When it comes to illustration, Christoph Niemann is right at the very top. A seasoned illustrator, artist, and author, his work appears regularly on the covers of The New Yorker, National Geographic, and The New York Times Magazine, with corporate clients including giants like Google and The Museum of Modern Art.
And with one million followers on Instagram, illustrators should take note of Niemann’s words of advice. One solid piece of advice is to explore different techniques and styles. “When I first came to New York it was my great luck that my portfolio did not showcase one specific visual style or technique,” he recalled in an interview with The Creative Independent. “I had everything in there, from vector graphics to pixel drawings.”
According to Niemann, his strong point is the ideas he comes up with, rather than a specific drawing style. “More than a specific visual style, my trademark has always been to autonomously, swiftly, and conceivably map out and execute an idea,” he stressed. “Nobody ever approached me asking for a drawing of, say, a dinosaur with a fridge as a head done ‘in my style.'”
His ideas have a certain wit to them, often incorporating physical objects into his illustrations (a man with a kettle instead of a head, a woman’s face constructed of fruit). His original approach to art making also makes him stand out as an author. Niemann’s books include the monograph Sunday Sketching, WORDS, and Souvenir. His most recent book is Hopes and Dreams and it’s about a trip to meet an artistic hero in Los Angeles.
“Drawing a story is not unlike editing a text,” observes Niemann. “Do I add this adjective or leave it out? The central questions always need to be, how do I get the reader from A to B? If I drown them in descriptions, I lose the story. If I’m too economic, there’s no emotional connection. Everything I add or lose is based on the question of what happens communicatively. And this skill can be practiced like a musical instrument.”
The end result is relatively simple, cutting straight to the chase. But looks can be deceiving. According to Niemann, some drawings take 20 drafts to look like they came together in five seconds.