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Sonnenzimmer is a beautiful cross-pollination combining both your talents into a unified aesthetic. In terms of the work you produce, I imagine the process being very organic. Do you work on each project together, or are there times when just one person tackles a project? 
 
Nick Butcher: We've tried just about every version of collaboration that exists, but as a general rule, Nadine and I have been happiest with the projects that we've started and finished together. She's more of an idea person, and I tend to find solutions through working, so that can be a struggle sometimes. We try to talk about projects first, maybe discuss a technique we would like to try out, and then go from there. I enjoy diving into the small details of the image and she really likes to consider all aspects of the typography. So, in that sense it really works out.
 
Nadine Nakanishi: In the past, when we were not both full-time at the studio, things were more divided. We usually work together for commercial projects. Recently we’ve made someone the head of a project - that means that person has to carry quality assurance, quality implementation of the thing we are producing. In other words, we ask ourselves, if this is the last image you see before you go, are you happy with it? Did you challenge yourself enough? This came about because in time it’s really hard to always carry yourself to the next threshold and surprise.
 
How did you come up with your name and what does it mean?
 
NB: Sonnenzimmer is German for Sun Room. In the beginning, it was just the name of our shared painting/screen print studio. But as poster projects started rolling in, we started to use it as our business name.
 
Tell us about a typical day in the Sonnenzimmer studio. 
 
NB: Just about every day is different. But they all start with a giant 40oz iced coffee that we share. We've stayed in business by making hundreds and hundreds of small projects, not the two or three big paying gigs that keep a lot of small studios alive. Because of that, our days are jam-packed with invoicing, drawing, scanning, printing, emailing, trips to the post office, and sometimes another 40oz of coffee. The best days are when we can concentrate on a single project, like a poster or an album cover; but those are few and far between.
 
 
 
 
 design fashion film music art photography global notes life
Issue 9: Sonnenzimmer
 
design
Sonnenzimmer is a Chicago-based art and screen printing studio run by Nadine Nakanishi and Nick Butcher. Their work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, with a recent exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and an upcoming exhibit in Thessaloniki, Greece. Their work has been published in books by Gestalten, Princeton Architectural Press, Gingko Press, The Pepin Press, and Rockport Publishers.
Sonnenzimmer: www.sonnenzimmer.com
Intricate color palettes, abstract shapes and rhythmic elements clearly signify the signature style of Sonnenzimmer. How do you keep things fresh and keep the creativity flowing? 
 
NB: This is quite challenging. We've created something like 350 posters and prints, not to mention the loads of CD and LP packages, book design, paintings, drawings, etc. So keeping up with a creative demand of this job is a big issue for us. Luckily there are two of us, so we help push each other in that way, picking up slack when we can. Reading is a big part of the creative process, therefore we try to keep interesting reading material around. We are also very active in the art/design/music communities here in Chicago, so we go to a lot of events. Knowing that you are part of a community is a huge boost, seeing great work, seeing not so great work - it all fuels into wanting to make good stuff. Plus there is no better push than seeing your friends making amazing things and wanting to keep up.
 
NN: When we first started, it was so easy. This drive, this motivation. We also were super naive. We believed in this certain art world we wanted to be a part of and wanted to be approved of. We wanted to make the best work possible because we wanted our peers in the poster community to respect us, to look at us as peers, so we can be part of that journey together. Now, flash forward seven years, we have seen the mechanics of the industry, of the gallery world, of the institutions, of being dependent on the choices you make. What has stayed the same though is our deep notion of staying independent. Independence is important, because our images exist just because of that. Not because someone’s authority allows us to do it. Not because a summer semester allows you to work on it. Not because we smack a logo on it. It’s crucial for us to stay connected to believing in smallness, the freedom of smallness. What keeps me going is all the amazing individuals that constantly believe in us, that constantly go to bat for us. Chicago is such a fertile ground. Everyone lives it so hard because that is what we have here. What keeps us going? When artists, musicians, writers, performers, scientists are real and generous in their pursuit. It keeps you grounded to want to always hold your own. We have so many of those people here. I want to mean it, so all the young people behind me see that it’s not about leaving, it’s not about the coasts, it’s about creating that freedom of independence to push forward with one’s own voice.
 
When we see the work that comes from your studio, we immediately want to label it as design. Although there is a clear artistic approach, there is a substantial presence of design elements being used in all of the work you produce. Do you two consider yourselves designers?
 
