Gregory Manchess | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Gregory Manchess

Portrait of Gregory Manchess


BFA, Minneapolis College of Art and Design
Current Career
Award-Winning Painter; Freelance Illustrator

MCAD graduates have global impact, but award-winning illustrator Gregory Manchess ’77 may be the first alum whose artwork has actually made it all the way to outer space. 

A serious science fiction fan who graduated from MCAD the year Star Wars was released, Manchess has recently been fulfilling a few of his boyhood dreams by designing the mission patches for several recent NASA and SpaceX partner expeditions to the International Space Station. “I love to look at this design and think this baby has been around the world 2,600 times,” he says. “It boggles the mind.”

Manchess’s mission patches are just the latest footnote in a four-decade career that’s included everything from cover images and artwork for The Atlantic and National Geographic, to postage stamps and presidential portraits throughout the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. He’s designed ad campaigns and alcohol labels, authored his own graphic novel, and illustrated lavish collectors’ editions of such classic novels as The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Sun Also Rises. He even painted the artwork at the heart of the Coen brothers’ Ballad of Buster Scruggs

It’s a diverse portfolio, but Manchess says the common denominator that always draws him in is a good story. “It’s taken a lot of my career to figure it out, but it’s always about the storytelling,” he says. “If I can get you curious to know more with the impact of just one image, then I’ve succeeded.” 

Painted portrait of MLK


Illustration wasn’t a major at MCAD when Manchess first arrived in Minneapolis from his hometown of Fort Thomas, Kentucky. “It was the 1970s and conceptual art was everything at the time, and I was told that painting and drawing were dead. I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I’m 18 years old and you’re not even giving me the chance to fail,’” he says, before adding that his frustration helped to fuel his passion for oil painting. “Even kids today are told that it’s crazy to go into the art world, that they’ll never make any money, but you have to take it as a challenge. Even my high school guidance counselor told me I was never going to make it.” 


In fact, Manchess has received multiple honors in his field, including the Hamilton King Award for career achievement from his peers in the Society of Illustrators, and was recently featured in an exhibition of his paintings at the Norman Rockwell Museum alongside the work of Frank Schoonover, the legendary 20th-century Western adventure painter. Manchess is working on major commissions to illustrate collectors’ editions for both Dune and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, while preparing for a 2024 exhibition at a Paris gallery. 

The variety and depth of his C.V. comes as a bit of a surprise to Manchess himself, who says the secret is simply doing the work every day. “Neuroscience is backing me up on  something I always tell my students, which is that talent will not get you as far as personal passion and focused training,” he says. “Every time you pick up a pencil, you are in training mode. If you bring that focus with you everytime you go to the page or the screen, it will drive your skills so much farther than sitting around waiting for talent to show up.”