Seymour Schachter’s parents were from the old country. They told him he’d never make a living doing art.
Seymour loved to draw and paint. At 8 he won a national art contest — for adults. Yet when it was time for college, in 1978, and his parents said he could go to art school only if he paid for it himself, he ended up at Boston University’s school of business.
But he showed his artwork to the dean, who made a deal with his art school counterpart. They waived all business electives, so Seymour could take art courses.
After graduation he landed a high-paying job selling eyeglass frames around the world. It was a dream job — “for anyone else,” he says. Driving to an important meeting in France, all he wanted to do was paint the countryside.
He quit cold turkey — and got a job in a Hackensack mall art supply store. But he was so successful — doubling sales in 1 month — that he caught the eye of the chain store’s president.
Through a series of similarly fortuitous meetings, legendary creative director Hazel Spector asked him for a storyboard. He had no idea what a storyboard was — but he stayed up all night, and created a great one.
That led to more offers. One company requested 25 panels; they’d pay $40. Hey, it’s money, Seymour figured. He tried not to act surprised when he received $1,000 — $40 for each panel.
Continuity hired him as head artist. His 11 years there “were better than any art school,” he says. His work was critiqued by the best in the business.
Seymour’s ability to switch styles — from cartoons to superheroes to photo realism — proved invaluable. In 1995 he formed his own company, and never looked back. He crafted a career as an illustrator for Fortune 500 companies. He’s drawn national ads, and designed some of the most popular product labels in the world.
Subway, Pepsi, Fruity Pebbles, Tropicana, Arm & Hammer, Sierra Mist, Ragu, Skippy, Newman’s Own, Goldfish — all are Seymour Schachter clients, and Seymour’s artistic creations.
So was Joe Camel.
In 1984 — just 24 years old — his team drew the already-infamous cartoon character on cigarette tins and matchbox covers.
But Seymour felt conflicted. He called the American Cancer Society, and offering his services at a lower-than-usual rate. They asked him to draw posters.
“It was my way of balancing my conscience,” he says.
When his father died of a brain tumor, Seymour gave up doing cigarette ads altogether.
Eighteen years ago, Seymour and his wife Jamie began house-hunting. She worked in Milford, so they searched for someplace between there and New York City. Several friends suggested the “beautiful little artists’ community” of Westport.
They knew nothing about it. But they fell in love with the “nice beach, nice people and nice houses,” and bought a place off Cross Highway.
“We stumbled into an artists’ colony,” he says. He’s been busy ever since.
Seymour Schachter is a successor to earlier generations of Westport illustrators — men like Harold von Schmidt, Steven Dohanos, Hardie Gramatky, Bernie Fuchs and Howard Munce. For a century — starting in 1902 — they drew ads, book and magazine covers, product cans and boxes, putting this town on the international art map.
They even spawned a noted correspondence course, Famous Artists School, located where Save the Children is now.
In the last 20 years, computers and the internet have taken work away from illustrators. The world is changing in many ways, and commercial art has not been spared.
But, Seymour says, “for the few of us who can draw Flintstone characters standing around a Christmas tree, there’s still a lot of work. And this part of Connecticut is still the place to get work.
“I hope to remain an illustrator as long as I live.”