College of Visual and Performing Arts

JMU Senior Creates Art with Cell Phone: An Interview with Jeffrey Thelin


By Liz Connor (’15)

JMU senior Jeffrey Thelin is a self-proclaimed “mobile artist” who takes photographs on his iPhone 5s. An Industrial Design major without a background in photography, Thelin taught himself to how to photograph and edit images. He adds geometric shapes and uses iPhone applications such as iDesign, Superimpose and VSCO cam to create unique compositions from images he sees in his everyday life. His work titled Harmonious Suspension is currently on display at Prism Gallery in Festival.

What does it mean to be a “mobile artist?”
Being a mobile artist is more than just being able to be an artist while I’m mobile. It also means doing my work exclusively on my phone. All of the imagery and graphics work is done entirely on my iPhone. 

Why do you use an iPhone versus a traditional camera?
I’m a freelance photographer, so I know both workflows fairly well … but speed is the main reason. I’ve really never done graphics’ work over images that I haven’t taken with my phone, and I think that's because it’s just too clunky of a process. I’d have to take the picture, go home, upload my images, and then start to edit them. On my iPhone, I can snap my picture as I’m getting on the bus and then edit it on my ride home—and instantly share what I’ve done with thousands of people. It’s incredible. 

What is your editing process?
First, I’ll crop my image to a square format. Then I add my graphics, and finally I proceed to tone and edit the image until the graphics and image start to mesh. Sometimes the process is very quick and other times it will take me a week to figure out what I want to do with an image. 

Where do you find inspiration for your photographs?
There is a vibrant mobile art community on Instagram. I’m largely inspired by the work that is going on there. Also, I’m inspired to further previous pieces.

How has your style developed as a photographer?
When I started making digital art, I was doing what I call “cheap” art - what everyone else was doing and what was easy. As I’ve grown and found my style, I have mainly been focusing around the idea of minimizing what’s necessary to make a compelling piece. Now I’d say that I am making minimal expressionist pieces. 

The exhibition is titled Harmonious Suspension. How does music inspire your artwork?
Music is amazing. The thing I love most about working on my iPhone is that I can be listening to music as I capture my images and as I edit them. I feel like music helps me focus. It allows me to block out the rest of the world. I think the musician Tycho has inspired me the most.  

What is your favorite piece of work you created and why?
I do have many favorites, but every image I create becomes my new favorite in a way. I sometimes get scared that I will never be able to create another photo as good as my previous.

Where do you see yourself in the future as a mobile artist?
I have been toying with a lot of ideas on how I could take this further and maybe support myself off of it. I am currently working on developing a clothing line based on the graphics I create. Hopefully, something will come of that! I also have some friends in the art scene who are getting incredible opportunities all over the world in galleries and other showcases - so we will just have to wait and see!

Harmonious Suspension is on display through the end of January 2015. You can follow Thelin on Twitter at @Jeffreythelin. He also showcases his photographs on Instagram at

Published: Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, August 9, 2017

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