As a child
I was born in Sutton Coldfield but mercifully only actually lived there for 10 days. My father worked for BP and at the age of 11 days I went to live in Trinidad. At the age of four we moved to Libya, and these are my earliest memories. We had no TV and would be shut inside when the sand storms blew. It was there that I developed a love of children's picture books. These were invariably American and from the classic period of the late 1950s to early 1960s, I lavished hours of attention over books by the likes of the Provensens and Richard Scarry often trying to copy them in detail sometimes alongside the originals in the actual books (paper was hard to come by). I grew up imagining that everywhere outside of North Africa was peppered with domesticated farm animals, three-wheeled tractors, picket fences and red barns. I has the shock of my life when at the age of six we moved to Grangemouth in the depths of a particularly harsh Scottish winter. The slate grey rather dour Presbyterian school I had to attend seemed out of kilter with my view of the world and it rather set the tone for the next 11 years during which I attended at least another 7 equally unpleasant schools up and down the length and breadth of the British Isles. It has only recently occurred to me that what I do now is probably nothing more than a vain attempt to get back to those happy hours spent on the floor during a sand storm with my favorite picture books. Many of which I still have and are often sitting open on my desk while I work as a source of inspiration.
As an adult
I studied (although I am not sure that is an entirely fair description of what I did there) at Colchester School of Art. I learned about graphic design and was taught how to use a 7 tonne hot metal press the size of a public lavatory on the very eve of the digital revolution. If nothing else it gave me a love for typography, something I still value, and I try to use it in my work as often as possible. After working as a designer for a couple of years in small London advertising agencies I thought I might try my hand at illustrating a children's book. Amazingly the first idea I had was taken up by the very first publisher I went to see, and my first book The Rest of the Day Is Your Own, taken from an obscure Victorian music hall song, was turned into an equally obscure book. I thought it would all be that easy, but it would be another 22 years before I got to illustrate my next children's book The Odyssey... I did however have a quite busy career in between illustrating all sorts of things from packets of rice to pink hotels for advertising and a dozen or so books for the Folio Society who make fabulous books for adults.
As an artist
I work from home, I have a kitchen table that I have worked off for the last 25 years. It is just the right height and I now find it impossible to work on anything else. I work in a very "old school" way, paint on paper. These days I like to try different sorts of cardboard and paper and I often scavenge old and stray pieces of board from waste paper bins. There is a giant manilla envelope my local news agent sells that is as near perfect a drawing surface as anything I have ever tried, and I have painted on every surface imaginable. Although this is the first children's book I have illustrated in a very long time I have worked on a great many books for adults. These include fully illustrated versions of I Claudius and Claudius the God, The Name of the Rose, Catch 22, The Satyrica, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Labyrinths amongst others. I usually work quite small roughly the same size that my pictures appear on the printed page, but I recently made the biggest Illustration I have ever made, it has my son's train set running around within it!
Things you didn’t know about Neil Packer
- My three favourite foods in the world are all made from cabbage.
- I am allergic to the bite of a horse (although it has only happened once).
- I have spent 40 years trying to invent a new colour, but have frankly had more luck with perpetual motion.
- I would much rather be a musician than an illustrator, but unfortunately I am just not very good at music.
- My favourite place in the world is Paris.
- I can make a really good sponge cake (the recipe is a secret).
- The first adult novel I ever read was The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells.
- I dislike greed.
- I can juggle up to as many as two balls.
- I can draw a really straight line without a ruler.