“My studio is on the fourth floor of what used to be a pencil factory built in 1872, in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. It’s a massive brick structure that sits on an industrial corner mostly ignored by the neighborhood’s Polish businesses but is now home to clothing boutiques, a hair salon, a variety of restaurants and several new bars where a line of graphic designers and musicians can be found ordering happy hour beers. Despite the changing neighborhood, my building looks as did 130 years ago and is distinguished by the bright yellow stars and large terra cotta pencils on the facade. Large windows on the south facing wall allow for great natural light, there’s lots of space and, I’ve grown to love the neighborhood but, the best part about where I work is the community of creative people. I share my space with four other illustrators and have many other friend’s with studios in the building (The Pencil Factory).
My space consists of a drafting table, flat files, a large collection of books, a few desks, a scanner and my Mac. Upstairs, A friend left behind an enormous, vintage exposure unit for burning silk-screens which gets plenty of use. I usually have sketches, drawings and other random bits hanging on my wall- all of which will eventually become part of a final piece of art. I mainly work in publishing with some work for music, television and branding. Everything starts with a sketch. Then art is drawn, painted, or cut by hand in pieces. These fragments end up on my Mac where I combine elements, add color and use computer magic.”
Christopher Neal is an illustrator and designer, born in Texas and raised in Florida and Colorado. His work has been published by a variety of magazines and book publishers and, has been recognized by Communication Arts, American Illustration, AIGA, Society of Illustrators, Society of Publication Designers, Type Directors Club, Print Magazine and Society of News Designers. He exhibits drawings at various galleries across the country. He currently works and lives in Brooklyn and teaches Illustration at Pratt Institute. (photo: Colby Bird)
I love what I do and can’t wait to get to work.
FROM YOUR DESKS: Do you have a cardinal work rule?
CHRISTOPHER SILAS NEAL: I always try my best to achieve something personal in all of my commercial work. I’m usually telling someone else’s story- sometimes an image needs to be narrative, sometimes ethereal, sometimes cute. Art directors want an image to be smart, handsome and delivered on time. I always hope to meet all of these requirements while also satisfying my own creative voice. A book cover or poster is usually just as personal to me as any painting or drawing I might make on my own. Constantly working under restraints can be challenging but ultimately, that’s what makes for more satisfying work.
FYD: Does drawing animals come naturally?
CSN: I love drawing animals. Some animals are easier than others. Horses for instance usually require reference to get it right. One nice thing about using animals instead of people in an editorial setting is that animals are less scrutinized by the publisher. I work for a lot of lifestyle magazines and when drawing people, age, body weight, ethnicity and style can be an issue. Conversely, It’s rare that an editor will comment that a cat looks too old or is too fat.
FYD: Your website mentions Alex Katz and Elizabeth Peyton as inspirations. Is it important to be inspired by others?
CSN: I’m always inspired by other artists. In some instances, it’s an intense and brief infatuation that may spark a new creative direction. In other cases, an artist’s work is absorbed slowly and becomes part of my foundation. I think it’s important to find inspiration from many different sources in order for those influences to manifest delicately in your own work. My studiomates and friends in the building inspire me on a daily basis. Reading, watching and attending artist talks always helps in the stimulus department. What or who I’m looking at changes often- as does my own work.
A book cover or poster is usually just as personal to me as any painting or drawing I might make on my own.
CSN: I do keep sketchbooks with drawings and ideas though these are mostly drawings for drawing sake. Ideas for assignments are done on loose sheets of paper that can be pinned to my studio wall or organized in piles.
FYD: You teach at Pratt. Does this help you stay on a set schedule?
CSN: I’m at Pratt one afternoon a week and find that teaching serves as a nice interruption to my otherwise 10-6:30 schedule at the studio. I also work on weekends fairly often. Some weeks are better than others but in general, I love what I do and can’t wait to get to work.
CSN: There’s no formula to knowing when a piece is finished. When it feels right, I hand it in and hope my client loves it.
Follow Christopher on Twitter @csneal.