The National's Amtrak Route Maps: Behind the Scenes with Art Director, Rickard Westin

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Above: Amtrak's National Route System as interpreted by Barry Blitt

Since launching last year, Amtrak's on-board magazine, The National, has tasked an American artist to create their own interpretation of the Amtrak route map for each issue.  With the seventh map (above) just released with their most recent October - November 2017 issue, we spoke to The National's Art Director Rickard Westin about the project and each map so far.

Read on for Rickard's insight on how this feature came to be and get some behind-the-scenes information on each Amtrak route map.

Rickard Westin - Art Director, The NationalThe idea of an artist interpreted map came from the very first issue launched last year. We had already planned to have longform nonfiction, poetry, and portfolios of fine-art photography showcasing not only America as a beautiful, cultural country, but also some of the immense talent that resides within its borders. 
People love maps, and the Amtrak map is particularly pleasing because it basically is the map of America. We figured that with this iconic shape and the depth of information, locations and memories, it [would be a] great base for artists to bend and massage the subject into a well of exciting creations. Now, seven issues in, we believe the results have proven that point.

October - November 2016 by W. Case Jernigan.

RW: Because myself, co-art director, Christos Hannides, and our executive editor, Alex Hoyt, all are huge soccer fans, we'd been mesmerized by the amazing Euro Cup illustrations and animations Jernigan had been producing for the BBC in the summer of 2016. We also knew that his work would set the series in motion in an elegant and interesting way. In Jernigan's own words, "I use the knife the same way as a pencil or chalk, and furthermore a train ride is one of my favorite environments to work in." To represent an America connected by rail, Jernigan created a border of 32 mini compositions--the Alamo, the St. Louis Arch, and a second line parade in New Orleans. "The images are universal and simple," he said. "But some of them hint at the mystery of the country out there."

December 2016 - January 2017 by Cameron Booth

RW: While researching this project, we came across Booth's work, which obsessively transforms all kinds of maps into the London-esque subway map. We were all knocked to the floor when we found he'd already created a very extensive Subway-style map of the Amtrak network and figured people needed to see this. So we contacted the artist and asked him to make some alterations to fit our purpose in the magazine. This remains the Amtrak route map that contains the most stops and general information about the network.

February - March 2017 by Joyce J. Scott

RW: After commissioning an illustrator and a graphic designer, we wanted to experiment with the medium for our third map. Soon we found our artist in 2016 MacArthur Genius Grant-winner Joyce J. Scott, a Baltimore native who uses beadwork to evoke scenes of social justice in her hometown. "Creating beauty," Scott said of her work, "is an act of defiance in a world that struggles for beauty." 

April - May 2017 by Rodney "Rodrigo" McCoubrey

RW: We really wanted something colorful and fun moving into the summer months, and we'd recently come across McCoubrey's strange, fun, and often fish-shaped art made from trash--a technique he's been refining for nearly four decades now. Just a few days after our initial contact, which briefly laid out the project, he responded with an image of a fish-shaped-Amtrak-map made from trash. By phone he later explained the objects origins: The cell phone came from the beach. The surfing trophy came from a friend. The yellow wire came from a '53 Ford he was restoring, or maybe from his neighbor--he can't quite remember. What about the stopwatch? "The stopwatch!" exclaimed McCoubrey. "The stopwatch found me. You do this long enough, and things seek you out." The whole thing made us all chuckle, and even though we technically hadn't commissioned the artwork, we did like the colorful wackiness of his map, so we sent a photographer to shoot it before it got buried in the immense piles of stuff/trash/art which constantly accrues in McCoubrey's beach hut-studio on the California coast.
June - July 2017 by David Carson

RW: Co-art Director Christos Hannides had his mind set on renowned graphic designer David Carson and sent him an email in late 2016. Carson did indeed reply and promised us his take on the project at a specific date. We were still surprised when, about two months later, he emailed us a couple of impressive and trademark-typographic-grunge-designed maps. Carson opted for an impressionistic map of the U.S. in oils and watercolors. "I figured most people taking Amtrak basically know what the country looks like," he said, so he wasn't too concerned with veracity. On a separate piece of paper, he painted the names of random American cities. "Why Cheyenne? Why Fargo? If I have an overall design philosophy, it's probably, 'Why not?'"

August - September 2017 by Edel Rodriguez

RW: Edel's fabulous work appears on numerous magazine covers around the world, and after continuously bumping into him at various art events in New York we mentioned the project to him. To our joy he was not only interested but also had a very brilliant idea of how to execute it. Edel nods to his Cuban immigration story in his map by using cigar boxes. "They're a little illicit and not from this country, and they represent the coexistence of immigrants within the U.S.," he said, adding that the boxes also evoke memories of the grandfather he left behind, who was a heavy cigar smoker. The red thread he uses for the route lines is a nod to his mother's occupation as a seamstress.

October- November 2017 by Barry Blitt

RW: Barry Blitt has designed more than 100 covers for The New Yorker, so when he agreed to the project, we knew we were in for a special illustration. But how did he settle on the Betsy Ross concept? "Like so many other ideas," Blitt said, "I don't remember. I was scribbling. I looked at the lines of the route map, and I thought they would be nicely depicted as stitching. And then I thought of Betsy Ross." The result is a piece of beauty, and we hope you'll see it on an Amtrak train in the near feature.
Art Directors: Rickard Westin & Christos Hannides
Executive Editor: Alex Hoyt

The National, Amtrak's official onboard magazine, is published by Ink, the industry leader in travel media.

  • Alex Nabaum

    Keep it up!

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