Catching Up With the Creative Duo Behind “Nearness”, the Online Community to Help Us All Feel a Little Closer

Check out our mini-interview about their new 2021 calendar, full of illustrations and graphics to brighten our days – which we’ve honestly never needed more!

art | collage | Illustration
Artwork: @NearnessProject

Collage artist Alia Wilhelm and illustrator Anna White launched Nearness in April 2020 to gather the various responses to changes brought on by COVID-19. As regular Rookie Mag contributors back in the day, they both felt like an online community was something they needed during this turbulent time. The online space they created encourages self-reflection, open conversations about mental health, and provides a rare and real opportunity to slow down and process what’s happening around us. Emphasis is placed on DIY aesthetics and retaining a homemade, scanned feel to the published artwork, even though it’s ultimately being presented to readers in a digital space. 

The duo’s most recent project is their 2021 Nearness Calendar, a beautiful print piece that can be hung up and welcomes everyone buying it to get ready for the new year ahead (finally). Each month was designed by different Nearness contributors, and the end result is a vibrant medley of artwork by illustrators, painters, textile designers and collage artists from all over the world. Also available is a sticker pack created by the two co-founders, which you can find here. Alia is London-based and Anna resides in Seattle, so Nearness is a testament to long-distance collaboration above all else. The project speaks to the two artists’ ability to create a sense of “nearness” even while so far apart. We caught up with 50% of the duo to get the latest on their work, and hanging in there despite everything happening around the world, so scroll down to read along…

Tell me a little about Nearness, and what inspired you to found it back in April.

Alia: I think it was a strange feeling for both of us when the world went into lockdown. The job I was working on, a film that was due to film the week everything closed in the UK, came to a sudden halt, and all of a sudden I had so much time on my hands. I started working on some writing, and I’d always loved Anna’s illustrations ever since she created the artwork for one of my Rookie Mag articles back in the day, so I reached out to her to see if she’d be interested in collaborating on a comic. That turned into a bigger conversation about maybe starting a website together. The thought hadn’t crossed my mind, but I’d always wanted to edit a publication, and it seemed like the perfect antidote to all the existential angst I was feeling as a result of the pandemic.

What led you to create the Nearness 2021 Calendar?

Alia: I’ve curated calendars for the past two years, but under a different name. It’s the perfect format for displaying artwork by a wide range of different artists because everyone gets one month to shine. I love how you can mix and match work by different creators. You’ll have January designed by a collage artist and February by a textile designer and March by an illustrator. It lasts for the whole year, and it’s beautiful but useful, too. This year I was excited to co-curate it with Anna. We had so many great artists contributing to Nearness, and I thought it’d be a good opportunity to work with them on something long-lasting. It’s my favourite calendar to date. I’m really proud of everyone’s contribution, and it makes me feel even more excited for the new year.

“You’ll have January designed by a collage artist and February by a textile designer and March by an illustrator…I’m really proud of everyone’s contribution, and it makes me feel even more excited for the new year.”
-Alia Wilhelm-

Who are all of the artists that were involved, and how did you choose them?

Alia: Over the past few months, we’ve had many people contribute to Nearness. Some of them have become regulars, and so we reached out to them to see if they’d be interested in contributing to the calendar. We’ve never met any of them. They’re from all over the world and work in different disciplines, but most create work with a homemade, DIY feel to it that really appeals to us. January was designed by French collage artist Frasie Molina, who also works as a cat behaviorist. February was collaged by Lune Rey Cano, who is based in Argentina. March was painted for us by Fior, who lives in Chile. Alex Smyth designed April for us, and she’s based in Vancouver. I created May, and I live in London. June was crafted by Sedona LeBlanc, who is a student and songwriter based in Massachusetts. Eniko Eged drew July, which is one of my favourite pages. She’s based in Hungary. Anna illustrated the month of August, and she lives in Seattle. Tina Tona is a Rwandese and Uganda multimedia artist from the DMV who created September, and also works as the creative director of Crybaby Zine. Minnesota-based Lucy Comer illustrated October for us. Holly Leonardson, a collage artist from Australia, created the artwork for November. And Nina Yagual, a self-taught artist from the States, drew December

What about 2021 excites you the most?

Alia: This year has been awful! It feels like we’ve all been stuck in the shittiest groundhog day ever. I’m excited just to start fresh, and to feel like change is in the air. 

Where can I buy the calendar? 

Alia: You can buy the calendar no matter where you live: we ship worldwide. It comes in a big and a small size, and you can get it here. We’re also selling sticker sheets that we designed, which you can check out here. Thanks in advance for supporting Nearness! 

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