NEW YORK TIMES | PRIVATE LIVES:
For a touching essay about the sudden death of a father. Art Director: Alexandra Zsigmond. Story found here.
For an upcoming book organized by Julia Rothman titled The Who, The What and The When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Accomplices of History.
The person I was assigned is Christopher Morcom. He was Alan Turing’s first crush, but died from tuberculosis as a young man. Turing was devastated and inspired him to explore the concept of an intangible soul in a tangible body which eventually led to the birth of computer science. Very honored to be a part of this great project.
For Hydrochloric #2 out soon! Organized by Daniel Zender
My first piece for The New Yorker for an essay comparing Baltimore’s Airport to coral reef diving. I provided a few versions of the final, these two were my fav’s. Thanks Jordan Awan for the assignment!!
For the New York Times about toxic stress in young children and it’s long term effects. Special thanks to Art Director Aviva Michaelov. Full story here.
My cover for Overlap Magazine about the coach for the Portland Timbers taking the team to the playoffs for the first time in history. Art Director: Joel Speasmaker
For Voice Media for a feature on living room concerts being lucrative for rock musicians (David Bazan, one of my all time fav’s is interviewed). It’s out this week for the cover of Houston Press, and the St. Louis River Front Times. Thanks to art director Tom Carlson!
The evolution of sex for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Art Director: Ellen Winkler. Story found here.
I was asked to design a watch for this company Moment Watches, and excited to finally show it off! http://www.momentwatches.com/productDetail.php?id=66&lang=1
Here’s nice interview with Non-Slick.
Daniel Fishel: When I first met you almost three years ago, I could of swore you were in your mid-20’s and still figuring things out. Then after you sent me an email asking about the SVA MFA program and if you could do your illustration work and do the school work, I told you that you could completely do it. I then I looked up your work and I was caught off guard. You were actually creeping into your mid-30’s and have established a full career with editorial clients I have been itching to gather in my first four years. I guess for my first question I want to ask is what made you want to go into the SVA MFA program in the first place and could you of made the leaps and bounds by just setting up shop in Brooklyn or another creative community for 2 years?
Keith Negley: I’ve been told I do look young for my age! Not sure what attributes to that, probably the fact that I have the same sense of style I did when i was 22 which doesn’t help. I still dress like I live with my parents. I went back to school because I was burned out on the illustration i was doing. it was almost entirely conceptual finance assignments and after doing that kind of work since around 2000 my brain was fried and I wasn’t enjoying the work. I was making a decent living, and there seemed to be a lot of that kind of work out there, but it felt void of any emotional connection and very empty.
I was married for 6 years at that point, we had bought a house in Shoreline, just outside of Seattle, and our son Parker was 2 years old. It was becoming clear to me that if I were to unexpectedly die I would be very unhappy with the work I was leaving behind. I had lost my voice as an artist, and I knew if I wanted to break out of the rut I was in it would take a serious change of pace. That’s why I wanted to go back for an MFA.
I chose SVA because there aren’t many MFA programs in illustration available, and I knew of SVA’s program because of Sam Weber. He and I worked together when he was working for the NYT’s OpEd and I knew he had gone there from his bio. After chatting with him briefly about it I felt it was a gamble worth taking. That and living in NY for a couple years appealed to me as well. I applied thinking it would take a few years to get accepted, but to our surprise I got my acceptance letter that following march. We were packed and uprooted to Brooklyn by that August. It was a bit of a whirlwind. My wife quit her job, I quit the band I was in for the past 7 years, we put the house up for sale and said goodbye to friends and family, most of whom assumed we weren’t coming back.
And no, moving to Brooklyn alone wouldn’t have come close to what I gained from working with Marshall Arisman and SVA. Brooklyn is amazing, but I’m not inherently social, and I thrive in a structured school environment. Getting immediate and direct feedback from amazing teachers and getting exposed to new ideas from my classmates was priceless and not something you could create just living in Brooklyn, especially considering I didn’t know anyone when I got there.
I think one reason people age a little fast here on the East coast is that we strive to constantly pressure cooker ourselves to make things happen while so many people on the west coast look so much younger. Is the West coast as relaxing as everyone makes it out to be? Now that your no longer in Brooklyn and back in Seattle are you as motivated to work while not being in the pressure cooker environment?
