54. Sophie Andresen, Curator of Neuromaencer

With a small army of 30,000 followers and growing, Sophie Andresen, the Owner and curator of Neuromaencer has +4 years experience collaborating with up-and-coming artists to create an online science fiction world for creatives and aficionados.

What is Neuromaencer? I started Neuromaencer in October 2011 when I was 19 and very heavily influenced by William Gibson’s cyber punk novel ‘Neuromancer‘ and the MTV series Aeon FluxIf you happen to have read the novel or watched the series you will understand why I chose the name NeuromAEncer.

I started Neuromaencer as a side-project with no plan for it or anything like that. I remember that I was living in Zurich at that time, and had just started university first studying law and later political science and social anthropology. Neuromaencer gave me the chance to evade my daily dry academic life and get lost in an online science fiction world that I could build myself. 

The blog itself is very much self-explaining. I usually post a set of pictures of similar colour that tell a story and let the observer be part of a world that I am creating. Each color-patch is made up of single pictures that form a symbiosis and each of these colored stories (or color-patch) can be perceived entirely different depending on the observer. Usually your brain makes the decision for you how you see an entity, it chooses the pictures you are going to remember or perceive consciously and at the same time lets you oversee others. So some people see a lot of violence on Neuromaencer, others may focus more on images of landscapes and abstract shapes.

But I don’t want to take too much away. The best thing is to experience Neuromaencer for yourself and make up your own mind. I made a choice against creating an ‘about me’ section because I felt that pre-made answers and explanations diminish the chance for the individual having an experience that is as genuine as possible. I’m always curious how people perceive what they see on my blog and if someone is interested in getting more information on Neuromaencer after they have visited the blog, they can always contact me on Facebook or write me an email.

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What are some key figures? As of this interview Neuromaencer.com is quickly approaching 30,ooo followers with around 750 new followers and around 100,000 likes and reblogs being added every week. In October of 2013 I launched the Neuromaencer Facebook page, which currently has 2,936 followers. Each Facebook post usually reaches around 1,000 to 4,ooo people depending on what kind of post it is. All the figures I’ve mentioned are ‘organic’ as I don’t put any money into advertising.

No advertising budget?! Why not? I know that I could broaden my reach by investing in advertising, but:

  1. I don’t currently have the funds for that.
  2. I see it as challenge to keep the quality of my posts as high as possible because I want people to really like and share what they see. My follower numbers on Tumblr and Facebook are what they are because people genuinely like what they see, not because I’m rich enough to inflate these numbers by paying people to tell them what they should like.

What are some key milestones for Neuromaencer? I haven’t really kept track of which events in regard to Neuromaencer happened when exactly, but I can recall a few important moments since I started the blog.

  1. I can remember getting mentioned on William Gibson’s personal twitter account. That was really a big thing for me since I admire his novels and worldview. I used to wish myself into living in one of his stories.
  2. Shortly after that Warren Ellis, another writer and my favorite comic  book author (The Transmetropolitan comic series) reblogged some of my posts. Getting the attention of these two people who inspired me so much was great.
  3. In March of 2014 I was interviewed by the well-known ‘The Verge’, an American technology news and media network with a large readership in the states. Their article “Dark Arts: Meet the architects of Tumblr’s cyberpunk renaissance” was about the so called ‘cyberpunk renaissance’ happening on Tumblr, which I (along other big blogs similar to mine) was part of.

Thinking back, I think that The Verge article was the breakthrough of Neuromaencer. Since then Neuromaencer has been consistently growing. I’m gaining new followers every day and have especially wakened the interest of creatives who use my blog for inspiration.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Also mentioned in ‘The Verge’ article is Matt Marrocco, Lead Designer and author of I Draw Comics is also cited in this article for his tumblr Brave Cadet.] 

