To Craft and Create with Christian Neuenschwander

Long before anyone talked about “influencers” there were creative people working behind the scenes in snowboarding, quietly helping to shape our thoughts on style and aesthetics. Over the past decade, very few people in Switzerland have been as influential as Christian Neuenschwander. I had a long chat with him about a number of subjects – from pro model boards, to rediscovering his love for snowboarding, through a full circle of Fruition. Sounds interesting? Let’s go…  

Hey Christian, can you take a moment to introduce yourself?
I’ll try to keep it short… my name is Christian Neuenschwander, born in 1980 in Zürich, Switzerland, son of Menchu Asuncion Neuenschwander and Eduard Neuenschwander. I grew up in an artistic surrounding and as far back as I can remember, it felt natural to work with my imagination and senses. I just love to create and craft things. My professional background is Graphic Design, specialized in branding and Illustration. Along the way I’ve picked up photography, and learned how to play and produce music. I also started skateboarding as a young kid which kept me moving, and still does. It is a huge part of me, and a great source of inspiration and motivation.

Ah yes, I remember back in the day when we had Blackout, our skate mag, you were pretty much a style legend around Zürich. Do you still get much time on your board these days?
Haha thanks for the style flowers! I still skate a lot these days because I love it, and also because I’m frightened to lose it. When I was living in New York, I almost had no time to skate for about a year. When my friend Jan Hofer came over to intern at the company I partnered with, I found out that I hardly could do 5-0s on a curb! That was freakin’ scary. After that, he took me out skating on every lunch break and after work to get back to it.

I’ll never let loose on skateboarding again. Thanks for the rehab Jan!

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It’s good when you can count on friends to help you keep your priorities straight. Speaking of friends, I’m stoked on the designs that you’ve done for Fredi’s Swiss Knife. Can you tell us a little about how that project came together?
Fredi called me up and asked me if I wanted to do his pro-model graphics. We’ve worked together previously on several projects, so I had his trust and he gave me carte blanche on the design. His only briefing was: “Do whatever you think is good. It’s gotta be good. And it’s gotta sell.”

This year, I worked to bring in more aspects of his personality, not just the swissness and boldness, but also his humorous side and doing things differently. It seems easy to put him in a box, but he’s so much more.

I created three strong symbols to represent him. “The dagger”, his eagerness to attack and succeed. “The mountain”, his home and family. “The Shakabird”, his freedom, looseness and liveliness. For the base I tweaked the daggers to three goofy looking letters spelling “LIB”.

As with Fredi, there’s also a lot of fun and character disguised in the serious look of this board.

Any hidden details that people might not realize at first look?
If you stare long enough at it, your blood will start to pump faster through your veins and you’ll hear voices in your head, calling for the mountains.

I’m also a big fan of last year’s Swiss Knife that you did for Fredi. Such a powerful board for a powerful rider. Anything you want to share about the process and evolution of the design as the series continues?
Thanks, I’m glad you like it! I love the idea of series in snowboard graphics, I think it gives the rider and the brand a much stronger identity.

And as you said, Fredi is an extremely powerful and precise rider. Sometimes I even think he must have bionic superpowers… I mean, how can such a slender looking guy ride like he’s part of the Marvel gang??

At first I was totally overwhelmed with all the creative freedom that Fredi gave me. In my realm of working, I technically have no limits when it comes to realizing a visual idea. Therefore the possibilities just seemed to be endless. I needed to narrow it down to the purest way of expressing myself on paper.

I started painting simple brush strokes, followed by abstract color variations. I got into an almost meditative state and ended up producing dozens of pieces.

I cut out Fredi’s board shape and held it over each one of the paintings, looking for some interesting fragments and details. For the base graphic I wanted the brand to come across as clean and sharp as possible, imagining Fredi banging out a method on the cover of a magazine.

My favorite board, that I once owned, was also a LIB TECH – the Emma Peel Pro Model. I think it was a painting of something like an eagle, very abstract, but the colors were so strong. Each time I’d strap in, the snow would glow red and seemed to melt. That’s what I wanted to approach with this design as well. It should give the rider a powerful feeling when strapping in.

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Fredi Kalbermatten, Cab 5 in Saas Fee by Ahriel Povich

I actually happened to be sitting next to Fredi when he opened up the email with your first round of ideas. I remember being pretty blown away, because you already had finished designs for like 40 different boards! They seemed like they were all pretty rad, so I know it was a tough decision for Fredi. Is there anything special about the design that you guys chose?
Haha yes, as I said I just totally got in the zone and produced a lot of versions I liked. I then embedded these selections into four different graphic divisions with notes of my favourite picks that Fredi could then choose from.

