VSS Illustrator Interviews

In doing these interviews, we hope to give you a glimpse into our artist members' unique personalities, a new perspective on their wonderful work, and the opportunity to know what inspires them!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Scott Nelson

I'm excited to introduce Scott Nelson this week. His artwork is witty and fun and his characters are full of, well.... character! He has a couple of neat projects going on right now that you should definitely check out. Here'a a blog about the adventures of an original painting of Captain Claude De Mouse. captainclaudedemouse.wordpress.com 
Read the blog from the bottom to the top to get the full story.
Scott is also collaborating with Jannie Ho on a picture book about a daredevil chicken. You can watch the process as they figure out the book together! daredevilchicken.blogspot.com
How did you get started in illustration?
Like most artists start off saying, I honestly think I’ve been drawing something since I was roughly two years of age. Or basically the time one starts to color.  A bit later my older brother showed me how to draw Snoopy and within a few tries I’m told I was rendering a better beagle than my sibling instructor. When you’re young and horrible at baseball but adults are noticing what you’re creating, that’s a powerful motivator for a kid to keep at it. So a big thank you goes out to my brother for giving me direction so early in life.  I of course drew at home and attended lots of art classes while I went through public school. 
After graduating high school I then enrolled in a two year illustration intensive program that allowed me to literally draw Monday through Friday from 7:30am to 3:30pm!  I was in heaven. In 1987 the late great instructor Alex Gazonas was so sure that I was going to be a freelance illustrator and cartoonist, he actually took me studio shopping during our lunch hours. What a inspirational teacher he was for me! By age 19 I was already done school and up and running with my own business. I’ve never looked back. 

What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
Great question. When I first started illustrating professionally I used magic markers 100% of the time.  I’ve since swapped over to watercolors, inks, acrylic paint, gouache, colored pencils and now digital (specifically Corel using a Wacom tablet). Still haven’t mastered Photoshop and Illustrator but the nice thing about working as an artist exclusively is there is always time to be inspired by a new medium when I’m ready. Sometimes I do feel pressure to switch over now so my work has a “slicker” look. I recently lost a customer because I didn't create vector based art.  I just think I’ll switch when I want to. Not because I have to keep up with what everyone else is doing.  For now I still feel very fond of the time tested tactile experience of simply putting brush to paper. Had you asked me back in 1987 if I would be painting as much as I do; I’d have said “no way.”  Figured I’d be an “AD marker” artist the rest of my life.  So to go back to my actual process, often I will completely paint an image and that will be that.  Sometimes I paint an image and add to it digitally.  Finally sometimes I completely paint digital and never print it out.
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
Oh Yes!  I love to write.  Although I didn’t hang onto my stories from when I was a child, I believe I wrote numerous adventure novels. Think Rumble Fish, The Outsiders or Blubber but my characters were cats, dogs or bears.  I didn’t put much value in these stories at the time because nobody read them but me. I also never took a writing class and my English grades were at best a B-. I was just focused on becoming an artist and never correlated the two creative outlets as possibly needing to merge someday.  
Years later when my art studio was up and running, I learned pretty quickly that I could double my paycheck while creating greeting cards if I could also write them.  I’ve since written thousands and thousands of cards and have had hundreds of my jokes (gags) published.  The transition into the children’s book market was literally born because I really enjoy writing funny or whimsical cards. I can’t tell you how many book ideas started off as a card concept.  Had I known that my career would go this way during my Sophomore English class, I certainly would have tried to bump that B- to an A-

Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
Lets go back to the part of this interview in which I mentioned my time in art school. I was drawing every day from 7:30am to 3:30 and then doing art related homework. What I failed to mention is I’d often leave class and work at McDonalds from 4:00pm to 1:00am “almost” every night. Crazy hours! I believe it wasn’t until 1996 that I finally said, “I’d had enough” and gave my notice to the fast food industry for good. I’ve been drawing full time ever since.  Only my time as a teacher/art instructor slows down my studio hours these days.
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio?
I live and work in Millbury, Massachusetts. If you call my studio I try to tone down my Boston(actually Worcester) New England accent. Try as I might, I can never say “car” correctly.  It’ll always be “cah” to me.  As for my studio, my first studio location was on the 9th floor of an office building in downtown Worcester, MA. Imagine lots of lawyers, accountants and dental offices.  Then plunk a cartoonist’s office right in the middle of them all. It wasn’t creatively helpful location but I loved that environment anyway.  At the time it really helped me get my name out too.  In 1995 my son was born so I had two choices. Either go out of business so I could earn more income and provide daycare by hiring someone else to babysit him OR relocate to my home and be a work at home father.  I choose the second. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.  Sure, it had a few rough moments. Trying to hit deadlines and provide care for a newborn for example was very trying.  Yet so many great memories came from this experience and now that my son is 15, I can’t imagine my life being any other way. It’s truly been awesome and I recognize each day that I’m blessed.
Here's a video tour of Scott's studio!
Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
I attended a two year program at which we studied illustration, a bit of art history and photography. I loved my instructor and my time there was phenomenal. But this was the exact time computers were starting to be used by artists. I graduated and we literally hadn’t covered the direction the industry was heading. Thankfully they did provide internships though so while attending that school I worked at an add agency for one semester.  I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t for me. My next internship was at a caricaturist studio. I didn’t learn a lot as far as how to actually caricature but I did discover that the life of a freelancer seemed more cut out for me.  Once I opened my own studio it was a kind of a “learn as you go” experience from that point on. In fact back then there was no internet so just to get your name listed in the phone book took over six months.  Lots of looking at my drawing board twiddling my thumbs waiting for the phone to ring. Funny how things have changed.  You can open a business then social network to thousands in a matter of minutes.  Announce pretty quickly that you’re taking orders.
Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
I believe I’ve done freelance greeting cards for well over twenty card publishers.  The most recognizable names being Hallmark UK and American Greetings.  My largest customer for many years was Paramount Greeting Cards. They kept me busy for many years and I’m forever thankful to the opportunity they gave me.  At the time I started designing cards in 1993, they actually allowed me to learn how to draw cards while paying me.  Looking back, many of the first cards I submitted were dreadful.  Yet somehow they kept giving me work and I learned each time. Heck, I’m still learning. In addition to greeting card work I’ve also illustrated a handful of children’s books. The largest publisher being Golden Book’s for Children.  I’ve also author/illustrated a number of books too.  If you have a moment, please stop by WWW.ScottNelsonandSon.com  and look around. Lots of card and book samples to check out.  Once there you can also see the caricature and portrait work I do. Fun stuff!  Currently my largest book project is a collaborative effort I’m VERY excited about.  You can read all about it here…  http://daredevilchicken.blogspot.com
Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
I wouldn’t say that I have one favorite children’s book artist.  I love all books for what they offer. One book I might be floored by its color and line work while another I might be fascinated by the characters or plot. I like them all.  If I had to say which book inspired me the most though I’d have to say Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. As a youngster, I was fascinated by the fact a steam shovel could somehow be alive.  I was then equally terrified that once the foundation hole was dug in this story, they couldn’t get our hero out.  Even though it was published 72 years ago, I won’t spoil it for those who don’t know how the tale concludes. A great book with wonderful illustrations.
If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
SNOOPY!  I will always and forever love that character.
What inspires you?
Other artists inspire me.  I love humorous illustrations so when I see a style or a technique that jumps off the page for me I just love it.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Always wanted to be an artist. Never a doubt in my mind.  If I wasn’t going to be an artist I had hopes of being a motorcycle stuntman, a police officer or maybe an architect. And I’m not kidding about the motorcycle stuntman thing either.  OK sure, I didn’t own a motorcycle until I was 18 but I must have jumped my bicycle over everything and everybody in my town by age 12.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I race mountain bikes, ride dirt bikes with my son, surf, jog (have actually done a few marathons), coach my son’s soccer team, paint and spend as much time with my family as possible. I love my family!!

Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
Well it sounds simple enough but never give up.  There will be many bumps in the road along the way but that road is soooo worth traveling. Oh yes… market yourself, market yourself and then market yourself some more.
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
If it’s OK with you, I’d like to P.R. a little project I’m doing just for fun.  I recently sent an actual original children’s book painting out into the world with some simple instructions stuck to the back of its canvas board. My hope is that this image of a pirate cat will float all over the world and basically write its own story via the children and families it comes across. It could certainly disappear, be destroyed or thrown away but that’s part of the charm. Each time I get word that someone else has it, it’s like Christmas morning for me. Check out where it’s dropped anchor so far at  http://captainclaudedemouse.wordpress.com
Thank you for talking today! It’s been fun.  And oh yes..happy painting!


  1. Fantastic interview, Scott. I really enjoyed reading about your process, the progression from child artist to full blown freelancer and your absolute joy in creating your art. Thanks for sharing.

    PS... you would LOVE "Painter" by Corel.

    Have a happy painting day!

  2. Scott, your interview was so much fun to read! I usually don't get to finish...I really enjoyed it. And your art conveys the same spirit I felt throughout your words, someone who's happy! Thank you for sharing :)

  3. Your art has that bit of humor and hope I find so necessary in children illustration.

  4. I enjoyed reading your interview, Scott. Your illustrations are humorous and pure fun!