Artist Interview: Hannah Nelson

Who is Hannah Nelson?

I have never been a fan of tradition. I dropped out of high school to pursue art (I kid, though I did leave public school after ninth grade for online school for the purpose of sleeping in and having more time for art). I studied and received a bachelor’s degree in graphic design at Columbia College Chicago, and upon graduation started a small business, and what I like to refer to as a five-year-long art project, A Few Good Things. I jumped around mediums, creating and selling woven wall hangings, watercolor paintings, polymer clay jewelry, and digitally illustrated art and zines. As of December 2023 I closed my store to explore what my next stage as an artist is, and let me tell you, having no business constraints is quite exciting!

Image of Artist standing in yellow room next to shelves.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I want to describe my style as quirky, but I don’t want to be that person that calls themselves the quirky kid! Honestly, my style is ever-changing. I used to create very floral, boho work, but have also had some darker pieces as well. Color has been a big part of my style throughout all changes, and nature and food have been major themes as well. But in the end, with all the different art forms I have worked with, the style differs from piece to piece, which is a big reason I named my business what I did–I knew I couldn’t stick to one style or medium and needed the space to explore!


Can you walk us through your creative process from idea to finished piece?

I wish I had a true creative process, but it generally ends up happening organically, which is why I don’t have the most disciplined art practice. Usually, an idea sparks and it goes into the abyss I refer to as my phone’s notes app. That’s the first step. If something sticks in my brain after that, I generally obsess over the idea for weeks, maybe months, until the motivation comes to get it out of my brain and into the physical world. Half of these don’t work out and I cry or leave the half-finished piece in a corner somewhere (or sitting as a draft on my dinosaur of an iPad). If I still can’t get it out of my brain, I grudgingly finish the piece. If anyone tells you being an artist is glamorous, don’t believe them!

Image of watercolor painting of a plant leaf on top of yellow background.

What themes or concepts do you find yourself constantly exploring in your art?

Something I find myself coming back to is the theme of disability. As a person living (read: struggling) with a chronic illness, I long to pull the discomfort of that out of my body and put it into something meaningful, something with a message, or simply as a therapy. And being an artist is one of the only career options for me, because a traditional career is just not suited to work for people with disabilities, whether visible or invisible. While illness doesn’t define me, it’s always, always on my mind, weaving its way through any creative ideas I have.


Can you highlight 1 artwork of yours represented at our gallery and stories behind it? Are there any specific projects or collaborations that you are especially proud of?

I illustrated a zine called Chronically the Illest, and it was by far the project I am most proud of. When I would sell it at markets people would tell me their own stories of illness and disability or buy a copy for a loved one who might find it encouraging. It was a piece of art that created connections with so many people, and I had never felt so fulfilled by the impact my art has made.

Image of artist's zine Chronically the Illest

How do you see the role of art in society, and what responsibility do artists have in shaping cultural narratives?

Society is failing. The planet is dying. A genocide is occurring with the aid of this country I live in. And I have seen beautiful things being done by artists. Art purely for the sake of beauty is great! We need more beauty in our lives. But art is a powerful tool. Art can uplift and encourage. Art can make powerful statements. Art can be healing and bring comfort. I think artist’s do have a major responsibility for using their work to care for those who are marginalized, because artists have always lived in the margins. We document, depict, tell stories, and make statements. Art is powerful, and I think we as artists need to be incredibly intentional with how we create.


What are your short-term and long-term goals as an artist? 

Simply, I want to create more things that create connections and community. I want to share ideas that others might relate to and feel seen in. I am tired of creating things without soul.

Image of the inside of the zine Chronically the Illest

What emotions or experiences do you hope viewers connect with when they experience your art?

I am an avid reader, and there are a few things I feel when I’ve read a life changing book. And I want others to experience similar feelings with my own art. I want people to be confused, so they continually think about what they’ve seen and investigate the meaning (or meanings) behind the art. I want a strong emotion, whether that is sadness, anger, or joy. Like I want tears or laughter or a shriek. Something!


Do you have any rituals or routines that you follow before or during the creation of a new piece? How do you find inspiration in your daily life?

A big source of inspiration is being outside. I love to walk and listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook, and just let those sensations lead my mind to different places. The movement helps my brain narrow in on specific ideas that I can’t do when I’m staying still. Seeing animals enjoying nice weather, weird shaped branches, and even trash in the road all get my brain dancing and thinking about new ideas.

Image of Artist standing in booth behind her artwork for sale.

Back to blog