Born and raised in Tempe, Arizona, Nelson studied to be an architect earning a degree from Arizona State University. After practicing for 15 years, during which time he owned a successful firm and won numerous awards, Nelson made the pivotal decision to leave the field in 1980 to pursue his dream of becoming a full-time artist.
Nelson credits his life-long love of both art and math with his dual-career path of architecture and fine art. His mother, a painter herself, was his earliest influence. As a teenager in the “psychedelic ‘60s”, the only art posters his mother allowed Nelson to hang in his bedroom where those he painted himself.
Later, as an architecture student he had time for very few electives. The first one he chose was a watercolor course with a much-admired professor of architecture who Nelson says painted like “magic.” Discouraged by not painting as well as his teacher, he effectively gave up and stayed focused on architecture.
Years later, however, the burning desire to paint returned and he resumed watercolor classes, this time with a higher degree of dedication and more realistic goals. It was during this phase of training when Nelson developed his signature style which he credits most to the principle of “gestalt.”
At the same time Nelson became increasingly disillusioned with architecture and the increasing business demands of owning his firm. Finally, in 1980, he and his wife made the decision to make a major lifestyle change and move their family, including the seven children, to Northern Idaho.
One of Nelson’s goals was to paint full time, however, he knew he would have to sell some works to justify his time. He got his art represented by several Scottsdale galleries by showing his work door-to-door. Within two weeks, two of his paintings sold. Since then, some of the leading galleries in the U.S. have sought to represent his work, recognizing his unique combination of incredible detail and big, bold and graphic images.
Nelson’s work is in collections across the United States including the Whitney Museum of Western Art, Cody, Wyoming, the Coca Cola Company and the Dallas Cowboys NFL football team.