NB: Nadine and I like to call ourselves "graphic artists" as we both love the creating function that goes out into the world outside of the scrutiny and text heavy evaluation of "art". Especially things that folks have easy access to. That said, we both love to paint and draw, and we have an interest in theory and conceptual thinking, so all those sides find their way into our work, too. We feel quite lucky to be able to mix and match such diverse interests into a single field. All that said, we don't necessarily consider ourselves designers either; more like carpenters!
 
NN: I look at design as authored form. So, designer, artist - the labels don’t matter to me. What we do is, sculpting images by using our hands. But I realized that we do come from graphic art and not from communication design as a major. Design now, usually implies a communications major.
 
Can you describe how your approach to art was developed?
 
NB: My approach to making art and music was based on developing a sense of confidence about how my brain works. Basically being comfortable with my decision making process and finding a sense of trust in those decisions. Not that they were right or good, but they led to things. As I stated before, Nadine is more of an idea person. She'll have an amazing idea and then execute it. I have very boring ideas, so I'm usually only happy with the things that I discover along the way that were not planned. Because of that, I learned early on that I just need to start and trust that I will arrive at something that I find interesting. That has been crucial for me. It doesn't always work, but that’s what I've got to work with!
 
NN: My mother is a folk-art lover and took us on so many travels and events that were always exciting because there would be an object involved that I had never seen before; one that I could touch and ask questions about. They held a magical world of possibilities to me. I get my ideas from reading and seeing such objects. Then I’ll discover some truths in what I read - in a real life situation. That situation will have a huge discrepancy to what I thought I had. I then discover how usually an object opens that door to really just letting go. That’s when I make something that resonates with those connections. It becomes a transporter for me.
 
In addition to being artists, Sonnenzimmer has taken part in a few music projects. Can you describe the music you create?
 
NB: The musical side of Sonnenzimmer is an extension of my love for making electronic music. I've released a couple of albums of music previously through the Hometapes label, and Nadine and I have published two process-based artist books through Sonnenzimmer. Releasing a process-based music project seemed like a natural extension of both of our activities. Free Jazz Bitmaps Vol. 1 is the result that was co-released by Sonnenzimmer and Hometapes. The idea behind the project was that I would produce original electronic music using very specific source material that has strong ties to Chicago. In this case, jazz and house music. From there, my songs were passed on to Chicago based free jazz/improv musicians Jason Stein, Mike Reed, Jason Adasiewicz, Tim Daisy, Jason Roebke, and Keefe Jackson. Those musicians then reinterpreted each of the songs as single take solo improvisations. The results were paired on an LP, with my tracks on side one and the reinterpretations on side two. The end result is an exploration of the nuances of collaboration and genre and is the beginning of a chain of releases that will continue the exploration of this source material. Free Jazz Bitmaps Vol. 2 will begin with new music made from the improvisations created for Vol 1.
 
Are there similarities in the way you make music and the way you create your artwork? 
 
NB: Music and art have always gone hand in hand with me. Many times I have similar ideas and influences for both. For each, I like to create things that are accessible on some level, but offer different entry points or have more challenging aspects for those who wish to return to it for closer inspection. In each I like to explore established forms and push and pull the expectations and limitations of each.
 
NN: While I learned an instrument, I don’t make recorded music. I just play it for myself. A hobbyist, I am.
 
Can you tell us a bit about your new book project? 
 
NB: Yes! We are currently using the awesome website Kickstarter.com to raise funds for a book project called Warp and Weft: Poster Construction by Sonnenzimmer. In the book, we'll showcase 30 of our most successful posters. Rather than simple portfolio of past work, we'll be pairing each poster with a "wire frame" breakdown of the poster's composition. This will act as a springboard to dissect our compositional and conceptual approach to the poster in question through writing. We want the book to be functional and perhaps educational. We feel it should offer something more than just a collection of images. We are extremely excited about the project. Our day-to-day studio practice moves so fast, we are very much looking forward to ruminating on this work and sharing the ideas that we've come to through working.
 
Favorite drink? 
 
NB: Iced coffee
NN: Iced coffee with horchata
 
 
Q&A
with
 
Sonnenzimmer
The design work of Sonnenzimmer, June 2012 Vhcle Magazine Issue 9, Design
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