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It was a wet February morning, in 2016, when Neil Packer welcomed us into his London home. He had recently wrapped illustrating a beautiful retelling of Homer’s classics The Odyssey and The Iliad written by Gillian Cross.
He spoke in detail about the hard work and planning that goes into a large project, the negative changes he has witnessed in the publishing world and the challenge of balancing life and art.
A lot has changed for Neil in the six years that followed the interview, so we asked if he could update us on his career:
“Since 2016 I have had two illustrated non fiction books published. I illustrated a children’s version of Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads for Bloomsbury which published in 2018 and in September 2020 One of a Kind a book I both wrote and Illustrated was published by Walker Studio. In 2021 it won the Bologna Ragazzi award for non fiction, also that year it was selected for the Bratislavian Biennale and in 2022 it was shortlisted for the V&A illustration award.
From late 2019 through to late 2020 I was working on a limited edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy for the Folio Society. 100 illustrations (one for each canto) plus designs for endpapers frontispiece’s and 3 large illustrations for limited prints suitable for framing. This was pretty much my lockdown project as if lockdown wasn’t strange enough already, but it was wonderful to get to know this book and to try to get to grips with its breadth and scale. It is currently shortlisted for a World Illustration Award. You can find more details about it here The New Current: Neil Packer and The Folio Society: The Divine Comedy.
From late 2020 through to late 2021 I was working as a guest illustrator along with Jim Kay on the Illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Because of the size of this book it was felt that having a second illustrator on board might take some of the pressure off Jim and could work well. Jim is still illustrating the characters and the main drive of the plot but my role was to visualise many of the other aspects of the book which are pointed to within the text such as The BlackFamily Tree, and a cutaway of the Ministry of Magic.
It was a very different project to Dante but that is what I love about this job, the fact that you might be doing something entirely different next. I saw the finished books for the first time last week and they look fantastic. It was a pleasure and a privilege working with Jim who is not only a friend but also an inspiration as an illustrator. The Order of the Phoenix publishes on 11th of October.
Also, last October, I had a one-man show at the Coningsby Gallery which focused on a variety of recent and less recent work.
At the moment I am illustrating another large project for The Folio Society which is nearing completion but sadly it is under wraps so I won’t be able to talk about this until next year. As for what comes next it is anyones guess but most likely I will be taking a break for a few weeks as I have not really had one since this interview in 2016.