Over her 29 years, Liz Bradford has visited many national parks, from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite, and she has a stack of souvenir brochures to show for it. This month, she’ll add another brochure, although this one will feature her painting of the park that’s the hottest, driest and lowest spot in the western hemisphere.
Bradford, a scientific illustrator from Raleigh who graduated from NC State in 2008, recently completed a commissioned oil painting of Death Valley National Park for the National Park Service. Her artwork depicts Death Valley by day and by night, and is the centerpiece of a new brochure that will be distributed to millions of visitors at the park’s entrances and visitors’ center in coming years.
“I love nature, I always have,” Bradford says, recalling camping trips that took her family from coast to coast. “I grew up in the woods. There are very few places left where you can get untouched wilderness, and the national parks are amazing for that.”
Death Valley, with 3.4 million acres in California and Nevada, is a land of extremes where summer temperatures often top 120 degrees. Its barren salt flats are surrounded with rugged mountain peaks that rise to 11,000 feet, rolling sand dunes and spring-fed oases. Park officials wanted their new brochure to depict that wide-ranging environment, along with some plants and animals that call it home. Bradford’s dramatic nighttime view celebrates Death Valley’s designation as an International Night Sky Park.
“It is one of the only places left you can see the Milky Way,” she says.
After winning the commission, she spent three days in spring of 2014 touring the park with rangers. She drew on that visit, as well as more than a thousand photos and records, to transform officials’ rough sketch into a composite artwork that accurately depicts the appearance and diversity of flora and fauna.
“Art is my tool to discover and know the world and share that with others,” says Bradford, who earned degrees in textile technology and art and design at NC State. She then earned a graduate certificate in scientific illustration at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Work on the brochure began after Bradford left a full-time job with an environmental consulting company to launch OXHIP Studio in Raleigh, which specializes in original art, scientific illustration and a retail clothing line festooned with her dinosaur drawings. During the yearlong project, she also married Raleigh architect Mark Kuykendall, a fellow NC State graduate.
“I used to do these kind of projects in my spare time, after work,” Bradford says. “I’ve done enough projects at this point with crazier deadlines that I don’t worry anymore. I’ll do what it takes.”
Bradford’s illustrations can also be found at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, where she was a graduate intern, at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh and at Lake Waccamaw State Park in southeastern North Carolina.
— Carole Tanzer Miller