Pioneer Spotlight: Greg Nelson

I love working with the students. Each class is different and creates a unique setting for discussion, new interpretations of assignments and exchanging ideas.”
- Greg Nelson, associate professor of art in graphic design and coordinator of Art Program, UW-Platteville

From the moment Greg Nelson began teaching studio art courses in graphic design and printmaking at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in August 2002, his goal has been to share his experiences and knowledge of the industry with his students to help them succeed. He loves providing students with hands-on learning opportunities that help them grow creatively as well as gain knowledge and skills that make them more marketable to future employers.

Nelson studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and a master’s degree from Syracuse University in New York. His professional career includes working in numerous capacities of the graphic design, illustration and fine art fields.

His graphic design career has included stints in printing shops, advertising, design and print management, part of an in-house corporate design team with Aveda Corporation in Minneapolis, owning his own design firm, and most recently: freelance work. This has provided a vast range of experiences from traditional cut-and-paste production to web design and app development for emerging technologies.

His freelance design work – for which he has won awards from the American Advertising Federation – includes traditional print, multimedia, application development and web-based projects for both local and national clients. His illustration career includes being published in regional and national publications, selling stock illustrations, maintaining an online retail shop and working for various national corporate clients, including two lines of greeting cards published internationally. He has also exhibited and sold his paintings in galleries, including the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Minnesota and a solo show at the Rocco Buda Gallery in Dubuque, Iowa.

Why is the study of fine arts so important?

The fine arts are extremely valuable to our daily lives. The arts impact and influence us on a continual basis. Everything that we engage with, including the clothes that we wear, the homes we live in and how we decorate them, the shows we watch (television, film, animation, theatre, etc.), the books that we read, and all visual aspects of our culture, have elements of the fine arts.

Students engaged with the visual arts engage in the hands-on, tactile, experiential learning that moves beyond the theoretical. To manipulate clay or to watch an image come to life with pencil or paint is something that engages an important part of our brains and enhances our lives on many levels.

What impresses you most about your students?

Most of our students are genuinely curious and eager to learn. Their willingness to experiment with new approaches to given situations and assignments as well as their ability to reach creative solutions is always impressive.

What hands-on learning experiences will your students have this spring?

Graphic design students will once again be working on their community-based projects. For example, students enrolled in the Graphic Design 4 course will work with an outside, nonprofit organization to assist with their design and visual communication needs. Students will identify a local nonprofit group that has significance for them and work with their organization to develop a design proposal and execute a series of projects. This project is an excellent opportunity for students to work with a client outside of the classroom and to develop a strong body of work for their professional portfolios.

How have your professional, graphic design and freelance careers informed your teaching?

I am able to bring my experiences and projects directly into the classroom. I enjoy being able to share experiences with clients and situations with projects directly with the students. I have been fortunate to have a very wide range of experiences and these experiences help to give direction to projects in the classroom.

How do you hope the artwork you create changes, impacts or inspires others?

I spend a lot of my time outside the classroom working on projects. I enjoy creating new artwork, learning new techniques and honing my skills. Most of my current work falls into one of two categories. I enjoy creating pieces that could appeal to anyone. It might be a piece inspired by some of my travel; it could be something for kids; or it might bring a moment of joy. Secondly, I enjoy creating portraits that are stylized and might make a bit of a subtle statement or have a slight edge or wit about them.

I also enjoy spending time outdoors hiking or canoeing and I love to travel to experience new places and cultures as well as revisit some of my favorite locations.