Jeff Moores: Portrait Of An Illustrator

By Rich Armstrong

Jeff Moores turned his passion into a profession.

Noahs Ark illustrationJeff Moores has a bird's-eye view of Honeoye Lake, which inspired his whimsical Noah's Ark illustration. (Illustration: Jeff Moores)

When you've already settled on your career while still in kindergarten, it's safe to say you have a leg up on your classmates. Somewhere in the Pennsylvania city of Pittsburgh, sometime around 1963, young Jeff Moores was charting a course for making a living as an illustrator.

"I wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. I was always drawing doodles, and art was always my favorite subject," he explains.

Now 58, Moores has been a freelance illustrator his entire career. His whimsical style has been featured in books, advertising campaigns, and TV commercials for Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Burger King, and Xerox.

Being your own boss means making your own hours, so the married father of two carves out time to step outside his home on Honeoye Lake, south of Rochester, New York, to buzz around aboard the family's 21-foot Nautique wake boat.

Jeff Moores outside his home on Honeoye LakeJeff Moores outside his home on Honeoye Lake.

"It's a beautiful area known as the Finger Lakes Region, with mountains, wineries, waterfalls, and more," he says. "We actually had a boat picked out before we moved into our house, and I became hooked on water skiing."

As he became a water-sports enthusiast, it didn't take long for the creative cogs in his brain to produce a funny idea. "It sparked the idea of the Old Testament shipbuilder Noah water skiing during the great flood," Moores recalls. "I thought to myself, 'Just think, Noah could have water skied around the world!'" Moores' career started rolling in the wake of a failure, when at 15 he was turned down for a job at McDonald's. "I caught the entrepreneurial spirit early on with the encouragement of my dad," he says. He'd recently learned screen printing and decided to start a T-shirt printing business. His illustrations printed on shirts for his school teams brought in more money than the minimum wage he would have earned flipping burgers.

"I sold 300 shirts in 20 minutes!" he says. That startup carried him into college. He ended up at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. The school used one of his pieces as the theme for the school's advertising campaign — a humorous drawing of Parsons with a bunch of art students hanging out the windows and famous artists like Picasso, Van Gogh, and Monet with their masterpieces mixed in. An art director from McGraw-Hill spotted Moores' work and commissioned him for a large editorial job, beginning five years of "pounding the pavement" in Manhattan, peddling his portfolio in hopes of landing his next contract. He married his college sweetheart, Dawn, and both of their careers gradually blossomed.

"After about five years in the business, fax machines and FedEx allowed illustrators to live outside of New York, rather than needing to promote ourselves in person," he says. "Dawn and I always wanted to live near water. We were drawn to the Finger Lakes because we had family and friends in western New York. In 1988, we bought a house on Honeoye Lake and never left."

As a testament to his sense of whimsy, if you look closely at his illustrations, you can spot the critter character of Harri, who hides in most of his drawings. Moores has a website, findharri.com, where he sells most of his products. "I draw every day, even when I'm not on a deadline," he says. "Artists don't retire. It's fun to keep striving to be better." Away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, he embraces his life of boating amid "breathtaking" scenery. These days, he's into wake surfing. "I like it because you're not going too fast, so the wipeouts don't hurt," he says. "I also love peacefully kayaking around the lake. I feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the world." 

— Published: February/March 2018


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