Spring 2019 graduates Miranda Ward (Art Studio) and Nicole Sievers (Design/Art Studio) and fall 2018 graduate Kaitlyn Kelm (Art Studio) were selected as three of the six winners whose art will be featured on traffic boxes in Bellingham’s Arts District. Installation of the art is slated for October 2019.
The purpose of the Traffic Box Artwork project, a City of Bellingham initiative, is to showcase local artists in a unique, unexpected place, and to adorn the Arts District by making an ordinary gray traffic box into a refreshing colorful display. The city received around 130 submissions.
Ward painted a piece depicting coho salmon and trees with acrylic paints. She then scanned the image and used Photoshop to edit it. Ward said it is becoming increasingly common in the design field to create art by hand and then use computer programs to refine it.
Kelm also painted, using watercolors, scanned and altered the background using a computer program to apply a blue gradient. She focused on creating an image of native Northwest flowers, including lilies, pacific rhododendrons (the Washington state flower), raspberries, cusick's checkermallow, and a few others to represent the region.
Sievers used a similar technique, beginning on paper to create the concept and aesthetic of her piece of hands using sign language. She said it was then transferred to Adobe Illustrator, something she said was the most difficult part of the process.
“My first sketches are always loose with exciting movement. Keeping that vibe in the digital process is very challenging … the original usually has more weight and bounce to it,” said Sievers.
Ward and Sievers were taking Principles of Illustration, a class taught by professional illustrator Keith Negley. Negley recently helped design a new illustration certificate, which aims to help students achieve a career in freelance illustrating. Negley said he is constantly looking for ways to find projects that prepare students for work after college and this contest was a perfect opportunity for students.
“The day after they graduate they [students] are immediately competing for the same projects as professionals with 10 plus years of experience,” Negley said.
Ward said Negley and the illustration program at Western helped her immensely with her own career aspirations — she learned more than just the core skill of illustrating.
“I learned how to present myself professionally and about how the industry works,” Ward said. “That was tremendously helpful.”
Sievers echoed this, stating that Western’s illustration classes have given her insights into professionalism in the field. By learning from Negley, a successful, working professional, the classes teach applicable skills for navigating the industry.
Ward, Sievers and Kelm will receive a $500 prize from the city for their work. The boxes will be maintained by the city and will bear the names of the artists providing recognition for their pieces.
“I'm really excited to have my art be displayed permanently in a public place. Being part of something like this really solidifies my desire to work in the visual arts,” commented Kelm.
Now a graduate and looking toward her career, Ward said with a chuckle that she will be getting a “regular job” for a while but recounted this advice from Negley as a takeaway from her time at Western:
“A career in illustration is very possible with enough hard work, persistence and serendipity.”