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Local high school students design wrap for electric bus fleet run by South Metro Area Regional Transit

SUBMITTED PHOTO  - WHS art students, WHS art teacher Christopher Shotola-Hardt and Art Tech teacher Philip Clark presented the bus design to the City Council in December. When people think of art, some might imagine it as something stationary — where folks go somewhere to view it. But for Wilsonville High School and Arts and Technology High School art students, their creation will be mobile.

Their art will be showcased throughout Wilsonville starting early summer, as students from both high schools were commissioned by South Metro Area Regional Transit (SMART) — a public transit system operated by the City of Wilsonville — to create a design for the new electric bus fleet that has not yet taken to the streets.

"It's a major piece of public art that's going to be in our community," said WHS art teacher Christopher Shotola-Hardt, one of the teachers along with Art Tech teacher Philip Clark who was involved with the project. "It's going to be driving around and the names of the artists will be on the bus."

"Not only is it something you can put on a resume, but it's something you know that when you look at it, you (were) a part of it," WHS junior Elaysia Gates added.

SMART reached out last school year because students say the company wanted the design to be done similarly to WHS's other public art installations, like the mural at the Center for Research in Environmental Sciences and Technologies, Beauty and the Bridge under I-5 and two kinetic sculptures that were placed in the community.

"It (the artwork) is done by the students in the community — just the fact it was student art — it was made from people in the community so they wanted a similar feel to the new buses," said WHS senior Eleanor G. Karrick.

"For the design, we came up with a way to display the essence of Wilsonville on a bus and I chose to do it in a fine-arts style because I'm a watercolorist," said WHS junior Jasleen K. Bhullar, who painted the final design that everyone worked to conceptualize.

For the design, students had to abide by SMART's color palette of specific blues and greens and include various elements like SMART's logo, its tagline "Think Smart. Ride Smart," its phone number and website.

"We had a lot of restrictions," Bhullar said. "We didn't really have much of a direction to go in because they just told us these are the colors we will need and this is our branding and we need people to know that this is an electrically powered bus."

Last year, the group gathered once a week after school for a couple hours to brainstorm, draw and come up with potential design prototypes. In March, the group presented the highlights of their initial concept drawings to SMART staff, who then helped narrow down the focus of the design. SMART staff liked four basic ideas: the trees, the references to electricity technology like wind turbines and an electric cord and plug, a continuous scene that wraps around the bus with farmland, woods and Mt. Hood, which transitions to the City of Wilsonville, and a watercolor style.

SMART also asked students to include recognizable buildings in Wilsonville, and the artists added in buildings like the Wilsonville Public Library, the WES Station clock tower and the Wilsonville Old Church, which is now a McMenamins pub.

One feature that is near the top of the bus design are birds carrying an electric chord.

"It's kind of symbolic," Gates said. "Most people would think the birds might be carrying it out (but) they're kind of carrying it in — this idea of technology and nature."

But students say that while creating the wrap, they encountered challenges. Most notable was the dwindling number of student participants.`

Art Tech student Mason Wright contributed a significant amount of time to the project last year, but moved out of state late last spring. And slowly the numbers dropped to about seven students who are involved this year.

"The fact that some people dropped out, maybe the arduous process and time commitment wasn't something that they could sustain," said Shotola-Hardt. "People kind of weeded themselves out of it. It's a very, very slow process."

Sophomore Max McGuire said working on this project on top of schoolwork was exhausting.

"People sort of just lost interest in continuously working on it because we don't do this for a living, at least not yet, so it's hard to go from learning six different subjects in school all day to focusing really hard on just this one topic for a couple hours straight when we are already kind of dead from school," McGuire said.

But students say the work was worth it. The imagery was combined and fitted within the SMART bus arrow and wave graphics on the bus, which shifts from a light to dark gradient. The required SMART text and artists' names were strategically placed after the painting was complete. The group also presented the idea to the City Council in December and the idea was fully supported.

With the finalized design, the group is working with a graphic designer who will eventually print the design onto a large vinyl wrap.

Though the date is not yet set, there will be an unveiling of the new buses early this summer.

"I think it's almost poetic in its nature because this whole concept of having completely electric-run buses and vehicles in general is still relatively new and we're still new artists," McGuire said. "We're still trying to get out there, so the fact that they came to us for the graphic for the new bus is pretty cool."

Wilsonville Spokesman reporter Clara Howell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-636-1281.

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