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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

Research 2.5

Christoph Niemann and Saul Steinberg

“For me, the only way to bring an idea to life is an amorphous flow of staring, trying endless variations, and observing if this nonlinear process leads to an unexpected bright moment.” - Christoph Niemann, @Abstractsunday Instagram post July

I would describe Christoph Niemann and Saul Steinberg's work as clever, simple yet imaginative, playful and unique. They take the common objects and turn them into characters, stories, landscapes, etc. They reinvent the mundane objects and bring humour by incorporating them in to their illustrations.

Christoph Niemann is a working illustrator, with clients such as The New Yorker, National Geographic, and The New York Times Magazine.

During researching Christoph, I decided to take to the Netflix original series, Abstract, where an episode documents his work, his story and inspiration. What's great about being an artist today is the amount of content that can be available about the artist, with documentaries that give an interesting look inside the minds of the creative, you can get a sense of what makes them tick, something which I love to watch. Inside this documentary, Christoph puts life so simply, often using Lego to show us the power of iconic symbolism. An example used was the Staten Island Ferry, as we see Christoph saying "If you've been on the Staten Island Ferry, you know this is it." whilst holding up an orange Lego brick, describing the simplistic brick as the essence of a memory or experience. When looking through many of his works, the use of Lego often finds a place. Christoph is exceptional at simplifying a complicated scene, image, object, and I find that the clever use of the Lego brick's sparks imagination from the viewer. It wakens then child in us and reminds us to not over complicate the already complicated life.

As a side note, I guess this is how something becomes so iconic, and so engraved in peoples memory, is the incredible design that even in the simplest form can still be read. During this documentary, and the discussion on Lego, it reminded me of a campaign that Lego had done themselves that ignites imagination in such a clever way, making it playful and childlike. Although I wouldn't describe Christoph's work as childlike, I definitely get a sense of adult humour that is child friendly. It is definitely playful, but the subject in his work sometimes cover complex topics, using metaphors and current political issues which I feel is what makes them very good editorial illustrations.

Lego, 2006, How do you say "Imagination" without saying it ?

If Lego is a source of inspiration, or a guidance in simplifying objects into pixels (a style that Christoph appears to enjoy exploring) then it is understandable how he has turned his "Sunday Sketches" into an incredibly imaginative series. I can understand that he can stare at an object for hours, building it into something different, reinventing its narrative to fit a new one. He's taking the 3D object and with examining the entirety of it, is able to imagine something else.

I wonder, does it come easy for him? How many attempts does it take before arriving to the final outcome? Does he use reference or is it all from memory?

“When I work on my Sunday Sketches, it’s never about a sudden inspired spark. I pick a random object, and then I just stare at it. I look at it from different angles, play with the light (usually just by moving my desk lamp). And I try to open my mind as wide as possible, to see if a peculiar angle reminds me of a familar shape. More often than not this yields… nothing. And when it does, I doubt it’s because I have a special gift at making these visual connections. It’s because sometimes I have the stamina to keep on staring, when a saner person would do the reasonable thing and get on with their life instead.”

Here is an example of a few illustrations from Christoph where the object seamlessly becomes part of the illustration:

Of course, when researching both Christoph Niemann and Saul Steinberg, you can instantly recognise the similarities in their work. Although very different, the use of objects is seen in both. They both have humour as the essence of many of their works, and with a childlike view on the world they both bring imaginative and innovative illustrations to life through simplistic line work.

Both artists seem to rely on photography to help create their illustrations. Either drawing on a wall or surface and photographing it as the final piece, or photographing an object and drawing on the photo. They both explore surroundings, life and in some way stage a scene to benefit the drawing. The angle of the photo is part of the process, it makes the 2D lines appear 3D.



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