Fredi went for one that reminded him of his mountains and it also had the swiss colors in it. I had some fancier favorites but I think it was a good choice.

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Christian in his studio © Martin Luchsinger

I guess you’re pretty prolific. How much time do you usually put into art during an average week?
I do graphic design, illustrations and photography pretty much the whole week during working hours. But I also feel that part of a creative process involves having creative breaks.

Are you still playing music too? What’s up with Zigitros?
Yes, I always have a guitar in reachable distance so I can strum some chords and boogie in between.

ZIGITROS is having a break until we come up with a new megalomaniak plan.

In the meantime we have been producing music for other projects. I’m also breeding on a solo project, which will eventually resolve into a new record.

Fredi Kalbermatten snowboarding to that ZIGITROS sound.

How about snowboarding? Do you ride much?
To be honest I haven’t been snowboarding for about ten years until last winter, when my friend Martin Luchsinger finally forced me to get my ass up to Laax, visit Nicolas, get fully equipped, shred with Brian Cook (Mr.ThirtyTwo), Travis Rice and Evan Mack, carving pow like in Fire & Ice, feeling totally comfy on a board again, wondering why I missed out on all this fun and good times… haha. Life is like a box of chocolate.

Sure is! I guess you’ve been a pretty big part of the Swiss snowboard aesthetic for a while now. Was Yeahh Productions the first big project that you worked on, or does it go back even further than that? Were you involved in Arcus as well?
It all started with skateboarding, becoming good friends with Martin, who hooked me up with a sponsor deal at Beach-Mountain where he was working at the time. This was around 1997. Martin was very ambitious and came up with a lot of creative projects for the shop, so I got to design flyers, t-shirts, logos, skate – and snowboard graphics. After he quit his job at the shop to start Yeahh Productions, I got to do all the design work and illustrations for their movies.

While working on “Yeahh Love”, where Fredi had a part, he approached me and asked if I could do graphics for Arcus Clothing because they were having issues with their designer and partner.

I did a whole FK line for them, but it never got produced because they had to change the name. They decided on starting a new company called “Atreebutes” and fortunately I was on board to design the whole brand from scratch alongside Martin as Creative Director.

Purple Yeahh circa 2007

For me, the stuff that you did with Martin for Yeahh is still one of the high points in the history of snow movies. Any interesting untold stories from those days to share? I guess that working with Luchi is always a bit of an adventure…
Being adventurous is the whole point of having a great time in whatever you do. That’s why I love working with Martin. Even though we’ve all gotten pretty professional in whatever we do these days, we still keep up that d.i.y. mentality. I guess being excited about a project is the key. We always start from scratch, without really knowing the outcome exactly, but working on it and learning about it. Following a strong vision can make it great and outstanding.

For the untold stories, please ask Martin and Daryl, they could write a book! A trilogy…

Ah… maybe that should be our next interview?
Pretty crazy that nearly 10 years after those Yeahh movies you guys got back together to work on Fruition. How was that project for you?
We actually never stopped working together. We did a lot of other projects afterwards too.

Working on “Fruition” was of course a highlight, because Nicolas created a platform for every one of us to really kick in with whatever we were best at. It all went down at my studio and I think the lights literally never went out. Taking that into consideration, we all had at least three different hats to wear each day. The journey was wild and at the same time fulfilling.

One of my roles was being responsible for the art direction, the other, was creating part of the original soundtrack. Above all, I also got to play “The Creature” for a day, the whole costume was custom tailored to my body, haha!

Each segment of the film needed to have a feel for Nicolas’ persona on his state of life, as well as his riding. When it comes to creating music, you want to involve these elements and elevate different aspects. As an example, I collaborated with a very skilled saxophone player – Wilfried Aegerter. Although he’s 70 years old, he plays like a skateboarder. He got in my music studio and I let him improvise to Nicolas and Fredi’s riding. He totally got the flow and their energy, which was amazing. I then started to record all the other instruments around the saxophone and produced the song. Overall, I contributed 6 different tracks, including vocals and playing around 17 instruments I guess. Although, while making the music, I often got extremely anxious because I had no plan as to what I was going to create, I just kept on recording stuff out of a feeling I got from watching the rough cuts of single parts. But in the end, seeing the result was extremely satisfying, fortunately, because it worked! Together, the footage and the music had created a wonderful experience.

Fruition, featuring Christian as 'The Creature'.

It sure did! Thanks for your time and all of your amazing contributions to snowboarding’s culture and aesthetic over the years, Christian! Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Thank you for having an eye on my work!

Let’s make snowboarding great again! Just kidding, it is great, I’m on my board again and I love it.

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