Alumnus Nigel Sussman Illustrates How to Pay It Forward

Meet CCA Alumnus Nigel Sussman (Illustration 2005)

The Fund for CCA Creative Collaboration is a series that highlights the work of alumni artists and designers who are giving back to the college through the donation of their creative talents.


CCA’s 2016 Creative Collaboration artist Nigel Sussman (Illustration 2005), is making the world a more inclusive, vibrant, and engaging place, one mural at a time. His public art turns rundown buildings and eyesores like construction sites into scenes of whimsy that depict people and places specific to that community.

Now that he’s made a business out of his passion, Sussman finds himself wanting to pay it forward and connect with future generations of artists and illustrators aspiring to follow in his footsteps.

“I gravitate toward doing murals because of the way people react to them -- especially work that I create on the street amid all kinds of interesting people walking past.” Sussman says.

“It's really fun to get reactions in the moment. People respond in so many different ways, whether it's compliments or questions or wanting to be involved -- I welcome people getting involved because that's part of the process.

“The mural is for the community. It's my creation, but I'm doing it because it helps beautify the local space.”

Engaging Passersby

That desire for inclusivity has become a driving force in Sussman’s work. As an example, he described the unexpected help he received on a recent mural in Berkeley:

“While working, I had lots of people coming and asking to help me paint. I'd literally let them, giving them instruction and having them do a paint-by-number style thing. Since then, I've actually done works that are specifically interactive paint-by-number projects.”

Whether it is spending time with the intricate imagery that composes his murals or offering an opportunity to be part of the creative process, giving viewers a break from their routine at an unexpected time or place is what Sussman does best.

“I think that the injection of a little bit of creativity in an otherwise blank or sterile space can really help the moods and productivity of people who are not even necessarily creative. Doing work in offices or public work that people see can be inspirational.”

Inspired by CCA Faculty

Sussman credits his experiences working with CCA faculty as pivotal to strengthening his talents as a muralist and print illustrator, and teaching him how to make his art a profession.

“Working with faculty was one of the best parts of my experience at CCA,” he explains. “Just seeing professors who were not only teaching but still active in their work as illustrators was really inspiring -- it helped to see what that career looks like and what it could look like for me in the future.

"CCA also encouraged me to explore different types of art, which helped me discover myself as an artist. I was taught a bunch of different styles before latching on to what suited me best, and you can see that growth over time in my work.

"Without that guidance I don't think I would have homed in on my particular style.”

Giving Back

It is no surprise that an artist who strives to enhance the communities that experience his work also sees the importance of giving back to people and places that have influenced him.

Sussman says, “I began college at Carnegie Mellon University, but I wasn’t satisfied with the program’s focus. I then applied to CCA and received a partial scholarship. That assistance really made attending CCA a viable option for me to continue my education.

“When I decided to focus on my illustration career full time, reaching out to CCA was part of the process of becoming re-engaged with the illustration and arts community. I got back in touch with faculty and classmates, and earlier this year I participated in an alumni and faculty show on campus.

"It’s been nice reconnecting and contributing to CCA on a creative level."

Sussman adds, “Right now I feel I can make a difference by showing current students how they can make their work into a career -- and it’s inspiring to me that I can help the next generation of illustrators.

"Hopefully, there will be someone who sees what I do and takes it to the next level.”

When asked how he would suggest other CCA community members reconnect with the college, Sussman explained that showing your appreciation for CCA and supporting current students can take on many forms.

“Today my way of giving back is to offer my time and skills, like with this Creative Collaboration project, and to help champion the school that helped shape me as an illustrator. 

"I think it's important for alumni to give back to CCA in whatever way makes sense for them because CCA shaped the way we see the world and how we create.”