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59 Parks, 59 Posters

By Terri Stone

The United States’ National Parks are some of the country’s most treasured places. If you have fond memories of a National Park visit—or even if you’re just a fan of good design—you’ll enjoy the 59 Parks Print Series.

This series, with a poster dedicated to each park, is the brainchild of JP Boneyard (the nom de design of JP Boilard). Boneyard knows posters—he’s made them for years, and he runs the National Poster Retrospecticus, a travelling show of hand-printed examples of the art. Many of the 59 Parks artists are represented in the Retrospecticus.

Boneyard’s budget doesn’t stretch to covering the simultaneous design and printing of all 59 screen-printed posters. At press time, there are 13 for eight parks, because some are available in color and size variations. The proceeds from the sale of these prints (and related merchandise, including notebooks and postcards) will fund future posters. Fittingly, five percent of each poster sold online is donated to the National Park Service.

The posters available at press time.

To learn a bit more about how two of the posters came to be, I spoke to designers Eric Nyffeler, who created the Grand Teton National Park poster, and Brad Woodard of Brave the Woods, who depicted Big Bend National Park.

TEXTURING THE TETONS

When Eric Nyffeler told me how he makes the textures in his artwork, I didn’t believe him at first. Photocopiers?! And not just any copier, but vintage machines from the late 1970s and early 1980s. “I’m always hunting for them,” he says. “I still have an emotional attachment to my favorite photocopier, which is now dead.” It went up in flames four years ago—literally.

Nyffeler’s textures begin their life in Adobe Illustrator CC. “I draw them in Illustrator so I can get perfect shapes and uniform angles,” he says. “Then I print them out in black and white. For this poster, I had 15 pages of elements.” Then it’s time to run the pages through a photocopier. “That builds the beautiful, warm, analog edges. Everything gets softer and worn, not like a punk rock flyer, but more painterly.”

Nyffeler scan the copies and opens the digital files in Adobe Photoshop CC, where he tweaks levels and other elements. Next, he brings the edited files back into Illustrator, where he runs Live Trace on the bitmaps to turn them into vectors. “The final poster is 100% vector. It’s not the fastest method,” he admits, “but the proof is in the end result.”

Two examples of elements in the Grand Teton poster before (left) and after photocopying (right).

PAINTING BIG BEND

Brad Woodard lives in Texas now, but he grew up in Seattle. “My adventures in nature didn't look anything like the vast, desert landscape you find in Big Bend,” Woodard says. But opposites attract: “I particularly enjoy Big Bend because of how foreign it is to me.”

The park’s Mule Ear Peaks are the iconic centerpiece of the illustration. Woodard referred to multiple photos to get the lighting and geography just right. The foreground is from his imagination: “It’s something I came up with to show someone enjoying and exploring the park.”

Woodard painted the entire piece in Photoshop. “I blocked out the main shapes of elements on their own layer,” he says. “Then I went back and used clipping masks or locked the layer content to layer on colors, which added depth and detail. It’s a slow process, but I build up the art by keeping each color on its on layer and stacking them on top unit I have the right look I want. That way I can go back and edit specific shadows or values.” 

When he was satisfied with the composition, he aged the image in Photoshop by adjusting the contrast and vibrancy, adding grain, and brushing on more texture with Woodland Wonderland brushes, which Woodard created in collaboration with Dustin Lee of RetroSupply.

MORE TO COME

If your favorite park isn’t yet for sale on the 59 Parks store, don’t worry—it’s coming. “Our goal is two prints per month,” Boneyard says, “but artists have a lot on their plate, so the schedule is a little fluid.” And you can take some consolation in the fact that you’re not the only one eagerly waiting for the posters: The Library of Congress will archive the entire collection. “It’s such a cool thing to legitimize poster design and modern printmaking,” Boneyard says.