Illustrator and muralist Nigel Sussman said he spent hours as a child poring over “Where’s Waldo?” books, playing “Sim City” on the computer, and sketching characters and doodles his friends and teachers found fun and inspired.
The 33-year-old Smithsburg native — who is now known for his distinctive and bold isometric drawings that have graced buildings at eBay’s flagship campus in San Jose, California, a cover of “Science Magazine,” and Google — has just released his first book, “Alphabet Compendium, An Illustrated A-Z of Things,” a seek-and-find book he hopes will entertain children and adults alike.
For each letter of the alphabet, the California College of the Arts graduate buried about 300 hand-drawn items that begin with that letter into its design. He spent nearly 1,000 hours over a year’s time working on the large-format book, which weighs nearly three pounds, he said. “It’s the single biggest endeavor I’ve ever done.”
Though it’s a book of images, Sussman said that he hopes it will also help build vocabulary for its readers.
“The idea for the project came about when I set out to draw nearly every major object, animal, plant and item that currently exists in the English vocabulary,” Nigel said. “Of course, some things had to be omitted to keep it manageable, but the lists are inclusive of all types of things, from completely mundane to esoteric. The illustrations include living and extinct animals, cat and dog breeds, dinosaurs, foods, furniture, minerals, planets, plants, tools, vehicles and everything else that could be drawn on a page.”
He ran a successful Kickstarter campaign about a year ago that gave him enough confidence and pressure to finally put his plan into action.
“All illustrators put out some type of book. Just doing a random compilation of drawings didn’t seem very interesting, and I’m always up for a challenge,” he said. “An alphabet book is a nice way to have a book where I don’t have to write a story.”
Sussman said that he’s worked in the isometric perspective almost exclusively for about the past 10 years after a few of his early drawings in that perspective were well received. His style has caught the eye of a wide array of clients, and he’s proud that some of his large-scale murals grace the landscape near his home in Berkeley, California.
“It’s become a recognizable part of my style. I can’t get rid of it now. It’s easier to imagine things in this perspective,” he said. “It has this sort of retro, video-game quality which makes it fun and people seem to like it.”
His childhood doodles are what first gave Sussman the idea that he could one day become a professional artist, he said.
“So I’ve been told, and as far as I can remember, I’ve always been drawing things,” Sussman said.
His parents have held onto many of his first, “now-embarrassing” doodles — pirates and monsters and spacemen. He made his own characters, inspired in part by comic books.
His skill caught the eye of his classmates and teachers — at Smithsburg Middle School and at Mercersburg Academy — who encouraged him to pursue art as a career, he said.
He joked that he first dabbled in the business of art by selling sketches to his middle school friends for $1.
Of course, his creative family nudged him along, too. He said that he grew up watching his father, Andrew Sussman, who retired from a nearly 20-year post as executive director of the Cumberland Valley School of Music, celebrate the talents of his students and the arts.
“Being creative is something that is important,” Sussman said he felt growing up.
He self-published “Alphabet Compendium, An Illustrated A-Z of Things” and is handling its distribution. The book is also on sale through Amazon, his website and some bookstores, including Gallery 50 in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, which was created through the Destination ARTS! program there that Andrew Sussman created.
Nigel Sussman and his wife, Yasemin, recently welcomed their first son, Luka Falcon, and Sussman said that he has boxes of books at his Berkeley studio that he is working to ship out.
“I may be getting to the distribution if I wasn’t also trying to be a new dad,” he said with a laugh.
Sussman said that he began creating the book long before he had Luka but is looking forward to sharing it with him when he gets a little older.
He just got a commission to do the back page of “Highlights” magazine and is excited to get to work.
“I remember reading those illustrations in ‘Highlights’ — excited to go to the library as a little kid — and now I’m going to be doing one for the really little kids,” he said.
Sussman hopes to make it out to this area for some book signings later this year.