For as long as there has been art, its makers have been inspired by nature.

Independent graphic designer David Rygiol is no different. The St. Louisan feels that all artists are obligated to use their talents to make the world a more beautiful place. It’s why he established Local Lands earlier this year and hosted the STL Poster Expo 22 in support of public outdoor spaces on April 29 through May 1.

Local Lands is a collaborative nonprofit project that celebrates and supports the outdoors through design and typography. For its inaugural poster expo, Rygiol asked 44 graphic artists and illustrators in St. Louis (himself included) to lend their skills to create promotional prints of their favorite regional parks, greenways, rivers, or trails — with the proceeds going to National Parks Foundation and local nonprofit River City Outdoors.

“The motivation is the pursuit of creating something meaningful,” said Rygiol. “In design, traditionally, the way you make money is doing something commercial. So, doing something like this that has a strong sense of meaning and a charitable component is an incredible opportunity. I never regret any time I spend on stuff like this.”

Rygiol has been spending time on stuff like this since 2016. That’s when he and friend James Walker initiated the Type Hike program, in which 60 designers created posters of their favorite national parks in honor of the National Park Service turning 100 years old. Then, in 2018, he did a similar project to recognize the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial becoming the 60th national park, renamed Gateway Arch National Park.

“I’ve been talking with designers in town since then, and there seems to be a never-ending appetite for projects like this. So, we came up with the idea to do a local show that focused on the outdoors close to home,” said Rygiol. “Our national parks are awesome, because of their variety and grandeur, but there are plenty of wonderful parks we go to every day and feel even more connected to.”

Rygiol invited participation in the Local Lands poster initiative based primarily on his network of colleagues and friends. About half of them had submitted works to Type Hike; the other half were new.

Local Lands STL Poster Expo

Jon Simon, associate creative director at Paradowski Creative, falls into the former group, having previously contributed to the Gateway Arch project. “I’m always interested in using my art for community service, whether it’s branding a not-for-profit or, in this case, highlighting local parks and trails,” he said. 

Simon chose the Penrose Park Velodrome bicycle track in north St. Louis as his subject. “Penrose Park is a really special place,” he said. “First off, it’s public, so anyone can go and ride there for free. This concrete track is also one of 27 velodromes in the US. I really want to inspire people just to go and experience the track. You may fall in love with flying around its 28-degree banks.”

Simon speaks from experience, having developed an affinity for Penrose Park since he started riding there. “After revisiting memories of spending sweaty days racing through the St. Louis summer and several rounds of sketches, I ended up with this art that expressed what I associate with the banked concrete track,” he said. “I wanted to connect the cyclist and the sun’s heat in the summer. This connection of energy helps propel the movement and speed of the community supporting it. It’s all connected.”

In order to create some connectivity among the posters themselves, Rygiol provided the artists with a size — 24 inches wide by 36 inches high — and a palette of 12 colors. “Everything else was up to the individual designer,” he said. “I tried to pull people with different styles in the hopes that there would be a lot of variety of expression.” 

Theresa Williams is a senior designer for Hunt & Gather agency in Austin, Texas, but works remotely from St. Louis. A lettering artist by trade, she chose to explore the typography she associated with the Katy Trail. “I was really inspired by park signage. You know, you see the signs with letters that are carved out of the wood and have rounded corners and dimension,” she said.

“I picked the color I did because it has a retro, vintage vibe. I really like to use commercial art like old sign paintings and forms in my work,” Williams continued, adding, “I also drew my own bike.”

She attended the STL Poster Expo 22 at Brennan’s Work & Leisure on the second of its three nights. “It was great to see all the posters and to be part of showcasing the creativity and also how awesome the outdoors are,” Williams said. “People don’t think of St. Louis as an outdoor destination, but there’s so much to do here. It’s amazing to have an event like this to promote that.”

Fellow artist Andrea Melania Rodriguez agrees. She says she cherishes the parks around St. Louis, including the one she represents daily as designer and brand manager for Forest Park Forever. “I think one of our treasures is the public parks in our area,” she said. “Being around a park is a real necessity in my life, for health and creativity.”

Rodriguez chose to focus on Citygarden “mainly because I used to work downtown and thought of it as a refuge,” she said. “Whenever I needed to get away from the hustle and bustle or needed a break, I could walk across the street and enjoy the sculptures, the flowers, and the food trucks.”

Her poster traces her route along the park’s pathways and showcases some of her favorite works, like “Two Rabbits”, “Zenit” (the llama-like animal with a star on its back), and Eros Bendato” (the giant head lying on its side). Her illustration is encased in an arch shape, linking Citygarden to Gateway Arch National Park.

“As far as the process, it was really pretty minimal. I did a couple of sketches to see what worked best in terms of the sculptures and the pathways, and then I scanned it into [Adobe] Illustrator and drew it in vector. 

“I encourage everybody to just go out and try doing some kind of creative practice in nature,” Rodriguez said. “It’s fun, it’s healthy, and you don’t have to be considered an artist to do it.”

STL Poster Expo Local Lands

Rygiol initially did not plan to create a poster himself but felt inspired by the Anne O’C. Albrecht Nature Playscape, a 17-acre experiential play space in Forest Park with natural landscapes that include native and diverse species. “My family spends a lot of time there, and they all just have a blast,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in nature as an adult and seeing it through my eyes, but I liked the idea of seeing it through my kids’ eyes.”

Rygiol did Crayon rubbings of rocks and leaves and bark and then used those textures in the shapes inhabiting his poster. He sketched the playscape — it’s rolling terrain with hills and ridges — in order to create a “loose, flat map of the park.” 

“As a commercial illustrator or designer, our job is often to represent something visually but not put the viewer there,” Rygiol said. “But in this case, I wanted to put you there. I wanted to capture the cadence of the land and fill it with life.”

The organizer of Local Lands hopes the project will return as an annual or bi-annual event in St. Louis and possibly spread elsewhere. “There are so many cool outdoor spaces that you could do it forever,” Rygiol said. “We could cover more places each time or re-interpret the same ones, and maybe we pop up in other cities as well. There’s a lot of opportunity to expand this concept and have people in other cities do this for their community.”

Order Your Poster

Posters from the STL Poster Expo 22 can be ordered at Available in two sizes — 12 by 18 inches and 24 by 36 inches — the posters are printed on museum-quality matte paper and shipped directly to the customer. Proceeds for the sale of posters will be donated to St. Louis nonprofit River City Outdoors.  

About the Beneficiaries

Fifteen percent of the ticket proceeds from the STL Poster Expo 22 will be donated to the National Park Foundation, which works to preserve America’s most magnificent and meaningful places.

One hundred percent of proceeds from the sale of posters from the STL Poster Expo 22 will be donated to River City Outdoors, a local nonprofit working to build a vibrant outdoor culture in the Greater St. Louis region by connecting the community to its outdoor assets.

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.