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Students design artwork to wrap Eau Claire's new hybrid city buses

March 1, 2013
UW-Eau Claire art & design students (from left) Alison Wheeler, Luke Benson and Jennifer Johns held up a proof of one of their three designs for wraps to be featured on the city of Eau Claire's new hybrid buses.
An employee from Houck Transit Advertising in St. Paul, Minn., applied UW-Eau Claire students’ design to a new hybrid bus at the Eau Claire Transit building. Houck is the company that prints and applies the designs.

EAU CLAIRE — Three students in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire department of art & design are completing their college careers by designing artistic wraps to be featured on the city of Eau Claire's new hybrid city buses.

Seniors Alison Wheeler, Viroqua, Jennifer Johns, St. Louis Park, Minn., and Luke Benson, Eau Claire, began work on the hybrid bus art project in August 2012 after being selected from a pool of 30 student applicants.

UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs awarded each student a scholarship for the many hours they spent producing and perfecting designs under the guidance of faculty mentors Jyl Kelley, an assistant professor in photography, Ned Gannon, an associate professor in illustration, and Sooyun Im, an assistant professor in graphic design.

"The theme of the project is centered on the three essential components that make up important elements of a watershed: hydrosphere, Earth's water; atmosphere, air and gas; and biosphere, living organisms," said Kelley. "After initiating this project with Mike Branco from the Eau Claire Transit Commission, I spoke with Jim Boulter from the UW-Eau Claire Watershed Institute for Collaborative Environmental Studies, who suggested the theme of the three elements, since, coincidentally, we are designing three buses."

The first of the three buses has been wrapped with the atmosphere-themed design and can be seen daily on its route through the city. The two remaining buses are expected to be wrapped in the next two weeks, Branco said.

The Eau Claire Transit Commission approved the students' designs, intended to highlight the efficient and eco-friendly aspects of the new hybrid buses.

Wheeler, an art major specializing in photography, said the team's designs realistically reflect the landscape and nature found in Eau Claire.

"Everything in our designs is local," Wheeler said. "We researched the types of trees, plants, animals and fish that are native to Eau Claire. We really worked together as a team to make a cohesive and consistent design among all three buses."

Maple trees tapped for syrup, milkweed and Wisconsin prairie grass are a few of the native plant species represented in the students' designs. Some of the animals represented are a robin, cardinal, wolf, badger, deer and various types of fish. Characters performing different activities are intertwined amongst the plant and animal life.

Johns, who specializes in graphic design, said the team also took the seasons into consideration when creating the designs.

"Wisconsin is unique in that it has four very distinct seasons," Johns said. "We wanted to make sure we represented them all in this project."

A winter scene will be displayed on one side of the biosphere bus, showing a snowball fight between a snowman and a child while a badger peeks out from its hole. The spring season will be represented on one side of the atmosphere bus, showing green leaves starting to form on trees. The hydrosphere bus will showcase Eau Claire's summer, with characters enjoying water activities such as canoeing and swimming, and autumn will be represented on the biosphere bus through falling leaves and the many bright colors associated with the season.

Benson, who specializes in illustration and who created all of the characters in the designs, said working on the project was a unique experience.

"Working on the bus designs was so different from anything I've ever done before," Benson said. "It was my first time collaborating with other artists and bringing together different mediums. This is the last thing we'll do here as students. I get to leave my mark on the city and show off the great aspects of Eau Claire."

Working with a private client on a large-scale art project is an experience that can only be beneficial to a career, Johns said.

"I am graduating in May and am interested in applying for jobs with companies that do a lot of advertising," Johns said. "This project has given me that kind of experience, and the liberal arts nature of UW-Eau Claire has exposed me to other areas of art outside of graphic design. I think that opens up a lot of possibilities."

Wheeler said she agrees that the hybrid bus art project has been a great all-around experience.

"I have learned so much about other programs and elements of art in our department and in our field," Wheeler said. "It's important to have knowledge in multiple areas, and UW-Eau Claire definitely provides that for its students."

For more information on the hybrid bus art project, contact Jyl Kelley at or 715-836-4622.



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