Meet the Illustrator Behind Some of the Most Celebrated Magazine Covers

When it comes to illustrating, Christoph Niemann is the undeniable master. Even if you’re not big on illustration, you’ll most definitely recognize his signature style, which appears regularly on the covers of  The New Yorker, National Geographic and The New York Times Magazine. And with almost one million followers on Instagram, as well as numerous museum retrospectives, his creations are celebrated both online and offline.

But heavy lies the crown, and Niemann admits that the pressure to maintain his status sometimes gets to him. “Every new work is already like you start at zero again,” he remarked in an interview with The Talks. “This is an experience that everyone in that field that I talked to shares. The better a thing is, the worse it is next time because you will always be measured on the thing that was good.”

“For me, there is very often this feeling of thinking that, right at the start, I need a big idea,” he went on to say. “I get to this desperate state where I feel like, ‘How will I ever make it again?!’ For me, I have to make little, unspectacular steps, step by step and then if I’m lucky it will happen again. No, I don’t need a big idea, I need 1000 small steps: 1000 steps ahead, 500 steps back, 700 steps to the right and then I will end up somewhere.”

According to him, his goal with his work is that the results look like there was no alternative — “as if things would have just fallen down from the sky — just like that.” But of course, things don’t just fall from the sky, and his work requires much practice and dedication. But being the best of the best also has it’s perks. Some highlights of his work include drawing live at the Venice Art Biennale and sketching the New York City Marathon — while running it.

Follow his creative journey through Instagram:

View this post on Instagram

This is an early sketch of the week’s New Yorker cover. Below are some answers I gave to cover editor Francoise Mouly about the process. Also: I turned the image into a limited edition silkscreen (including a night version). See link in bio or recent story for purchase info. FM: This cover is the result of both digital and analog methods. Can you tell us more about that process? CN: I wanted to play with the fact that snow appears dark in front of a light background and white in front of a dark background, such as a building. Initially, I tried to create that effect with a hole puncher. I liked the look, but it felt a bit too messy. Then I turned it into a pixel drawing, which allowed me to connect the character to the background—but I missed the roundness of the paper snowflakes, so I softened the pixels to round shapes. The last real challenge was to apply this effect to the animation. FM: Part of what’s interesting here is that every element is reduced to its base qualities. What made you choose those elements: a bicycle, a bridge, snow falling? CN: It’s an experience that a lot of people have had, but it’s also a very personal experience. Everyone thinks that they’re the only one who really knows what it feels like. It’s a bit uncomfortable—windy, cold, wet, slippery—but also poetic. There are the faint silhouettes, the muffled sound. The beauty of an abstract drawing is that it lets a reader project her own memories onto the composition.

A post shared by Christoph Niemann (@abstractsunday) on