Being a full time Bible illustrator is probably one of the rarest, if not THE rarest occupation on the surface of the planet! Keith Neely has been doing just that for the last 4 years and has kindly agreed to do an online interview with the 'Bible illustration blog'.
Keith lives in Indiana, U.S. with his wife Roberta. They have 5 grown children and 7 grandchildren, (with 2 more on the way!)
Keith and his team have almost completed 'The Illustrated ICB Bible' for U.S. publisher Thomas Nelson.
Keith, when did you start illustrating as a career?
After receiving my BFA from Art Center College of Design in CA in1972 I worked at Disney, Christian Brothers Visual Communication, an Advertising agency in Chicago, I even taught Advertising Illustration and Advertising Design at BIOLA College, La Mirada, CA. In 1981, I pretty much settled into Free Lance Illustration.
Is 'The Illustrated ICB Bible' completed, and how long have you been working on it?
We started in December 2003 and we should be finished in the summer of 2008.There will be 7,692 full color illustrations so it’s taking a little time. The 4 Gospels, Acts, Genesis and Exodus are out in individual paperbacks and the entire New Testament is out in hard cover.
7,692 pictures, Wow! That must be some kind of world record! Do you work alone or do you share the task?
I have some great talented people working with me. Dave Miles (firstname.lastname@example.org), and James Balkovek (email@example.com), who is doing all of the drawings for the Old Testament.
There are a lot of Illustrated Bibles out there, what makes your Bible different from the rest?
All the other Illustrated Bibles are actually selected stories, re-told, from the Bible. During the 35 years I’ve been illustrating Sunday school materiel, I often wondered why the actual and complete Bible wasn’t illustrated. I suppose publishers felt that actual scripture would be over a child’s head so they simplified it for them and left out the less exciting stories, which would make a Bible storybook too heavy for a child to carry around any way. I believe The Word of God speaks to children as well as adults and that God had a purpose for including the “less exciting” stories and that I shouldn’t take the responsibility of deciding what scriptures children should not see. Don’t hear me say the other Children’s Bibles don’t have their place; in fact I know God has been talking to kids though them for years (including me) and many of them are beautiful like Jeff Anderson’s “Graphic Bible”. So, in answer to your question, “The Illustrated ICB Bible” is the ONLY illustrated Bible. Your readers can see for themselves for FREE at: ThomasNelsonillustratedBIBLE.com
I came across 'the Gospel of John' on the web (ThomasNelsonillustratedBIBLE.com), and I noticed that there was no way to buy the book at that site. What is the purpose of the site then?
I wanted the Gospel to be available to kids, and adults, all over the world for FREE.Thomas Nelson, the publisher of 'The Illustrated ICB Bible' series, agreed to allow us to set up the site knowing that it would cost them sales for the same reason.
How long will it have taken you to complete 'The ICB Illustrated Bible'?
About 5 years.
You've already mentioned Jeff Anderson. What other Bible illustrators have inspired you over the years?
Michael Dudash ( www.cmdudash.com ) and Ron DiCianni ( www.tapestryproductions.com )
Does illustrating the Bible take up all your time, or are you working on other projects also?
I still do a few Sunday school jobs from time to time for old friends and I have some ideas for future projects but 95% of my time is dedicated to finishing this Bible.
Keith reads the Christmas story proof pages to the Grandkids, (below).
What do you find challenging when illustrating Bible stories?
Trying to find the balance between historic accuracy and perceived accuracy (what kids think is accurate because they have seen it in art for years). For example, Biblical people probably sat on pillows on the floor and ate at low tables (Roman style) or on the floor (eastern style) but we grew up seeing them sitting in a chair and eating at a table (Rembrandt style). So what is an Illustrator to do? You don’t want to confuse the Kids or draw attention away from what’s happening in the story and yet it should be accurate. The editor, the boss, will be happy to tell you what to do. When I’m the boss (a new experience for me) I go for perceived accuracy. After all, I’m doing the Bible not a history book. If something is going to suffer, I would rather it be Historical truth, not God’s Spiritual truth. It’s too bad there is a conflict at all.
What advice would you give to other Bible illustrators?
Hang in there! If anything should be illustrated (made more clear and understandable), it’s God’s word. A photograph of a model just doesn’t work because it doesn’t allow for your imagination to make an illustration of a person, actually that person instead of the model. So there will always be a need for Biblical Illustrators.
Keith, many thanks for your time!
Above images are © Keith Neely/ Thomas Nelson 2007
Interview with Jeff Anderson
Interview with Diana Shimon
Interview with Dr Leen Ritmeyer