I’ve been watching Netflix’s new series, Abstract: The Art of Design. It’s amazing.
Each episode, they document the work and life of a designer. There’s Tinker Hatfield, the legendary shoe designer who created the iconic Air Jordan series, and Paula Scher, the graphic designer behind the branding of Public Theatre, MoMA, the Metropolitan Opera and other iconic institutions.
But it was the episode featuring Christoph Neimann that stuck out to me most.
Christoph Niemann is an illustrator. He’s done work for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Wired, and other major publications. He runs an incredible Instagram account, @abstractsunday, and has illustrated multiple books. Long story short, he’s an incredible artist.
Illustration has always fascinated me because of its intrinsic connection to the world we live in. I’ve always struggled to appreciate traditional paintings and sculptures, but illustration is always captivating, Niemann’s especially so. His work changes the way we read news articles, forces us to see modern issues in a new light, and observe the world we live in differently.
I loved the documentary on Niemann because it gave us an inside look at how his brain operations and how he sees the world. It takes you through his creation process and how he interprets objects and activities that we often don’t give a second thought to.
There was one part of his documentary that particularly resonated with me. It changed the way I see the city I walk through every day, my world, and myself and I’d like to share it in the hopes of it doing the same for you.
While Niemann primarily focused on illustrations, he has a mini-series called I Lego N.Y. In it, he recreates iconic objects and locations of New York City with Legos, everything from the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, to Starbucks cups and subway entrances. But it’s not what you think.
They’re not overblown, intricate Lego structures that you usually see on display. Instead, his creations are often made up of less than 10 pieces of Lego, sometimes even only one piece — so small you could easily fit all his creations in your two hands. (No, he isn’t using extra tiny Lego pieces either.)
In fact, he does the opposite of constructing a detailed Lego structure. Instead, he boils each object or location down to its essence. In his own words, “It’s the restriction of Lego, the restriction of just very low-resolution… it’s almost like a three-dimensional pixel drawing”. Here are a few examples of his work:
All credit goes to Christoph Niemann.
*Please go check out the rest of his Lego structures, and all of his other amazing work on his website.
For example, he reduces the Staten Island Ferry down to a single yellow lego brick. He says, “If you’ve been on the Staten Island Ferry, you’d know this is it. This is the essence of it…”
Despite, or possibly because of, the simplicity of his work, they’re still recognizable. They still evoke the thoughts and memories we associate with each of those locations or objects. And, they force us to see those familiar things in a different light. Without the details, we can actually see what those objects are.
In a world where we always get so caught up in the details, it’s refreshing to see things simplified. We forget that Instagram is about sharing memories, not the number of likes we get on our photos. We forget that text messages, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are about communicating with the people we love, not the annoying read receipt that makes us angry.
I often find myself getting so caught up int the details that they overshadow the bigger picture, the essence of the thing itself. I’ll get so fixated on the little off-comment my boyfriend made that I forget we have a happy, healthy, fun relationship overall. I’ll get so stressed about finishing a single assignment that I forget the purpose of a university education in the first place.
Seeing Niemann distil all these complex, layered icons of New York City into its bare-bone essentials made me wonder, “What would a pixelated, low-resolution version of my life look like?”. This question can be applied to every aspect of our lives, from relationships to how we spend our time.
Here are two thought-provoking questions for you to chew on:
In other words, forget the busy schedule, the meetings, and all the errands you have to run. What is your life really about if you pixelated out all the details?
Not in the physical sense (though I’d love to see mini Lego versions of all of you… that’d be adorable!). I mean in your personality, your value system, and your beliefs. It’s easy to get caught up in our bad habits, our preferences, or our flaws. We get fixated on that one time we said something wrong or the time we procrastinated on a big assignment. Those are the details, forget them. What is the essence of you? What do you look like when all the details of your personality are removed?
Details are important, crucial even, but don’t forget the essence of your life and yourself.
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