Thursday, January 17, 2008

Rejecting the Pigeon Hole

Tom stayed at Bomac for about seven years, until 1962, working along side his friend Jerry Sevier. At one point, like so many other Toronto illustrators, the two men decided to go to New York. To see if they had what it took to compete in the hottest market on the continent.

"We set up some meetings with Cooper Studios and some others," says Tom. "We flew to New York and they all said, 'Yeah, you could probably work here... but your gonna start at the bottom.' And we said, 'What's it cost to live in New York?'

'Oh, you won't live here... you'll take the train in from the suburbs.'

Anyway, I thought about it, we both did - we both had young families - and I didn't think I wanted to do that. Jerry was the same."

"What I learned from the experience is I'm really glad I decided to stay in Toronto. Canada might be a smaller pond, but a visual artist in Canada can have a longer career. In New York, you might make a lot of money for ten years, grinding out the same solution every day, with the same handing and the same concept and design... you get tired. And they just chuck you. And if you can't move on, prove that you can jump onto something new..."

"Some did, but the vast majority would just make money... and burn out.

In Canada, because of the small market, there was never any time when you would have so much work from any one client that you were that bored. It still could happen but not nearly as bad. They wanted to pigeon-hole you [in New York] because it made more money for everybody."

"That guy is really good at line drawing... well, they wouldn't bother him with anything but line drawing. And that was an efficient way to merchandise the talent."

"That's what I sensed New York was like."

This coming weekend will see the launch of "Tom McNeely, 50 Years of Visual Arts", a book showcasing work from every period in Tom's career. If you would like to order the book, you can contact the artist at fmcneely(at)rogers(dot)com

My Tom McNeely Flickr set.


  1. These pieces are just beautiful line work meshed it seems effortlessly with perfect color choices. The python piece I found striking and if I were the writer of the accompanying fiction, I'd have been in seventh heaven having such a striking visual accompany my story.

  2. Oh wow, that's funny - Jerry Sevier as an instructor of mine in my first year at OCA. For colour class if I recall.

  3. Thank you Leif for showing Tom McNeely's work. He is amazingly versatile, a quality that seems to by shared by other Canadian illustrators whose work you've featured. I too, like his line work very much. he can be fairly tight when it's needed as in the car ad but also wonderfully loose, as in my favorite piece, the Navy. His line work reminds me of that of Ken Dallison, a Canadian whose work I have admired for donkey's years. I like his comments about it having been for the best that he remained in Canada instead of starting in again in New York. Cooper's was a great place to start but but, as Tom points out, he probably wouldn't have become the versatile artist he is had he moved to NY. Thanks to you both!

  4. Way to go showcasing one of our own.

    But On a Completely Different Tack...
    I was suddenly reminded of those How and Why Wonder Books..remember them? Have you done any research on those or the illustrators...something to work on sometime.