Project in Progress: Trailmarkers

An exciting new project is coming to the NCMA in the Museum Park this spring. Fun for kids and adults alike, Trailmarkers are 12 metal plaques located along the trails through the Park, each with a unique illustration featuring animals and plants native to North Carolina. These illustrations were designed as reliefs so that visitors may create a rubbing of the image by running a crayon across a piece of paper situated over the plaque. What a fun way to create your own work of art while exercising and enjoying the natural world around you!

The NCMA commissioned graphic designer Tim Purus to create all 12 Trailmarker designs. I spoke with Tim regarding the details of this still-in-the-works project.

JD: The Trailmarkers are a fun and different project that gets our visitors involved in making their own art—a rubbing of your designs, as inspired by the natural world. What drew you most to working on this project?

TP: When I visited the park, I really enjoyed the Cloud Chamber and Whisper Bench’s interactivity. The opportunity to create pieces that involve the viewer beyond simply looking was intriguing and sounded like fun.

JD: Explain your artistic process for the creation of the Trailmarkers.

TP: Initially, I sketch whatever pops into my head. I pour out pages and pages, then sift through the sketches for the ones that have potential. At that point, I begin doing research on the subjects I’ve chosen. I collect lots of pictures so I know my subject like a sculptor might. I am compelled to understand their forms. Next, I composite the elements and refine the compositions. Then, surrounded by all my reference material, I ink the drawing with my favorite Japanese fountain brush pen. Finally, I scan the illustrations and do a little tweaking in Photoshop.

JD: How did you determine which types of animals and plants you would represent on the Trailmarker plaques?

TP: Early in the project, we discussed using the flora and fauna indigenous to the area. That led to some very specific choices, like the Carolina lily and honey bee, which are the official state wildflower and insect. The lilies (ilium michauxii) look like flying jellyfish! The Eastern Box Turtle (terrapene carolina) which is the official state reptile. It is also quite interesting to draw; the shell is striking, a clash of repetitious geometry and painterly organic marks.

Texture was another criterion for choosing the elements within the designs. Originally, I conceived of drawings as abstract textures. Then I visited the site with my friend’s children and I realized it needed to be fun as well, so I put a character in each piece. We found a “cherry” scented centipede on that visit, and in honor of that moment a centipede is represented.

Nature is infinitely inspirational to me. I am reminded of a quote by Karl Blossfeldt, whom I admire a lot: ”The best constructions for industrial design had already been anticipated in nature.”

JD: What is your favorite design, and why?

TP: Honestly I don’t have one. I enjoyed doing all of them.

JD: What was the most difficult part of this project?

TP: The most difficult part of the project was keeping it to 12 images. There are so many great things to draw that are indigenous to North Carolina. The easiest part was working with everyone at NCMA. It has been a great experience!

JD: You are currently involved in creating the prototype of a rubbing kit that will be sold in our Museum Store. What has that process been like?

TP: We are trying to anticipate what will work for children and adults. We’ve experimented with different papers and crayons. Simple and sensible is the goal.

JD: What do you hope that visitors would do/take away from your work, besides the rubbing process?

TP: Mostly I hope it’s a fun activity on a nice afternoon walk through the museum park. In addition, I hope that the drawings inspire people to draw, that the images of nature get people to take a closer look at what’s around them, and that the process of rubbing inspires them to think about creating images in different ways.

Follow us as we update you on the progress of the Trailmarkers—and be sure to join us in the Museum Park later this spring to experience the Trailmarkers for yourself!

This project is part of the Active Community and Neighborhood grant program funded by the John Rex Endowment through the Physical Activity and Nutrition Branch of the N.C. Division of Public Health. Illustrations by Tim Purus.


  1. Lisa Trueblood
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    What interesting insight into the artistic process! I often go to the North Carolina Museum of Art with my children because of not only the quality of the art and shows there, but for the interactivity and fun that is so essential to helping us all learn. Tim is speaking in this blog of my 9 year old daughter Marie who picked up and showed him a cherry scented centipede. She loves bugs and the amazing details in nature and is not afraid of them – they are her constant friends. It will be a wonderful memory for her to be able to go back and see her favorite centipede and other beloved NC wildlife as interactive art. Thank you for this wonderful project Tim.

  2. Posted March 5, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait to check these out. What a fun interactive addition to the walk in the park. Thanks for the interview, Jen!

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