I recently had the chance to sit down with Jeff and ask him a few questions.

An All-Too Short Interview With Illustrator Jeff Nelson

By Jeff Nelson

Jeff 1) An interview with yourself. Isn't that a bit clever, or even gimmicky? Especially considering that the sole purpose of this website is to convince people that you are the right illustrator or artist for the job?

Jeff 2) It is "clever" and yes, "gimmicky," but when you say it like that, like you're smelling milk that's turned, you make it seem like clever and gimmicky are bad things. Most of the things I draw inspiration from are clever and gimmicky. It's readily apparent to anybody with eyes that I am from the More-Is-Awesome school. There are artists and designers in the world that deliver clean, sparse design. I am the Transylvanian flea market to their Ikea. Both looks have their place; too much of either should drive a person mad.

J1) OK, cowboy: we get it. You brought up inspiration. Where do you get your inspiration from?

J2) I like old, busy things. Circus posters, stock certificates, Italian fruit wrappers, WPA prints, foreign currency, stamps, any kind of old labels, maps...

J1) Let me stop you at maps.

J2) Please do.

J1) It's obvious that you do a lot of hand-lettering, sign painting, and chalkboard work, but what is this obsession with maps?

J2) My grandfather had a lifetime subscription to National Geographic. He would keep all of the maps separate from magazines. I would pour over those maps for hours. I would trace them with tracing paper and when I was tired of drawing, I would read them like books. Nothing kindles more imagination, wanderlust, and whimsy than a map. There's just the right mix of information given and information withheld.

J1) You're known for, as you put it, "real maps of fake places." What does that mean?

J2) I think that's actually pretty clear, don't you?

J1) Fair enough. Do you draw maps of real places?

J2) Yes, but only if it can be done in a way that shakes things up a bit.

J1) Let's go back to your lettering and chalkboard work. I see a lot of your work in restaurants, coffee shops, bars, pubs, breweries, bakeries, and other public places. How does one fall into that line of work?

J2) I worked at a number of food service jobs over the years and whenever a sign or chalkboard needed to be done, I would drop whatever I was doing and work on the sign, which was great for an expanding portfolio, but detrimental to my continued success in the hospitality industry.

J1) Where else can we see your work -- out in the world?

J2) The hand-lettering/illustration hybrid stuff I do lends itself to a lot of outlets. I've done everything from magazine covers, book art, beer labels, and murals to tattoos and birth announcements.

J1) Quite a range. Can you reassure the readers out there that you play well with others, considering you just conducted an interview with yourself?

J2) [Monotone trance voice] I play well with others.

J1) Well, thank you for your time -- and for the tea. I didn't think you were a "tea" guy.

J2) I'm not. I drink coffee.


Jeff Nelson is an artist and illustrator who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with his wife, three children, and a crayfish named Dynamite.

If you have any questions at all regarding projects or pricing, you can reach Jeff (me) at


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