A Conversation About “Conversations”

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In a very small, hot, crowded bookstore on Bond Street in New York’s Noho district, two guys are signing books with rubber stamps. They are Christoph Niemann, the Berlin-based illustrator, animator, author and graphic designer who is regularly featured in The New York Times, Fast Company, The New Yorker and Rolling Stone, and Nicholas Blechman, principal of Knickerbocker Design, art director of The New Yorker and publisher of the political underground magazine Nozone.

The crowds politely wait in two lines, fanning themselves, the first line to buy the book, the second to greet Niemann (left) and Blechman and get their copy signed (and rubber stamped).

It was worth the wait, because each is now the owner of one of only 600 copies of a limited-edition, 142-page artists’ book printed in Italy… filled with delightful and witty visual repartee.

It was not the time and place to ask a lot of nosy questions, but a few days later Nicholas Blechman graciously agreed to an interview:

How long have you been friends?
Since the late 1990s, almost 20 years. But we’ve been living and working in different countries since 2008, when Christoph moved back to Berlin with his family.

 

Where did you meet?
We met at The New York Times. I was art directing the Op-Ed page and Christoph had just been published in the Book Review by Steven Heller. His workcaught my attention. and I invited him over for a portfolio review. I began assigning Op-Ed illustrations to Christoph, and since he is German, I suspected he liked drinking beer. Soon enough, we began to after work in a bar in Williamsburg,Brooklyn. That’ s when we hatched the idea of publishing books together under the name 100%.

 

How long have you been working on the “Conversations” project? Who started it?
It began as an exhibit at The Met, “Talking Pictures: Camera-Phone Conversations Between Artists,” curated by Mia Fineman. It’s a group show involving a dozen artists working in pairs. We were all given the same assignment: create a visual conversation using the camera in your iPhone.

And the subject of a glowing review on the front page of The New York Times Weekend Arts section last week. Congratulations! Did you decide on the (mostly) black and blue color scheme, or did things just happen that way?
Christoph set up the rules immediately. That the conversation was to be non-verbal only and that I’d use black pen and he’d use blue ink with a brush.

Why did you choose to self-publish?
The book had to be printed quickly to be available when the Met exhibit opened to the public on June 27. That gave us about two months from when we handed in the files to The Met to get it done. By self-publishing, we could make all the decisions ourselves and fast-track the project. Working with a traditional publisher would have probably taken a year.

Besides Dashwood Books, where is it available? I don’t see it on Amazon with your other titles.
It is only available from Christoph’s website, You can also order a tote bag as well as a limited-edition silkscreened print.

Will you do a reprint if the initial run of 600 sells out?
We probably will not go back to press.

Where else are you doing events or signings?
No further events are scheduled at this time.

Hurry up and order, everyone!


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