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Harvesting Creative Inspiration: On the Farm With Graphic Designer Keith Neltner

Posted by Doug White on Thu, Oct 24, 2013 @ 04:32 AM

Keith NeltnerHobbies. Pastimes. Passion projects. Whatever you call them, having interests that are unrelated or only loosely connected to your job can increase your happiness and boost your creativity.

In fact, according to a survey by The Creative Group, more than two-thirds of creative executives said employees who are passionate about interests outside the office typically perform better on the job. 

For Keith Neltner, that outside interest is truly, well, an "outside" interest.

By day, he leads the design and branding firm Neltner Small Batch from a gambrel-style studio in bucolic Camp Springs, Kentucky. He's an illustrator, graphic designer and documentarian, whose clients include big-name global brands, beer makers and rock stars seeking album art or concert posters. Neltner is best known for his hand-touched artistic style.

But during his off-hours, he can often be found in the nearby fields of Neltner's Farm. "I've been involved in our family farm since I was a little kid and the land has been in our family since 1857," Neltner says. "It has a strong emotional pull for me and has heavily influenced my aesthetic and shaped my work ethic."

Whether he's helping his brothers Kevin (who runs the 50-acre farm) and Rick plant crops or haul produce to a farmers market, Neltner says the physically demanding work can provide some much-need perspective. "Farming is the polar opposite of what a creative professional normally does," Neltner says. "When I have a 'really hard day' with deadlines, doing physical work on the farm reminds me the space I'm in isn't so difficult. It makes you buck up and count your blessings."

The farm also helps Neltner harvest ideas. At dusk, he'll take photographs or capture images in his mind that inform and influence his creative work. "I'll walk around the buildings or barns and see something in a different way," he says. "It could be a texture, a light, a color palette or one of the old tables my dad made by hand. I really appreciate it all, and I never fully shut off the creative part."

"I'm fortunate right now to surround myself with my family, my work and the rural backdrop we live in," Neltner continues. "It allows me to focus on the craft of creating honest creative work – and with any hope, we're creating artifacts of our time here."

Here's a look at the farm and Neltner's distinctively distilled design work:

Neltner_Farm

A view of Neltner's Farm, a scenic and soulful place where graphic designer Keith Neltner draws creative inspiration when he's not in the office. "Everyone now is so preoccupied that we lose sight of what's around us," Neltner says. "It sounds silly but I really pay attention to things, even the clouds. I'm teaching my kids to look at all that's around them."

KeithNeltner_fest

In addition to sweat equity, Neltner has used his connections, creativity and branding expertise to help expand the farm's offerings. The farm is home to wildly popular fall festivals every weekend in October, complete with a pumpkin patch, corn maze, live music, local artisans and more. The farm also hosts weddings and corporate retreats. 

Keith_Neltner_grandpa

The 50-acre farm has been in the Neltner family since 1857. This is a photo of Keith's grandfather, Lawrence Neltner.

Keith_Neltner_Tillers

Neltner's hand-rendered illustration for the vinyl record packaging for the band The Tillers.

Keith_Neltner_Hank

Neltner's fine-art, limited-edition print titled "Repent" features the image of Hank Williams. Neltner has worked closely on various projects with Hank Williams III as well as Shooter Jennings. 

Topics: Creativity, Eye Candy, Design