What do a dragon, “Blonde” by Frank Ocean, and nature walks have in common? These elements help shape one artist’s grand narrative: The reflective and nostalgic storyboard of Michael Iver Jacobsen.
Michael’s interest in art ignited at an early age. “Drawing and painting was something that clicked for me,” he recalls. “My mom claims I started drawing recognizable images when I was two. My first art memory would be her drawing a dragon. And by mimicking that dragon, I found my first subject matter, which led to dinosaurs, then to birds, and then to football players.”
Jacobsen took his innate drawing skills to the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. And in 2002, as a fresh-faced college grad, he applied his illustration degree as a caricature artist at Valleyfair. After two summers sketching faces, he transitioned to being a sales associate at Art Materials.
From 2004 to 2012, Michael worked outside of the art world at the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, doing all sorts of tasks—from loading and unloading bags on the ramp to de-icing planes in the wintertime. While he kept the job for its health benefits, illustrating never soared far from his mind. He continued to pursue illustration projects, such as learning the ins and outs of design mockups and storyboards by occasionally assisting established illustrator Tom Fluharty.
“I had a good schedule where I did 40 hours or close to it in three days, giving me time to do art, but it was still 40 hours that I wasn’t pursuing my career,” Jacobsen says. That is, until 2013, when he took the jump into freelancing. He describes his style as the combination of a draftsman with the loose, rhythmic gestures of an impatient artist. It’s landed him such clients as Men’s Health Magazine, Mental Floss, Summit Brewing, Flat Earth Brewing, and Heimie’s Haberdashery.
“The simple answer as to why I enjoy illustration is that I can make a living drawing,” Jacobsen says. “My favorite part—and often the most stressful part—of illustrating something is coming up with an idea or concept. That’s the part for me where most of the overall decisions are made for the structure and tone of the project.”
For this conservation-themed issue, Michael tackled the terrain of the magazine’s features. Toggling with thoughts of foraging, goats, and national parks—all while listening to Frank Ocean’s album “Blonde,” tunes by Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, and the podcast “Pod Save America”—his artistic ideas eventually led him to one of his favorite childhood folk stories: “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” While crediting the Norwegian fairy tale’s drawings as part of the cover’s inspiration, Jacobsen also recognized an applicable modern-day analogy. “I think that the current political climate also (subconsciously) helped generate this particular idea as well,” Jacobsen reflects. “Something about a family in search of food and greener pastures, being confronted by a troll, seemed relevant.”
Jacobsen plans to continue building his illustrating career, which may include constructing a picture book of sorts. He notes “illustrating is my thing and I don’t see that changing,” but his narrative includes other noteworthy scenes besides illustration. “I have a three-and-a-half year-old daughter who is a fiery ball of cute and fussiness that I like to dote on,” says Jacobsen. “I’m also a vistas man, so there’s a visual element that I enjoy while being outside. I enjoy the exercise of going for a walk or run with my dog. Forcing the family out for nature walks is just a nice way to spend time with everyone.”