Jeff Troldahl is a man of many talents. An illustrator, painter, graphic designer and builder, he spends the better part of his waking hours on a variety of artistic projects. No two of Troldahl’s work days look the same. Perhaps the title “artist” best encompasses his wide-ranging skillset. Though it’s not necessarily easy, Troldahl says the life of a professional artist suits him well, and he has a hard time imagining a more fulfilling career.
A born and bred Minnesotan, Troldahl grew up in Edina, where he still lives today—in fact, he and his wife moved into his childhood home four years ago. From the time he was a boy, Troldahl says, he wanted to be an artist. Some of his earliest memories include attending classes at the Edina Art Center, which his mother enrolled him in to foster his budding artistic talent. He says he was lucky to have grown up with parents who displayed such enthusiasm and encouragement for his interest in the arts. “They were over supportive,” he says, joking.
“I also had dreams of being a guitarist and a musician when I was younger, and my mom nicely sat me down and asked me if I was more interested in guitar or in drawing. I chose drawing, and that kind of came down to me thinking that I might get the chance to be in more bands if I was drawing albums for them,” he says. “My mom had me in the Edina Arts Center, and I was constantly getting art supplies as gifts for different holidays. … Both of my parents were very, very supportive, especially considering that when I grew up, there wasn’t a huge art program in Edina. It’s getting much bigger now, but it was very good of my mother to back me up on that, because I don’t know where else I would’ve gone.”
After graduating from Edina High School, Troldahl attended Hennepin Tech and then the College of Associated Arts in St. Paul, receiving a B.F.A. in 1993. He then spent several years as an art director for the Musicland Group, but he eventually realized that he’d prefer the freedom of freelancing. Since 1999, he has worked as a full-time freelance artist and completed an astonishingly wide range of projects—paintings, murals, business logos and more.
Among Troldahl’s most successful lines of work are music merchandise—think posters, CDs, T-shirts and the like. He’s done art for some of the music industry’s most well-known names, including Hootie & the Blowfish, Cheap Trick, Jonny Lang, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band. The Link Foundation, a nonprofit organization Troldahl started, also keeps him busy. “We recycle bicycle chains and use them to make charms and bracelets, which we supply to other charities for fundraising,” he says. It’s a labor of love—Troldahl doesn’t make any money from it—but it’s fulfilling all the same. “I work with a lot of kids in the BMX scene and try to get them to realize that charity is cool and helping other people is cool,” he says.
Since Troldahl also taught in the art department at Hennepin Technical Community College, he knows many young aspiring artists with whom he shares the insight he’s gained over his nearly 20 years of experience.
“My best advice is to just stick with it. It’s not easy, and the work is not consistent … It’s one of those things that you’ve got to stick out through thick and thin. When it’s dead, it’s dead, but when it’s good, it’s great,” he says.