Bright, bold, and mesmerizing, Nigel Sussman's murals just call for a double take. With his signature Where's Waldo meets SimCity style, it's hard not to stop on the sidewalk and get lost in the quirky busyness of his doodles. His latest project is smaller scale, but still huge—a book called Alphabet Compendium, where each letter lives within its own whimsical world of artful objects.
A graduate of California College of Arts, Sussman has been doodling for as long as he can remember. He completed his first mural (in the stairwell of a coffeeshop) by the age of 16; today, his work graces walls from Los Angeles to Portland; the South Bay campuses of eBay and Google; Cathead's BBQ in SF; and the streets of Berkeley, where he lives with his wife and three-month-old son.
Alphabet Compendium (Nigel Sussman, Illustrations LLC., August 2016) is a bright hardcover tome bursting with hand-drawn illustrations of objects—from the every day to the unusual—that begin with every letter of the alphabet, and a meticulously drawn out key at the back, making it a delightful seek-and-find project for its readers. "I wanted to make [the book] appropriate for everybody," says Sussman, who started the project "as a sort-of weird art book for art enthusiasts...but along the way it became more kid-friendly," he says, "especially after we found out my wife was pregnant." Think of it as a treasure hunt for art lovers and word geeks of all ages.
Like any art, the pages of are a wonder to look at, from first glance to the deeper dive, when you notice that something more is happening in each square inch. It employs the thrill of discovery that first drew Sussman to Where's Waldo, which he counts among his primary inspirations.
Averaging 100 drawn objects per 26 letters, Sussman himself got an ongoing vocabulary lesson throughout the creation of the book: "I probably know way too much about dog breeds and dinosaurs and all sorts of strange stuff," he laughs. "Choose me for your trivia team or Twenty Questions!"
7x7 caught up with Sussman for a chat about his book, murals, and inspiration...
7x7: What inspires you?
NS: I'm attracted to very complex things, and I'm fascinated with the inner workings of machinery and environments. Everything is all just inner working pieces, whether it's a scene or something literal like a computer with circuitry or gears.
Why the alphabet?
It's the root of everything! And there are new things popping up all the time—the alphabet definitely always needs updating.
I'd have to say S, partially because there are so many in my name, partially because it's one of the ones with the most words in [the book], and I just like how the density ends up looking on that page. And, [the page] features a giant seahorse—I like that seahorse.
Unforgettable mural moment:
I've done two outdoor murals on Telegraph in Berkeley—it's a really busy, vibrant neighborhood, so you meet a lot of interesting people. A guy came by and we talked for quite a long while. Then, on his next visit, he came back with the calculations of the historical mathematician who figured out how a telegraph works. This guy went and did the research and wrote down the equations for me. I ended up adding [them] even though [they weren't] included in the original design. He came and gave me input, and, with that kind of research, I couldn't say no.
East Bay hangouts:
Partly because we need places that are easy to bring a baby, we've been going to Fieldwork Brewing Co. in Berkeley a lot. It's a very cool, open warehouse brewery—very kid- and dog-friendly, with really good beer. And they have these delicious empanadas—it's really fun.
Place to doodle:
I used to go to the Mountain View Cemetery, which sounds morbid but it's actually beautiful. It's humongous, with its winding paths and mausoleums—and there are some famous historical figures there.
I've been really busy lately—right now I have projects for Cal Academy of Sciences' NightLife program and for Lagunitas Brewing Company (I love their beer)—and I'm working on another mural for the eBay campus in San Jose. And, I'm working on the back cover seek-and-find illustration for an upcoming issue of Highlights for Children. I'm super excited for that—I always used to seek it out at the library as a kid, and now I get to make it.