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Magazine Artist To Draw While Running Marathon

He will be posting to his editor real-time via Twitter.

He will be posting to his editor real-time via Twitter.

From: NYRR Media

Christoph Niemann will be drawing while running on Sunday. Photo: NYRR Media

During the ING New York City Marathon on Sunday, runners will draw inspiration from many sources: recalling a loved one, focusing on a charitable cause, passing another mile marker. Drawing inspiration is what gets many a runner to the finish line.

When illustrator Christoph Niemann seeks to draw inspiration, however, he will be using an actual pencil.

Niemann, a writer and illustrator whose work includes covers for The New Yorker and cartoons for the “Abstract Sunday” feature in The New York Times Magazine, will be “live-drawing” as he runs transmitting the result in real time to an editor who will immediately post it on Twitter.

“I have absolutely no idea what they will be like,” said Niemann on the telephone from Germany, where he returned several years ago after a decade of living in New York City. “I want to go into this thing physically prepared but creatively rather unprepared. The point of the whole thing is not that I execute preconceived ideas, but that I see what happens.”

Already a runner of shorter distances, Niemann went out for breakfast up around East 95th Street one Sunday in the late 1990s and was caught unaware by what he calls the “event from outer space” that is the ING New York City Marathon. Then one day he ran seven miles, and was delighted to discover that he didn’t need a nap afterward. As he ratcheted up the distance, “I had the idea pretty early on, if I do the marathon what if I did this crazy thing of drawing?”

The father of three young sons added wryly: “It’s the only way I could justify it to my wife.”

He hinted of his intentions in an “Abstract Sunday” cartoon in March titled “To Run or Not to Run?” Ostensibly about a political candidacy (“Friends, I think the time has come for me to seriously consider running …”) Niemann admits he didn’t tell his editor what he was really up to, calling it his own “hidden coded message out there in the world.” (See the cartoon here).

The artist decided to get the “real” running out of his system by doing the BMW Berlin Marathon this fall, which he completed in 4:10:18, allowing his race in New York to be more about paper than pavement.

After toying with the idea of using an iPad as his drawing tool, Niemann has settled on pencil, largely for its handmade quality. “You see the grain, you get smudges when you’re sweaty,” he explained. “I really want to embrace that whole part of it, because the whole point is that it’s done right there, with all the shortcomings that are part of it.”

During a recent “run-draw ” of 10½ miles, Niemann did about 20 drawings, a lot of them small experimental doodles to see what size works best, how it feels to stop and go, and whether his hand would be shaking as he drew. He said the exercise—and the exercise—went well, but he knows that what happens at 20 miles might be very different. It’s all part of the fun.

At first, the artist considered building a fold-down easel that he would strap to his chest; then, he thought a backpack carried on his front might work but it kept bumping into his chin. Now he thinks he will carry the pack on his back while he runs, then turn it around to the front when he slows to step to the side to walk and draw. He may add a sign on his back—”Slow, Artist At Work “—in a bit of whimsical practicality.

“Everyone is in a race, so I know I have to behave,” he said. “I can’t just stop in the middle of the track and fiddle with my pencils.”

Ultimately, he hopes the work he produces and instantly sends out to the world will declare: “This is me, in the middle of the insanity, like the weather people when they report from the middle of a hurricane.”

Like those drenched reporters leaning into the gale, he said, drawing in the middle of a marathon “is kind of stupid, but then again it’s kind of fun to watch.”