Nelson’s art all by design

Graphic designer showcases local clientele like Stubborn Brothers, Senzig’s
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Some folks may not know Adam Nelson, but the Shawano resident’s presence is undeniable in many of the places people go.

Those who go to Stubborn Brothers Brewery and order one of their specialty beers in a can, those cans are designed by Nelson. Advertisements for Senzig’s bear the mark of Nelson’s work. Anyone driving along state Highway 29 and seeing a billboard for North Country Homes is witnessing Nelson’s artistry.

“I’ve kind of been drawing since I was a kid, almost non-stop going through sketch books to where I was drawing on my parents’ walls at one point,” Nelson said. “I used crayons and stuff like that. Then I graduated high school from West in Green Bay and went to UW-Milwaukee and studied graphic design.”

Nelson noted he originally went to college for arts in general, but while there, he learned about graphic design and fell in love with it.

“I spent about seven years in Milwaukee,” Nelson said. “I graduated in four but then I got an agency job out of Milwaukee with SRH,” which is an abbreviation for Sabljak Ravenwood Hogerton.

During his time with SRH, Nelson worked with what he called “clean” design for hospital marketing campaigns. However, after two years with the company, in 2021, Nelson ventured out on his own as a freelance designer, and one year into that effort, his journey brought him to Shawano.

“My girlfriend has family here,” Nelson said. “She wanted to move closer to them, and they had a network of people. My girlfriend knew a lot of people here, so I figured why not come here? It was close to Green Bay, so I had all my friends from there, as well.”

Because of his girlfriend’s familial connections with Senzig’s, Nelson had the opportunity to design their online, television and print advertising, along with swag like can koozies that boast the company name, among other things.

“That got my foot in there,” Nelson said. “From there, they had their own network, so I got to know them just from being a part of their family.”

Because North Country Homes collaborates with Senzig’s, he reached out to the Bonduel company. At first, North Country needed a new website, so Nelson helped it improve its online presence.

“Then I kind of brought up the idea of rebranding, so we did that, as well,” he said.

The most unusual client acquisition story came when Nelson approached Aaron Gilling, one of the owners for Stubborn Brothers. He said he was dealing with severe sciatica pain at the time, which required him to use crutches to get around.

“I asked him, ‘Hey, can I do something for you guys?’ in my crutches,” Nelson said with a laugh. “I sat him down and had him look over some of my artwork. We started with one little project, and then we just went to a whole bunch of projects.”

That’s an understatement, as Nelson has designed the cans for over 50 different labels for the varieties of beer that Stubborn Brothers creates in its brewery in downtown Shawano, along with stickers and other varieties of advertisement, T-shirts, coasters and more.

“It keeps going up,” Nelson said. “It’s a lot of fun, a lot of illustration work, which I love to do.”

It takes about a month to two months sometimes for Nelson to come up with the perfect logo for a company as he tries to understand the companies he works with, what their mission and goals are, and what their vision is to attract more customers.

“I do plenty of research, and I do a lot of sketching,” Nelson said. “I fill books up with sketches. They’re all over the place. I do a lot of hand sketching along with some digital sketching. It helps a lot to get as many ideas out on paper as possible, because it just helps for me to get a good aerial view of everything I need to see and what stands out to me.”

Once Nelson finishes sketching, he incorporates his art into the computer and goes through digital versions with color.

Nelson loves working for himself, as opposed to being a link in a corporate chain. He said he likes being able to work with clients directly and develop designs for them from start to finish.

“It feels very freeing, but also there’s a lot more responsibility to it,” Nelson said. “At my agency job, what I didn’t like was that I wasn’t communicating with clients. I couldn’t talk to them directly because I was at the low end of the totem pole. I had an art director, who had to go through a creative director and then an accounts person to get to the client. All of that is now condensed to just me and the client.”

Even with all the work Nelson has dealing with local and out-of-area clients, there are some fun things he has been able to do with graphic design. He entered a contest to design a Wisconsin State Fair poster, crafting it by hand.

“I found out about the competition part about three days beforehand (the deadline),” Nelson said. “I really just put pen to paper and then just got going on it. It was a lot of fun, but unfortunately, I didn’t win. It was interesting seeing the winner of the competition looks similar compositionally to mine, which is kind of funny to me. I think it needed more cream puffs, because it was a big anniversary for cream puffs.”

After three years of being his own man, Nelson sees the potential for growth, even giving the public the chance to see what he’s been doing, which has mostly been done in the privacy of his home.

“I’m not sure what that means yet,” Nelson said. “I’ve always thought that having some kind of retail space would be cool. Expanding to some kind of third space here on Main Street or somewhere around here would be nice. I’m not sure what I’d do there yet. I’ve talked with my friends about, what if it was half coffee shop, half my agency or half art studio and half place where I would meet my clients. I’m not sure where it would go, which is kind of what I like about it.”


See more of Adam Nelson’s portfolio at