So Neuromaencer may eventually be built into a business?  Although I became well known through the article on ‘The Verge,’ my thinking or acting with Neuromaencer hasn’t really changed. Of course I enjoyed the attention my project had been receiving, but at that point I hadn’t thought of making it a business or anything like that yet.

This changed when I was contacted a few months later by a Hollywood-based producer and director to help him work on an upcoming science fiction movie project. Being given this opportunity I began realizing that Neuromaencer was no longer a mere art project but that there was actually a realistic chance of using my blog as a portfolio to get job opportunities.

Since then I’ve been invited to attend a 3-day movie set here in Berlin alongside the director and I am currently planning a three month stay in Los Angeles this winter to help further with the project.

Parallel to these events, I started the Neuromaencer Facebook page because while Tumblr might be a good creative platform, it’s networking and socializing possiblities are limited.  Also, as Neuromaencer has become a sort of portfolio, and I am quite strict about what I post on it. I usually only post images that are in the color-flow I’ve become known for  with very few exceptions.

Neuromaencer’s Facebook page is therefore a good second medium to the Neuromaencer blog where I can interact with my followers on a deeper level and share things that inspire me. I have also recently started collaborating with concept artists from the science fiction scene and I’m really enjoying the exchange of ideas and artwork that comes with it. Usually I also contact artists that I like style-wise and offer them an opportunity to be featured on my blog and Facebook page through a collaboration. This really is only working out because I have such a large follower base and can also use Neuromaencer as a platform to support unknown artists.

What inspires you? I think my time in Berlin has helped me a lot in pursuing to mainly work on my blog, as there are many creative people alike here. The art scene in Berlin is big and animated, it’s normal to not have a lot of money because everyone is trying to pursue his or her creative projects, and that makes it easier to get on and not give up even if you’re not really earning enough income through your projects to pay rent. Since moving to Berlin I’ve worked at different cafes and bars, and am currently bartending in a techno club to have a somewhat steady income. Working in an office or with strict working hours is really not my thing, also given the fact that I usually work on Neuromaencer at night.

Its difficult to name a specific source of inspiration for Neuromaencer and in general. Surely as a child I was heavily influenced by my father and his graphic work, especially in terms of typography. He took me to exhibitions in museums, provided me with art books and took me to the cinema to watch science fiction movies. 

Today I mainly draw inspiration out of images I see while browsing the Internet or in daily life. I’m a very visual person.

How many different branding updates have you done? I have only changed my blog design once, and I did so because the html code was buggy. The former blog design (or themes as we call them on Tumblr) actually looked almost identical. It’s a 4-column theme (four pictures besides each other) with an endless-scroll function and it usually displays the pictures on a plain white background. I believe that this presents the images I curate in the best possible form; similar to the white walls in a museum.

Consistency is also very important in regards to how people recognize Neuromaencer as a brand. They see the square of colored images on a white background with only the Neuromaencer logo at the top and they know immediately where they are. Also the use of my logo has been consistent and I’ve used the same since I first started. The factor of recognition is important in a world of visual information overflow.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In his book Consumer*ology, Philip Graves notes that “It appears that the conscious mind recognizes what it has seen before and, because it is familiar, can process it more fluently, which creates the feeling of liking something more. Unconscious familiarity breeds affection!”]

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Does the color fading of your photos require a lot of time and thought? Do you photoshop the colors yourself? Yes, searching for images alone is very time consuming. I’m not blindly reblogging just any picture that comes across my Tumblr dashboard and has already been blogged hundreds of times, but am often scrolling for hours through different websites off Tumblr to find images that my community hasn’t yet seen.

There’s a big difference between just blogging what you feel like and consciously choosing every image according to its color and what it’s depicting. I have a database of thousands of images that I’ve collected during my searches, and a search takes usually 4-10 hours a day. It really is a full-time job if you want to blog new pictures every other day.

To keep the quality of images as high as possible, I need to constantly search for new images. Without the appropriate images I can’t publish new posts. So the biggest part of the entire process is image pulling. Over the years it has become an unconscious, automated process and I have become quite efficient in it.

