Why Christoph Niemann doesn’t believe in creativity flows
Conceptual and spontaneous, clever and witty – Christoph Niemann’s designs and illustrations have reached cult status. Whether it be eye-catching editorials for the New York Times or personal Sunday Sketches, the illustrator has the magic touch for a design that goes a long way. In our interview, we talked about creative flows and blocks, the fear of not being good enough, and if it’s actually necessary to overcome those doubts.
This is an extract of the new 2021 Print Magazine “The Reconnect Issue”, which is available here!
People turn to you for inspiration, where do you get yours from?
From everywhere. I think it’s always about empathy with the readers, which means I have to deal with the things that readers surround themselves with as well. My work always thrives on the fact that there is an overlap between my area and the readers’ ones. That means I have to see the same images, the same Netflix series, the same places because this isn’t about me reporting from a distant universe like in Lord of the Rings, it’s about a shared life and shared experiences. I don’t really believe in inspiration that comes from sitting at the desk, it always comes with working.
You’ve talked a lot about the fear of not being good enough. Is that fear, perhaps to some degree, necessary to create extraordinary things?
I think fear helps to some extent. Especially in design, you have to be driven. There are enough beautiful paintings and designs in this world already, so why would I sit down and paint the millionth painting right now if I didn’t feel like there was one more missing and I wanted to add to it. That’s actually overestimating yourself when you say you can add something to the whole oeuvre. You need a restlessness that perhaps also has something to do with insecurity because after all, we are in need of good feedback. Having self-doubt is something like a normal state of an artist. Artists spend their whole lives looking for the missing piece. If I sit down and paint a picture now, I just have the skills I have now. If they’re not enough for me, I have to practice and get better, and eventually, I’m able to add something to the whole big thing.
When you start a new project, do you have this big goal in mind or does the goal keep evolving the more advanced the process is?
When I get a task and I know that something has to be done in three hours, then, of course, I can’t say that I’m going to let myself drift slowly with the process, but you have to be pretty precise about where it’s going, what we need and what has to be accomplished. But when I do something like a Sunday Sketch, it naturally thrives on spontaneity. And that’s also the fun of it, that in the end, something happens that is totally open from the process.
What advice would you give to young designers, young creatives who are just starting out in the industry?
Work, work, work. There’s such a magical time between 20 and 28 when you’re young and you have an insane amount of energy. You’re not as naive anymore, but you’re good enough, you can do anything, and you have no threshold. That’s a time when you can kind of take yourself to a whole other level mentally and creatively, and making the most of that time is very important. If you can afford it, of course. This is a time to get out of your comfort zone, to do things that scare you or things that can make the world a better place. To use a metaphor, you have a full credit card with no limit, it’s full of energy, and from that, you can spend a few years more than you otherwise would at any other time in your life. You should use your energy only for things you really enjoy. Because at some point, that account won’t be as absurdly full as it was at that time.
Read the full interview in our print magazine – The Reconnect Issue – to find out more about how Christoph Niemann overcomes self-doubts, his very own concepts of creativity, and where he sees the creative scene in the near future.
Along with other exclusive interviews with legends in the industry like gallerist Johann König, documentary photographer Martha Cooper and designer Erich Brechbuehl, the fourth Forward Magazine print issue is out now!