Published April 2017

When Quango needed a muralist for a series of IoT illustrations, we decided to cast a wide net. Among the project descriptions we posted was a short, vague ad on the Bay Area Craigslist (because we knew the right person could be anywhere). Lucky for us, the right person was artist Nigel Sussman.

Sussman’s work ranges from labyrinthine product packaging and magazine covers to larger-than-life murals of cityscapes and pizza slices. No matter the material, his illustrations are expansive, intricate, and totally alive. It’s easy to get lost in his work—and that’s no coincidence. Sussman claims that his early doodling was heavily influenced both by Martin Handford’s Where’s Waldo? book series and by the original SimCity computer game.

Sussman’s illustrations are a maze of fascinating characters and contraptions.

Although he has illustrated a wide and fantastical variety of subjects—including “Robinhood Cats,” vegetable cities, and those beautiful, giant pizza slices—Sussman’s highly detailed style lends itself to themes like science and technology. He says these themes can be structured in such a way that the pieces become almost like infographics, allowing space for creativity with his approach. He aims to find “the balance between the structure and making it fun.”

That balance is truly evident in his work. Many of his shapes are organic. Not all of the lines are straight. This approach gives the illustrations an animated, free-form look, something he says is a byproduct of his training. Much like his childhood idol, Martin Hanford, Sussman does every illustration by hand. He says that an imperfect line is more interesting to him than one drawn with a ruler. If a line is perfectly straight, he adds, “then it might as well have been [drawn by] a machine.”

(We really can’t get enough of the pizza murals).

Sussman’s human, imperfect style is exactly what made him the right fit for our project—a series of illustrations packed with mechanical and technological themes. And while we gave him substantial direction and specifications, he still found a way to weave together the subjects to create a story. And his approach? Sussman says he started in the center and tried to create a “general hierarchy.” This hierarchy, he explains, was partly a result of his background in the agency world. Years of designing for an ad agency taught him to recognize the “hierarchy of messaging”: things like how to find and center the most important message and where to place the CTA. As for the aesthetics of placement, he says, it “becomes a little puzzle. A mental collage.”

Initially, our project had Sussman designing only in the Bay Area—his home turf. But when the next phase of the project hit a snag, he came to the rescue, finding himself on a three-day, cross-country illustrating adventure to New York City. His challenge was two-fold: to create near replicas of his San Francisco artwork and to make illustrations designed specifically for a West Coast venue relevant to the new East Coast location. Sussman notes that it was the first time he’d had to create (almost) identical reproductions of his work. While it might have been a creative challenge, in the end, he produced stunning, inventive pieces for two of the world’s major tech hubs.

From self-driving cars to space exploration, each piece illustrates the connectedness of IoT.

New York isn’t the only place Sussman has traveled as of late. His work takes him across the Bay Area and beyond—to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston (later this year), and of course, Portland. When asked about his experience here in the City of Roses, he mentioned the “great murals and public art,” adding that when it comes to outdoor artwork, “Portland does it properly.”

Does that mean we might see his work here in the near future? He says that while he’s busy at the moment, Portland might be on his list for later this year.

Here’s hoping that we see an original Nigel Sussman mural the next time we take a walk around the block. Until then, be sure to check out more of Nigel’s work at his website—or join him for a hand-drawn journey from A to Z in his brilliant new book, Alphabet Compendium.

See more of Nigel's work and get in touch.