The other part, let’s say step 2, is the color correction of images.  When I began blogging and assorting the images by their color, my editing skills were horrible and my edited pictures were looking boringly flat (lack of vibrance and therefore loss of depth). But as with everything you learn with practice and over time until you eventually become good at it. Today I try to use as little editing software as possible, or let’s say, I edit the images in a way that you can barely notice it. 

I have been constantly setting myself new challenges, and today Neuromaencer is no longer just a bunch of color matching images anymore.  Each color-family has its own thematical environment or world where the observer can associate his or her own thoughts and ideas into. I guess it’s similar to watching a movie, only that the medium here is different.

And to answer your question, yes. I always do everything myself. Neuromaencer is a personal project.

How do you manage the social aspect of running such a large community? When I first began Neuromaencer the Tumblr community was a big part of it. I used to interact a lot and saw Tumblr also as social media.

But this has changed over the years. With the blog becoming more popular I’ve started getting a lot more ‘hate’ messages from anonymous Tumblr users.

This was very hard for me at first. While I saw Neuromaencer as a curation platform for different artists, other people accused me of stealing images of other artists and promoting them as my own, although this actually was the contrary of what I intended. It was only a logical consequence that the social aspect of Tumblr become more and more irrelevant for me over time.

These days I have assorted people that I follow and interact with, but apart from that I have completely disabled the anonymous message system on Tumblr. If people want to interact or talk to me, they can do that over Facebook which I also find a lot more personal than writing over the Tumblr messaging system. 

Have you had to deal with any copyright issues? Yes of course. Even if the majority of artists that I have featured in the past years either don’t care or are happy to be featured, there will always be people who are negative.

I’m not saying this because I don’t want to give people the freedom to decide over their pictures or because I intend to take this decision from them –  I’m always willing to take a picture down when asked. It’s more that I had to realize that the people who reacted negatively to Neuromaencer (and it’s only been a handful of people in all these years) usually did this in a threatening or offensive way and on a personal level. Usually I just take these pictures down immediately adn that’s the end of the story.

Without exception. these people were mainly Tumblr artists who have taken the entire thing on a personal level and have fellt threatened.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Marine Soyez, Art Director for Pixelis discusses in more detail problems associated with copyright law.]

Image copyright issues are a legal grey area that are discussed on a very emotional & far too personal level especially on the internet and it makes certain people feel like they have to guard over ‘their’ artwork like watchdogs no matter who approaches it or what is done with it. 

Generally, I am trying to stay out of the entire copyright discussion, and so far I haven’t really had any serious problems with this approach. On the contrary, I’m doing my best to blog as transparently as possible, crediting the original sources and tracing every picture that I find back to its originator.

I am putting a lot of effort into curating other people’s artwork properly, and I think Neuromaencer is really becoming a platform people (originators and consumers) know and trust.

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You’ve used the same 4-column layout and logo since you started. Were you thinking long-term back then or did you just get lucky by choosing a layout and logo that had a lasting ‘timeless’ appeal? Well I think I’ve always had a sense for timeless things. Growing up I would help my father (who is a designer) with questions in regard to graphic design and typography. He taught me the basics of graphics and supported me in drawing, making collages and being creative in general. We always used to have a ton of art and graphic design books at home and I guess that’s where I got it from. I never went to art school or anything like that.

But back to ‘timelessness’, I especially don’t like things that have a cheap look or feel or seem thoughtless, and I think this is applicable to my entire artwork. I am very perfectionist when it comes to visual matters. It has nothing to do with luck but rather with a trained, precise view of how things should look like, paired with an intuitive knowledge of how things look ‘right.’ Sometimes it’s about how many millimeters a font is separated from an image, no detail is irrelevant and the human eye is ruthless (especially when it’s trained).

And finally, what are a few of your favorite science fiction sources?

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