Little Bighorn Prairie Wildlife Guide

William Pitzer Illustrations Infographics

Photo of folded Little Big Horn Prairie Nature Guide, published by the National Park Service.

One of the more challenging assignments I've worked on is this 12-page, accordion-fold nature guide in 2009 for the National Park Service: A Prairie Wildlife Nature Guide and Checklist.

Accordion-folds are a great way to produce high-density content through an economy of space. I created 200 drawings of plants and animals, which corresponded to 400 total drawings, including the pencil sketches for the initial layout.

Due to the anticipated multiple edits, I decided to make a hybrid set of illustrations with pen and ink originals, scanned in at hi-res and saved as 1-bit tiffs, overlaid on vector color shapes, then masked so that each one was moveable. The species are roughly aligned with a left-to-right transition from the river to the prairie uplands.

Image of part of the layout grid showing divisions for the folding panels.

The first step was to build a grid with border, margin and folding panel divisions. I used a series of photos from the Little Big Horn National Battlefield site to create the background. The next part was to draw the background, to which I added an homage (the summer thunderstorm on the far right) to one of my favorite artists, Eric Sloane.

Background of nature guide showing thunderstorm on horizon.

Sloane's landscape paintings and ink drawings of Americana, especially the sky, have fueled my own development as an artist. He painted the sky section of the National Air and Space Museum's "Sky and Space" wall mural. Another favorite artist, Robert McCall, painted the space side of the mural.

Detail image of completed artwork for the brochure.

The hybrid style worked well and allowed for moving items around to get the final layout settled. I worked with a biologist at Little Big Horn who sent me dozens of photos of the park's plants and animals to create the final 200 drawings.

I worked with a Phoenix-based designer, who did the reverse-side layout of the nature guide, to develop a color-coded numbering system that links the drawings to a species checklist on the reverse side of the accordion fold. The park service graphics team in Harpers Ferry, WV, added a map of the Little Big Horn site.

Image shows layering of artwork I used to make the drawings.

After scanning the original pen and ink file, the vector color shapes are added. Then a mask line drawing encloses the layers and is grouped together to make one object that can be moved around. Each section of the final layout (left, middle, right) were on their own layer in Adobe Illustrator. The transparency of the tiff images helped. I scanned in drawings that were 200% larger than the final size placed in the layout. That's old-school stuff you youngsters. Working 2:1 is a valid and useful approach to gain a crisp detailed image for the final drawing.

In the end this was a completely satisfying project and I was happy to work on it. The time requirement was drastically underestimated when I bid on the artwork, however, but the joy of completing the work overshadows that. The brochure was well-received by the NPS folks, and at the time was unlike anything that they had previously produced.

Full brochure artwork of Little Big Horn Prairie Nature Guide

I've had the good fortune to work on two other NPS art projects, one for the Wright Brothers Park Site in Dayton, Ohio, and one for the General Sherman Tree site.

Thanks, -BP



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  • Jennifer Long on

    You are the most talented person! Your amount of knowledge is amazing and I am so proud to be your sister! Love you little brother!

  • Wm Pitzer on

    Thanks Debbie for the kind comment.

  • Debbie Herbert on

    You have always been so talented so proud of you

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