-sundaysketch-int-list

    Christoph Niemann is one of our creative heroes, an illustrator and artist whose talent, imagination and sense of humour puts him smack bang in the top drawer. So imagine our excitement when we found out he was doing an Ask Me Anything on Reddit yesterday, where he held forth on all manner of topics, from serious illustration insight to his love of butter. Here’s some of the wit and wisdom he shared…

  5. Charlottedelarue-list-3-int

    Illustrator and art director Charlotte Delarue’s varied work shows her to be an uncommonly talented illustrator, conjuring incredibly realistic portraits out of paper and pencil safe in the knowledge that she doesn’t need to do anything more to make them impressive. Her art direction is of another ilk entirely, however – she works with the likes of electro acts Chromeo, Justice and Kavinsky to draw up impactful logotypes and album artwork concepts that can be spotted from miles away, from the golden legs which reappear on almost every Chromeo album cover to Kavinsky’s mysterious blue-tinged scenes.

  6. Majic_riso

    Sophy Hollington has been busy making some sassy new printed matter. With fan art, band T-shirts, record sleeves and commissions from The New York Times and Japanese gallery Parades, Sophy’s detailed, lino-cut and Risograph printed work is gorgeous, varied and often rather strange.

  7. Joedator-self-int

    Interviewing cartoonist Joe Dator is a real honour, because he’s a total hero and also a spectacular interviewee. Listen to him talk about his working life: “Everything revolves around Tuesday. The New Yorker cartoon meeting is on Tuesday, so that’s the day we all submit our new ideas to the editor…I usually work over the weekend and by Monday night I’m in full-on lockdown to get my batch of ideas ready. Wednesday is a day off. If you ever want to socialise with a New Yorker cartoonist, Wednesday is the day to do it.”

  8. Ben_mendelwicz-collage-7-int

    New York-based illustrator Ben Mendelewicz draws comics, illustrates and animates for the likes of Adult Swim, Stussy and Funny or Die. He has contributed to Mouldmap, Happiness and Weird with comic horror stories of white collar jobs with fragmented scripts of bastardised professional jargon.

  9. Robpybus-thenewrepublic

    It’s great to see Rob Pybus’ work again after a little bit of a break. Like many illustrators at the moment, Rob has been unable to resist the allure of GIFs, and has clearly been spending a lot of his time recently turning his marvellous, perspective-skewing illustrations into mini films. Rob’s also been busy working for a whole bunch of exciting new clients such as Wired, The New York Times, Jacobin and Original Source, among others.

  10. Main

    When we were up at Graphic Design Festival Scotland last year we met two nice guys called Dominic Kesterton and Orlando Lloyd who were assisting people in their design dreams by showing them how to make their own riso prints. A fantastic illustrator and designer respectively, Dominic and Orlando started up a small printing press, Workhorse Press, during their time studying in Edinburgh. We wanted to talk to them about why they’re still at it, the difficulties they face, and why Scotland’s print, design and illustration scene would be lost without them. Here they are…

  11. List

    Rand Renfrow is one of the illustrators we came across among the scores of upcoming artists and illustrators publishing with Clay Hickson’s independent project Tan & Loose yesterday, and seeing as how last time we featured him it was in our Introducing feature nearly two years ago, it seemed high time to check in.

  12. List

    Illustrator Graham Roumieu may be one of the most prolific creatives around. Already the 2015 tab on his website is populated with a load of work, less than two weeks into the year. And because it’s been nearly two years since we last featured him on the site, it’s no great surprise that there is a tonne of great imagery for us, and you, to enjoy. Regular clients include The Atlantic, New York Magazine and the Readers’ Questions feature in Popular Mechanics (where he brings to life such public puzzlers as “What do pilots talk about on long-haul flights?").

  13. 20

    “All hail Hickson!” were the words with which we finished our last post about Chicago-based illustrator Clay Hickson back in 2012, and while it doesn’t give us much to improve on, the expression certainly still seems to fit our feelings for him. Since we last checked in, Clay has developed his practice immeasurably, stepping away from pencils to embrace Adobe Illustrator and printmaking all the more enthusiastically, and making a heap of new work in the process. He’s stuck to his old penchant for pop surrealist scenes and funny-shaped girl parts – he loves a boob and a sausage, does Clay – but the calibre of the work has improved in a striking way.