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May 02, 2012 | 08:06 AMHe never really left Lake Geneva.
He went to school out west, enamored by childhood dreams.
He works in a big city now, but doesn't like it as much as his hometown.
Neal Aspinall's heart is still here, and so is his art.
He graduated from Badger High School in 1982, and recently his plaque went up alongside others on the school's Wall of Success.
"It was a surprise," he said, "Some of the people up there are pretty famous."
Aspinall sounded a bit amazed that he belonged there, but his resume says he does.
He didn't look the part of the artist when he showed up for the Wall of Success ceremony recently. He wore a white shirt, a conservative tie and a dark suit.
Looks can be deceiving, but art tells the truth.
And one of the truths of Neal Aspinall is that he loves Lake Geneva.
"I'd love to move back there," he said. "I've learned I don't like big city life."
Aspinall comes back home often, and his illustrations are familiar to many who buy art in Lake Geneva.
When it comes to his illustrations, he obviously still has a foot here and part of his creative mind.
But Lake Geneva's most famous illustrator has also been the creator of other familiar artwork. He's worked for a diverse group of clients, from Dell and Bank of America to Harley and Backpacker Magazine. He's done illustrations for Coke, Scholastic, LA Marathon, Nordstrom, Macy's, Bass Ale, Facebook and the National Park Service. (For a full list, see his website, nealaspinall.com/)
Like any distinctive artist, his work is immediately identifiable. He's a déjà vu artist, a time magician. His images look like they're from a wistful time where there were no sharp edges, and the only colors were those found in dreams.
While at Badger, Aspinall was on the golf and diving teams. He was president of the local JuniorAchievement chapter. And, not surprisingly, he won accolades for his art.
After high school he went to the Art Institute of Colorado in Denver. His westward journey was fueled in part by memories of childhood trips.
"It was the time of Grizzly Adams," Aspinall said. "And I loved the mountains."
But the art school he attended was located in Denver, and it was his first time in a big city. "I wanted to move back," he admits.
But Aspinall stayed and was eventually inducted into their Hall of Fame.
While he was out there, he also was chosen to do illustrations for the Coors Brewing Co. His early clients included companies such as Kimberly Clark, Kohler, Miller and the Wisconsin State Fair.
Aspinall calls his art art "retro Americana pre-1960s."
"There's something about that time that people are wishing for these days," he said.
That spirit is evident in many of Aspinall's local illustrations. He's designed logos and posters for the Black Point Historic Preserve, Water Safety Patrol, Lake Geneva Antique and Classic Boat Show, Grand Geneva, Friends of Big Foot Beach, Geneva Lake Museum and the Lake Geneva Fat Tire Tour, Chuck's Lakeshore Inn and the annual Lake Geneva Visitor's Guide.
He develops his concepts with pencil. Then he scans the draft and does the final full color art using Adobe Illustrator.
Aspinall currently lives in Wauwatosa because being closer to a large city is seen as one of the musts for a successful artist.
He's married and has three children. His 11-year-old daughter has the art bug, too, he said.
Aspinall's family obviously keeps him busy. Our e-mail exchanges were interspersed with trips to soccer games. When there is spare time, he enjoys Frisbee and ping pong.
Aspinall still comes home often, and someday wants to move back where it all began.