3 Degrees of Inspiration: Whitney Sherman, Na Kim & Peter Mendelsund


Editor’s Note: This is part 45 in Emily Potts’ inspirational series (previously called “Design Links”). Every other week she features three artists whose work offers fresh, fun, and stimulating creative inspiration. Each artist picks the next link—someone who personally inspires him/her. Check out the forty-fourth part in the series, featuring River Jukes-Hudson, Way Wza & Toyin Ojih Odutola.

This week we do a reset, and I chose to feature …

Whitney Sherman

I’ve admired Whitney’s illustration work for years. She is a craftsperson, a mentor, and a teacher. Several years ago I contracted her to write a book about the practice of sketching, which became Playing with Sketches (Rockport Publishers). I was impressed with not only her knowledge and skills as an artist and her ability to share these tips, but also her generosity. Rather than just showing how she would draw something, she featured the works of more than 100 artists to illustrate her points.


Recently, Whitney has been producing work for sale under her brand Pbody Dsign. Marketed under the tagline of Limited Edition Wares For Your Eclectic Home, these pieces incorporate handworked surfaces on each piece. I love the bold simplicity of her limited-edition ceramics collection.


I love the wordplay on these little creations. She hand-painted each matchbox and applied labels that incorporate illustration and design elements that reference matchbox labels in India. It’s art you can carry in your pocket.

Whitney Sherman is inspired by …

Na Kim

She inspires me because of her conceptual intelligence, mad gouache painting skills, and image/text relationships: whether it is a cultural comment such as Puff, Puff, Pass brush-lettered on an ashtray; the nostalgia for old library book sign-out cards on the jacket design for Antonya Nelson’s short stories Funny Once; or her playful drawings of common objects with captions, sometimes sexually charged like the #2 pencil [drawn in pencil] that is captioned Only the Tip.


I especially love Na’s paintings of objects and how, on first glance, they are deceptively ordinary looking. But they sneak up on you. I love her recent illustration for Vogue article entitled “What Does “Date Night” Dressing Look Like in the Trump Era? which pays homage to Jenny Holzer’s Truism’s series by presenting Holzer’s 1977 aphorism Abuse of Power on a white t-shirt in almost a clothing catalog manner. Presented with the article headline and published in Vogue, the painting and truism take on a deeper historic meanings. Or her New York Times piece for the article Why English Keeps On, Like, Totally Changing that appropriates dance-step instructions superimposed with vowels and consonants. Na is subversive with most of her word/image relationships and wordplay. I also love her plastic bag series she has posted on Instagram that are raising money for Planned Parenthood.

Some years back Na painted a few book jackets, word-playing the titles and making a new illustration on the front of the painting of the book. Interestingly she now is an award-winning book jacket designer having worked a Bloomsbury and FSG. Her covers use a wide range of visual play including wash paintings and hand lettering as well as tightly cropped photos and lettering. Her cover for Mike Roberts novel Cannibals in Love has a surgical precision to it showing tightly interwoven fingers and sans serif letters literally cut out of the image.The inky drawing she did for Megan Mayhew Bergman’s novel Almost Famous Women is directly opposite in image and letterforms.

Na Kim is inspired by …

Peter Mendelsund

His work is often imitated but inimitable. A purveyor of design as a form of art who constantly invents new ways of seeing. Hard to pick any favorites, but here are a few.

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Brilliant. With this design he lets the title and concept speak for itself, while simultaneously allowing the typeface to carry David Salle’s tongue-in-cheek tone throughout the book.


Schubert’s Winter Journey, is in a way, a translation of Franz Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter’s Journey): a cycle of voice and piano compositions set to 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller. I randomly came across this book while I was casually browsing a local bookstore, and I was thrilled. Spellbound by the blind-embossed footprints across the winter snow, I purchased it without hesitation. Classical music can be an intimidating subject to approach, but Peter’s design gave this amateur classical music enthusiast the courage to delve deeper into the genius of Schubert.

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As far as biographies go, this is probably my favorite cover. The simple typography and portrait of Gehry overlaid with his sketch lines that represent his way of thinking. It’s beautiful.


[Related: Get book cover design advice from Peter Mendelsund at Printmag.com]

Tune in next time to see who inspires Peter Mendelsund!