SCA Spotlight On…Craft Mentor, Gary Neill

Hi Gary! Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m an illustrator and animator with over twenty years experience of working for glamorous publications such as The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian and erm, ahem, less glamorous ones such as Farmers Weekly and Nursing Standard.

What led you into a creative career?

I was quite an academic kid given little encouragement to even contemplate anything to do with Art and Design. Luckily I loved music and the late eighties alternative music scene so at the last minute I ducked out of the offer of a degree in Business Studies to take a chance on a one year Foundation course in Art and Design. This changed my life. I studied Graphic Design at degree level afterwards and evolved into an illustrator, animator and educator who feels incredibly lucky in that “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

What made you want to join SCA and what are you most looking forward to in the year ahead?

I’d been a big fan of the school for quite a while and many of Marc’s musings on twitter struck a chord with me. I love ideas, my work is all about ideas and I love the simplicity of great advertising where the Idea not the aesthetic leads the way. I’m looking forward to teaching students how to think visually in a playful, curious, manner.

What have your first few months been like as a new member of the SCA Faculty?

Wow. It’s been intense! I’ve had the privilege of watching some absolutely amazing masterclasses from huge names in the industry and learning from some fabulously diverse talented mentors. The students have demonstrated a diversity, hunger and passion to create great work that’s been genuinely surprising and inspiring.

Recommended Reading for a student preparing for life as a creative.

All the Dave Trott books for their honesty and clarity. The ‘Art That Made Us’ series on the beeb is amazing as is the Sideways series podcast on BBC Sounds. I’m currently reading ‘Hey Whipple, squeeze this’ which was recommended by a student that I taught twenty years ago.

Top tips and advice for anyone wanting to succeed as a creative.

You need to have talent, passion but above all an ability to work hard and to roll with all of the setbacks and disappointments. I worked in bars five nights a week to allow me to take my book around to art directors during the day. Slowly that flipped around so that I only worked one night a week and spent five days a week making pictures for those art directors. I’ve been lucky enough to be doing this ever since.

Having spent time at SCA, how do you think the course differs to other education establishments?

The diversity, energy and creativity of all of the mentors is second to none and the fact that all of them spare a day or two from their practice in order to mentor means that they fully appreciate and understand how challenging, yet rewarding a creative life can be. Marc’s enthusiasm, leadership, honesty and clarity have established an attitude of excellence within the school.

Top tips and advice for anyone wanting to succeed as a creative.

Listen, take notes whenever you watch, read or listen to anyone or anything inspiring. Keep a scrapbook of this inspiration and look to become an active reflector, don’t just go ‘Yeah I like that’, reflect on it, absorb it, question it and use this knowledge to help you make great work.

Best piece of advice you were ever given that’s stuck with you throughout your career.

Fresh out of college, in an interview, I proudly shared an interactive poster I’d designed where you had to draw on it in order to understand it. The interviewer said ‘No, thanks I don’t want to’. I left without a job but learnt an important lesson of not presuming that your audience will see what you see or do what you expect them to do. Ever since then I run ideas past people such as my wife, kids, studio buddies to see what they see.

Share your favourite quote that guides you in your work.

“Unless you can begin with an interesting problem, it is unlikely you will end up with an interesting solution.” Bob Gill

Check out Gary’s portfolio at and follow on Twitter @garyneilldotcom and Instagram @garyneilldotcom

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