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Illustrator Interview: Neil Swaab

16 Apr 2015

Time to continue with our series of interviews! This time we talked with Neil Swaab. Neil is a freelance illustrator, art director, cartoonist, and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He works on a great range of illustration and design projects, specially on the book and publishing sector. He has worked with clients such as Algonquin Books, Fleishman-Hillard, HarperCollins, AdultSwin/Comedy Central or Cartoon Network. He also runs Business of Illustration, a blog we just love, where he writes about the business side of things to teach aspiring illustrators how to kick-start their career successfully.

Neil Swaab

Where did the road to become a successful illustrator began for you?

I studied illustration in college and then began pursuing it immediately after I graduated. It took a long time (7 years) before I was able to do it full-time for myself. In the meantime, I worked as a designer and illustrated on evenings and weekends.

A big chunk of your work is on book covers. How did you end specializing on that? What does a project need for you to be comfortable and happy with it?

Soon after college, I landed a job as a designer at HarperCollins, a large US publisher. That gave me a good understanding of the inner workings of the publishing industry and also provided a lot of contacts and education. When I left HarperCollins, I started to do freelance cover design for other publishers as well as illustrating the occasional book. Eventually, I started to get known in that area and book covers ended up being my bread and butter.

For me to be happy with a project, I need to feel like I’ve exhausted all of my options and truly settled on the one thing that I feel is the best. I like to explore a lot when I’m working on a project and never feel right about it if I haven’t looked at every variation.

You run a blog, "Business of Illustration", where you stress the importance of the bussiness side of things when building an art/illustration career. Do you think illustrators tend to neglect this, and why?

Not successful illustrators. You can’t be successful without knowing all of this stuff and all the best illustrators do. The blog is really more for aspiring illustrators and people at the early stages of their careers who are just trying to figure this all out. There’s not a lot of information about the business of illustration out there, so I wanted to create a resource that would have all the basic things an illustrator should know.

Neil Swaab

You just released a middle-grade book you both wrote and draw. Can you tell us more about this project, and where does it come from?

Yes, it’s a book that teaches kids how to get through middle school by doing some…let’s just say “dubious" things. It’s part novel and part guidebook, with tons of illustrations and comics. The book will be published on September 1st, 2015 through Abrams Amulet. I’m so excited for it. I’ve poured every bit of myself into it and think it’s such a cool, unique book. There will also be a follow-up to the book in 2016!

And last, but not least: any advice for aspiring illustrators just starting up their careers?

Talent only gets you so far. You’ve got to have drive and ambition. Keep working and putting in the hours and eventually you’ll get there.

Thanks a lot Neil!


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