Chalk It Up to Talent

Jeff Nelson found a niche: filling in café, bar and restaurant chalkboard menus.
Jeff Nelson at SubText Books in downtown Saint Paul

Inside SubText Books in downtown Saint Paul, literary quotes travel along the walls just under the ceiling. Someone handwrote them—in blocky, bubbly or arabesque fonts—reaching up and pressing chalk to the ribbon-like chalkboard, one stick at a time.

At Golden’s Deli in Lowertown, the chalkboard menu features pastels. On West 7th, at Claddagh Coffee, someone inscribed the menu in neat, dusty rows.
This is business for Saint Paul illustrator Jeff Nelson. He has so far devoted half of his eight-year career to graphic design, ink work and murals. The other half? To the ephemeral medium of chalk.

Chalk is good for seasonally changing menus and quick murals, such as those Nelson draws for audiences at St. Paul Saints games in the summer. Chalk also inspired his online handle: Jephemera (“Jeff” + “ephemera”).

What makes the chalk look fashionable? “I think it’s an offshoot of the whole hand-lettering movement,” he says. “People have become much more fluent when it comes to good design in the past 10, 15 or even 20 years.” Looking around SubText, he notes, “We can pick out a few fonts or typefaces without really thinking. And people get so tuned into that clean look. But anyone can do something perfectly. It’s toying around with the imperfections that grab people’s eye.”

Check out Jeff Nelson’s work at his website or on Instagram.