A farm boy from Barnstead, New Hampshire turned skate enthusiast at a young age, Providence artist Jeff Wheeler grew up watching peak 90s Nickelodeon shows and playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. He’s got a weird, twisted sense of humor- you might not know it at first glance because Jeff is warm, friendly, and kind. He’s the kind of dude you’d like to grab a six pack with and go fishing down at the local watering hole. Just make sure you bring your board…
When I call Jeff, he says he’s been listening to comedian Tom Segura’s podcast “Your Mom’s House.” While I’d never heard of the podcast, I’m very familiar with Segura and we share about our mutual taste in comedy. Right away I can tell this will be a good conversation.
JL: Hey Jeff. Tell me a little about your story, when did you begin illustrating?
JW: I started drawing when I was really really young. It sounds wack, but I pretty much started as soon as I could pick up a pencil. My grandma was a really good artist, she was very creative, and she was really good at drawing people. So she’d always draw my favorite characters from movies and I would sit and draw with her. That’s what first got me sparked on it. And then I just never stopped. I got into all the weird Nickelodeon shows like “Ah, Real Monsters” and “Courage the Cowardly Dog.” I just really liked weird shit, so I started drawing a lot of weird shit. And haven’t really stopped I guess.
JL: So you’d say your grandmother was your big inspiration to start- what about some others?
JW: Once I started skateboarding, that’s when I got consumed with that kind of culture. Skate art, for me, was the pinnacle of illustration and design and it was the only kind of stuff I wanted to draw. That marked a moment in my life when I really decided what was cool and what I liked about artwork – when I started seeing artists like Jim Philips and Sean Cliver and Mark McKee and Pushead and all of those skateboard artists. Those guys really shaped my interest in what I wanted to do.
JL: And when did you start skateboarding?
JW: When I was 11. My father’s a farmer in the middle of nowhere in NH, so I wasn’t near the culture at all. But I remember the first game I got was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. Before the game, before you’d start skating, they always showed all the pros and their footage. That’s when I was like “Oh yeah… awh yes!”
JL: Oh man, I think I watched the Rodney Mullen video I don’t know how many times…
JW: Yes, dude! That was my shit. Rodney Mullen was a big inspiration for me. I lived in the middle of nowhere – all I had was a driveway – I didn’t have ledges or drops or anything…I was just skating flat ground. So with Rodney Mullen being a freestyle skateboarder as well as a street skateboarder, I could try to emulate what he was doing just on my parents driveway – I didn’t need anything else.
JL: You recently did some work for Thrasher right? That must have been a dream come true…
JW: Yeah that really was. So last year (2018) around the summer I did a comic and I submitted it to them and it got in! And that was the first experience where I was really stoked on what I was doing because, growing up, Thrasher was what I really cared about the most. I was subscribed to all the skate magazines back then but Thrasher is the one I still get. So I was just really stoked on getting my comic in there.
JL: Absolutely – it must feel like you’re giving the 11 year old you a high-five?.
JW: That’s what I say. For everything, if you’re doing things that make a younger version of yourself stoked – then you’re probably doing it right. So yeah Thrasher was definitely one of those moments. And then I got a canvas section in the July issue this year. If you’re not familiar with the magazine, it’s this two-page spread dedicated to a single artist’s work. They actually asked me to submit about two years ago and never heard back until I opened up the July issue and it was just there!
JL: Let’s talk about the Wheeler’s Day Off patch you did for Hungry Ghost Press. If I can be personal, it gave me a sense of nostalgia, like I was back in southern Indiana with my Grandpa fishing on the lake! Is there a story behind it?
JW: So that’s pretty spot on. Growing up in a small town, that’s how my dad and I spent time together, going fishing. Obviously I wasn’t drinking any beers back then, but he and his friends would while fishing and it’s just the perfect marriage – beer and fishing! Now that I’m older I like to draw things that bring me to a place of relaxation and that’s definitely one of the things. And I thought how can I merge the two? So I did this bass popping up out of the lake with a mug of beer and I just thought it was this cool little illustration. I’m glad it made you feel the same way – the nostalgia.
JL: Absolutely. When HGP asked me which Made By piece I wanted to do an interview on, yours was the first thing that came to mind. It just opens up that world of nostalgia, looks like a sign that you’d see hanging off a dive bar in some Wisconsin lake town.
JW: Totally and I really love those sort of nautical t-shirts people buy on vacation. It’s funny, my girlfriend and I went up to Pittsburg, NH recently and they’ve got a bunch of gift shops up there and I just love all of those designs – they get me really inspired to make that shit.
JL: Do you have anything new planned with HGP in the future?
JW: Yeah, actually Chris was talking about another design. He’s shooting for September. I made a gif of this guy with a split open head and blood shooting out and Chris was talking about making a design out of that. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to talk about that actually… I mean anyway, I’m local, so I’m sure we’ll get together on something again soon!
JL: Well besides that, what kind of art do you have planned for yourself?
JW: I’ve got kind of a lot coming up. So, I started freelancing in 2016 – I work at a screen printing place too and all my time I’m not there I spend freelancing. And for a while I was just never saying “no” and I’m to the point now where I know what I do and do not what to do, so moving forward I’m doing just what I want to do. Like more skateboard stuff. I work for a lot of local New England companies, so where I’d like to be is maybe doing some more West Coast brands and stuff like that – just be more involved in the skate community. I’d love to do more apparel, maybe work on my own designs. The screen printing job sort of allows me to print my own stuff off and I actually just put my third design up on my shop.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!