Augustana Means Business: The Liberal Arts Helps Alumnus Draw the Eye of Apple and The New York Times

Kiel Mutchelknaus' Work Featured in The New York Times; October 2, 2020

Written by Senior Director of Alumni Engagement Joel Gackle

Among many others, Kiel Mutschelknaus ’07 has had his work featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and has illustrated for Apple. His successful career has been built on his inquisitive mind and passion for lifelong learning, fostered at Augustana. Mutschelknaus is a full-time faculty member at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He is also an artist, builder and businessman. This is a conversation about how he has forged his own path.

Q: What did your journey to Augustana look like?

A: I grew up in Brandon, (South Dakota), and wasn’t sure of my path for college. My parents both suggested Augustana as the place to begin, understanding the liberal arts would help me better discover my path. While I thought Augie might be my first stop, I kind of fell in love with Augie and realized it was the ideal choice for me.

Q: Did you arrive knowing you wanted to pursue a career in the arts?

A: I had taken some art courses in high school, but it wasn’t much of a priority and I didn’t consider myself to be an artsy kid. I took two drawing classes at Augustana, but thought I might pursue architecture. I was fortunate to shadow at an architecture firm and found it wasn’t what I had originally imagined, and I probably wouldn’t thrive. At the same time, I was taking a graphic design class. That class had me working on the computer to create artwork, and that was one of the key moments in creating a foundation for me. I completed my B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) in art with a minor in mathematics; both backgrounds have been useful in my career.

Q: Who are some professors who made an impact on your life?

A: Carl Grupp was my first drawing professor. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to take his class, since it was his final semester of teaching before he retired. Professors (Dr.) Lindsay Twa and Scott Parsons also made an impact in cultivating my skills as an artist. At the time, graphic design was new to me, and my Augustana courses allowed me to build some foundational skills. I also credit (Dr.) Murray Harr, and his courses for drawing me more deeply into questions of faith and humanity.

Q: How did your career begin after graduation?

A: Like many after graduation, I worked several non-career jobs to try to find my way. I was finally able to connect with a local agency that was building their company. I worked as a freelance artist, and finally, as their first in-house graphic designer. The company began to grow and eventually moved from Brandon, (South Dakota), to Sioux Falls, and I drew energy from my work, but I also wanted to continue to grow in other areas.

Q: What did your next chapter look like?

A: I had always thought I might go back to school, because I saw myself as a teacher. I found a program outside of Detroit, (Michigan) that really intrigued me. I completed a Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) from Cranbrook Academy of Art in design, and I really enjoyed it. 

Q: Were you able to find a teaching position?

A: After completing my M.F.A., my family and I moved to the (Washington), D.C., area, and I was fortunate to land a position with the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Q: You have built a successful freelance career; will  you share more about it?

A: I teach classes in motion graphics and design. In addition, the past year or two have been quite a dramatic shift in my areas of focus. I've been working on generative coding tools that have grown in popularity and offer some really exciting opportunities.

Q: Who are some of your biggest clients?

A: A couple years ago, I did an illustration for Apple, and that opened some doors. I have done some really cool work for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Having a continuous relationship with those companies has been super satisfying and rewarding. I recently did an advertisement for Ray-Ban.

Q: How has your Augustana education helped your career?

A: Augustana taught me how to be curious, and to continue to develop my knowledge. It taught me how to be open to new challenges. I never took a course in coding, but have been self-taught in most of the work that I do now. I credit Augustana for the mindset to feel comfortable tackling some of those challenges.

Q: How can people find your work?

A: I created a website, where users can interact with design elements. Also, most of my work can be found on Instagram @kiel.d.m.

Questions: Contact Joel Gackle, senior director of alumni engagement.

Media Inquiries: Contact Jill Wilson, public relations and communications strategist.