I haven’t noticed east cost people looking older than west coast. actually exposure to sun probably has more impact on our rate of aging so by that logic people from California should look much older than people in New York.
I think you’re right about the pressure cooker thing though. In New York everyone is up to something, writing novels or screen plays, making music or doing art installations. Because it’s so expensive no one chooses to move there unless they have a goal set. They make good use of their time and everyone is extremely productive. When you’re surrounded by really talented people making their best work it certainly inspires you to do the same.
I have to be careful what I say because I don’t want to offend any west-coasters, but when I moved to Brooklyn, I did notice a very palpable increase in energy and other artist’s intensity to work their asses off. In Seattle there is still creative energy if you know where to look, but its just a much smaller town in every way, so the pool of intense creatives is smaller as well. A lot of my friends here in Seattle spend more time hiking, or camping. They’ll spend their free time playing music or video games and watching movies, they actually have HOBBIES in addition to their careers. And that’s a wonderful thing, but I can’t work that way. of course I’m also basing this off my very limited time I had in New York. I’m sure most people in New York have hobbies as well, I was just in a very niche social circle of illustrators and as far as I could tell their work was their life, and I really enjoyed being around that mindset. It’s not like we’re lawyers or business execs, we express ourselves for a living so when your “work” is fun and emotionally fulfilling It’s a beautiful thing to be able to focus whole heartedly on it. So far I’ve kept pace with who I was when living in Brooklyn, and I don’t see any reason that will change, but check back with me in a year or two and we’ll see if the location has made an impact.
Has living in New York (aside from SVA) been beneficial for your career and creative process or should illustrators just visit NYC once or twice a year? Would you recommend anyone come to live here as a young creative?
I would absolutely recommend everyone, artists or not live in New York for at least a portion of their lives. It’s cliche to say, but there is no place like it. I found it similar to moving to a foreign country almost where the city has it’s own cultural customs and temperament. It’s not an easy place to live, and I don’t regret moving away, but I can’t discredit living there as having played a part in the success I’ve found the last year or so. It’s probably too big to break it down all the various ways it’s been beneficial, getting to connect face to face with art directors is priceless of course, but being in a community of illustrators where you can meet up and talk shop about what we do is just as important. So much of what an illustrator does is solitary, it can be a very lonely business. And lastly the city itself is inspiring and it reveals things over time that I don’t think you can pick up on with a weekend trip.
What got you excited about illustration when you were studying in undergrad and what get’s you excited about illustration today? Do you think it’s easier to break into illustration today or is it harder because now the pool of talent is much bigger?
I loved that with illustration I wasn’t tied down to one specific way of working or medium like say painting or drawing degrees. And that’s still what excites me about it today. There are no rules. You can literally do whatever you want in order to solve a problem in terms of process, medium, metaphor etc. as long as the client and you see eye to eye, it’s a very exciting thing. One day I’m using charcoal and acrylic, and the next day it’s water color and cut paper. My process evolves and morphs daily, sometimes hourly. It’s whatever I feel like doing at that very moment and nothing limits me but my own imagination. Maybe some would say I’m still “figuring things out”, but if that’s the case, I hope I never figure “it” out. I’m having a blast experimenting and just trying to make interesting mistakes. It’s incredibly liberating. I used to think this was a bad thing. I used to think a “professional” illustrator has a hyper consistent style and is known for a certain palette and mark making, and many of my favorite illustrators are just that and I envy them. but when I work that way I feel like I’m a preset factory just churning work out like an emotionless machine. And I’m so glad I realized that doesn’t have to be the case. Because in the end it doesn’t matter if you’re using a computer or a paint brush, if you’re using your own voice and content they will be connected. What is considered “illustration” today has never been more broad, and the line between fine art and illustration as never been more grey.
As far as whether it’s easier to make it today vs. 10 years ago, you know my instructors back in the late 90’s gave us the same shpeel I imagine they’re giving students now about how there’s too little jobs and too much talent, and how we’ll be fighting over scraps. No one remembers this but illustration industry took a serious dive in the 90’s and many people said it was dead. And looking around today it seems anything but dead. I firmly believe at the end of the day, there will always be work for good illustrators, and by good I mean artists who are disciplined and respectful as well as talented. I think if anything, it’s easier today given what the internet has done for us, and all the ways to get work in front of the right people.
