Coming from a background in graphic design, Patrick Nelson has been a full-time collage artist for several years. He sells his work online, in galleries and in curated shops. In 2020, he participated in the De Young Open in San Francisco, a juried community art exhibition. In June of this year, he announced that he was joining the artist roster of the California-based Aerena Galleries.
Describing his art, Patrick says, “I construct graphic, timeless images from hand-colored newspaper clippings, juxtaposing modern designs with vintage media. The results are textural snapshots of our collective memory that encourage viewers to take a closer look.
“My work is somewhere between collage and mixed media,” he continues. “Having said that, I believe they read more like an illustration or a painting than a collage. Because I’m using paper as one would use a paintbrush, using smaller pieces to create a larger, definitive image. “
So how did he go from graphic design to collage? “After getting my BFA at Cal Poly, I spent ten years in the graphic design and advertising industry,” he recalls. “I’ve worked with a handful of creative agencies based in San Francisco, mostly in the area of branding and identity, on a range of businesses from small tech start-ups to bars and restaurants. to the SF Giants and Virgin Airlines.” Then, around 2017, he started experimenting with mixed media, using vintage magazines and cards found at antique shops.
“In a short time, I developed a distinct style and made artwork alongside my career as a designer for a few years,” he explains. “Then the pandemic spread and I took advantage of it. In mid-2020, I took the plunge and started a full-time artistic career.
“It was a pandemic story doing good,” he adds, “pushing a passionate hobby into a professional career as the availability of indie design slowed. After a year of producing and selling regular artwork, it was clear to me I had to make the switch and found a bigger live work studio in Sausalito, CA.”
His background in graphic design had a major influence on his style, medium and process, he adds. “In this industry, I was constantly researching old graphics and fonts and bringing them to life in new ways,” says Patrick. “I learned how to create visuals using the sum of many parts, which eventually led me to the mixed medium I have today.
“Also, I’ve always had an obsession with vintage graphics and artifacts. I collected vintage relics long before I knew I would use them in the artwork. Wandering around these old shops to find ‘new’ material is one of my favorite and most inspiring parts of my process.”
So what’s in the old newspapers he loves so much? “Years ago,” he replies, “when newspapers weren’t yet awash with photographs, they consisted of large monochrome illustrations, stylized typefaces and funky layouts. The graphic limitations of this era in the newspaper industry have resulted in an aesthetic yet expressive design.
“These eclectic graphics play an important role in balancing the streamlined approach I take in my style of illustration. It gives texture and vibrancy to the artwork. Much like a painter would create with their brushstrokes, I uses content from old newspapers.
“There is a level of interest on many levels. I can admire the dated design aesthetic while enjoying the historical content. For example, while I understand how cheap televisions were in the 1940s, I uses expressive typography in this ad to accentuate a woman’s face.”
For Patrick, there is a sense of truth in creating images from old news articles and advertisements. “For me, this detail represents the texture of society; viewers can feel this sense of history frozen in time,” he explains. “We are, after all, made up of the memories and lessons of our past. A person takes the titles, stories and advertisements, experiences them in the context of the collage as a whole, and makes connections between the two.”
Many designers would like to become full-time artists, but getting your work known can often be the biggest challenge. For Patrick, social media has been the most useful tool in this regard.
“When I started, nobody knew who I was except a handful of graphic designers,” he recalls. “So I did what most new artists do these days: I posted, showed up on other accounts, ran a few paid promotions, and tried to keep the momentum going. until I have enough followers to make my social media efforts newsworthy.”
But that was not all. “Besides social media, I also participated in several art festivals, solo pop-ups, open studios and curated exhibitions,” he adds. “Plus, I’ve been featured in a few local magazines. Looking back, The de Young Open in 2020 was probably the most notable of my efforts as an emerging artist.”
And he continues to grow and evolve his practice today. “I’m currently working on introducing acrylic into my artwork,” he says. “I’ve noticed that it heightens the prominence of newspaper sections when surrounded by calmer blocks of color. I also work in pure acrylic on canvas. It’s been very enlightening for someone who worked only with paper from the start. I feel like I’m going back to school and waking up dormant parts of my creative brain.”