Illustrator Christopher Silas Neal's Studio

Lifework

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We find endless inspiration in the work of award-winning artist and illustrator Chris Silas Neal. Find out what inspires him in this tour of the straightforward, no-nonsense studio he shares with four other illustrators/designers in Brooklyn, New York.

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Give us a little info on your background. I make drawings and images for books, posters, packaging, advertising, animation, and magazines, which I’ve been doing for nearly 10 years. I stumbled upon illustration in a roundabout way. It started with a Graphic Design elective in the School of Mass Communication at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The instructor of that course, Michael Signorella, offered me a job on the last day of class. I went to work the very next day, skipping my graduation ceremony to go start designing and spent three years learning on the job the ins and outs of typography, visual communication, color, and composition. I entered school as a music major, playing drums, so it’s anyone’s guess that nearly 18 years later I would be a visual artist and designer. I moved to New York in 2002 and it’s there that I eventually quit working as a full-time designer and started my own one-man business as an artist, illustrator, and letterer.

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A tasty quartet of limited edition 18"x24" screen prints, each available at Christopher's site.

Tell us about yourself and your work: what you’re passionate about, what inspires you, and where you’re going. My work is a mix of drawings, and painted and inked shapes that are scanned into my Mac and then pieced together into a final illustration. I most often look back to mid-century designers, vintage children’s books, tattered record sleeves, and old-fashioned book jackets for inspiration. The goal is for my work to be truthful to what is happening in this moment — reflect contemporary culture — while holding on to some simplicity and innocence embodied by images used in commercial art of the past. 

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Since I wasn’t formerly trained as an artist, a lot of what I do is rough around the edges, so to speak, and I think there’s something to be said for approaching art and design from an indirect or obtuse route — working around limitations and personal quirks to solve a visual problem. I’m currently illustrating and writing children’s books and hope to have kids of my own someday. If all goes to plan, my kids will have a library of books made by their dad. In addition to my books and other commercial work for print, I’ve been directing and designing animated videos and I’m excited to see where that goes.

Tell us about your space. What’s your aesthetic? What do you like or dislike about it?I work and live in Brooklyn and keep a studio in what used to be an old pencil factory. My space is shared with four other talented illustrator/designers and there are many other creative types in the building. We have tall ceilings and a wall lined with south-facing windows that let in a softly diffused light. Each of us have carved out an area using a hodge-podge of found desks, rickety file cabinets, and cheaply purchased tables. We don’t really decorate and our space probably resembles and old print shop or painter’s studio more so than a designer’s studio.

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Aside from our computers, it’s a pretty low-tech and worn space that begs to be worked in. It’s not the type of space where you have to be too worried about spilling paint or scratching the floors. I have three large flat files that I bought from an old office in Long Island and a rusty mechanics stand that was given to me by a dear friend and former studio mate. At the mechanics stand, I draw standing up, but am otherwise sitting at my computer. If I had more space, I might consider doing more screen printing or other tactile projects; other than that, I’m happy where I’m at. The best part about my space is working next to my friends. We’ve built an incredibly supportive and inspiring community.

You have a Mirra Chair at your desk. Why did you choose it? My Mirra Chair was given to me by a neighboring studio when I first moved into the building in 2006. Coincidentally, at my former space, I used an Aeron Chair, which was also lent to me by a friend and former tenant. For some reason, I seem to stumble upon these amazing designer work chairs. After years of use, I’m ready for a new chair but am considering holding off on that purchase in hopes that the universe will, for a third time, magically supply a new one.

(Images: Christopher Silas Neal)

Republished in partnership with Herman Miller Lifework. Originally posted by Amy Feezor.

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