Now that your back in Seattle are you going to play with the idea of trying to play in another synth electronic based band again?
I hope so!! I still have my drums and hope to get something started eventually, but I’ll be putting much less time into it than I had in the past. More of a way to blow off steam and mess around with friends than trying to fill clubs and make a name for myself. I’m having too much fun with illustration.
Fugazi or Dinosaur Jr?
Ian Mackaye all the way.
How important is it for you to not have all of your influences come directly from illustration? Do you look at a lot of old masters paintings, photography, fine art? Who are your favorites?
I admit I’m a complete sponge. Some people don’t have this problem, but I soak up everything I see and it gets used in my work, and for that I need to be very careful what I look at. I can’t follow illustrators whose work I love or even friends of mine for that matter simply because I don’t want it to unconsciously (or consciously) effect what I’m doing. I think it’s extremely important, borderline detrimental to find inspiration outside of commercial illustration. Before going to SVA most all of my influences came from other illustrators currently working, and my work suffered greatly for it. It was derivative, and sterile, and lacked any unique perspective. Clients liked it, but I was miserable making it and I didn’t know why until I got to New York, and started getting inspired by everything other than illustration.
I get a lot out of looking at medieval and byzantine art now. The way they would set up their compositions, and stylize anatomy is really exciting. They were also able to capture a lot of emotion while simultaneously being quite graphic which is something I strive for. I also love mid-centery folk art and outsider art as well for the same reasons. There’s just a freshness and an element of unexpectedness I strive to replicate in what I do. Other artists specifically I look at are Morris Hirschfield, Will Barnet, Emile Chambon and Balthus as well. There’s an authenticity about their work that I don’t find in perfectly rendered old master paintings. If an artist’s technique is too polished I have a hard time penetrating the work. I need to see the accidents and the artist’s process in the piece. I’m also a fan of abstract expressionists as well, Larry Rivers, Joan Mitchell, and Willem de Kooning of course. And last music has also been a great source for inspiration. The song Echos of Mine by M83. It is one specifically that I pull from. The emotion I get from that one song is basically what I hope someone else would get from seeing work of mine. It sounds goofy, but I’ll loop it for hours while working and use it to guide me in a way.
Any big projects you want to spill about or any big plans you have cooking you want to talk about at all? Are you planning on coming to ICON 8 in Portland?
I have a watch I designed coming out this year that I’m excited to see in the flesh. It’s for a small company called http://www.momentwatches.com. It isn’t a big budget deal or anything like that, but they asked me to contribute a design to a campaign they’re working on and it’s my first time getting to create something that a person will actually be physically interacting with. I thought it was a low stakes way of dipping my toes in that water. Haven’t decided on ICON8 yet. We’ll see what the financial advisors say when it comes around.
How important is having free time as a freelancer?
Apparently not very important.
I personally don’t believe in creative blocks but people constantly talk about how they don’t have any good idea’s. When your working on an assignment, is there anything you do to get the idea’s flowing? Good Coffee? Walk around the block? VooDoo?
I like to read the brief’s as soon as possible, even if I won’t actually be sitting down to sketch anything for a few days. This will at least get the story into my psyche where i can be ruminating on it whenever i have a few seconds to think (driving the car, laying in bed right before sleeping, in the shower, etc). I found by doing that my perspective of what the story needs is much more clear, and ideas tend to come a little more quickly. That isn’t to say I don’t still struggle. The concepting phase is by far the most difficult stage of the process. I also had really good results concepting on the subway during my commute into Manhattan. There’s something about the white noise and repeating percussive sounds of the tracks that would lull me into a creative state. I would always get my best Ideas on the train.
Any advice for young illustrators breaking into the field?
I say this a lot, but look inward for inspiration, not outward. Find a way to make every assignment personal. People are only going to respond emotionally to something if they see themselves in it, and the most personal things about you are usually the most universal.
Last Words you want to leave with us?
Don’t get caught trying too hard.
Thanks again Keith for the wonderful interview!