In 2015, Kettle Fire was selected to design a public art piece for downtown Colorado Springs. Four years later, we reflect on our first project as a husband-wife team.

Ugly metal boxes

Downtown Colorado Springs is an official state-certified creative district full of galleries, concert halls, studios, and public art. Amidst this artistry are large metal boxes that house the controls for the lights at each intersection. Cleverly, the Downtown Partnership created the Intersection project and commissioned local artists to design vinyl wraps to mask these boxes, prevent graffiti, and add another layer of creativity to the area.

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Our Urbanatural design as seen from Boulder Street.

Why Colorado Springs?

Josh and I have had many conversations about the city we now call home. Back in 2015, we knew we wanted to stay in Colorado Springs and build our design business here. Many of our friends were settling in as permanent residents of COS as well. One night over dinner at Fujiyama, we got to talking about why we all decided to make this city our home. We shared part of that night’s conversation in our artist statement for the proposed public art design:

Our closest friends were happy to play along. We ate sushi downtown on Tejon Street and discussed our city. The question was simple. What do you love about Colorado Springs? As they answered, a few words and ideas continued to pop up:

Natives. No one is actually from here. Four-wheel drive. The sun. Plaid and beards. Health. Fitness. Live music on Tejon. Snow-covered rooftops. Old Colorado City. The Academy. Mountain views. Adventure. Outdoors. Community.

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Abstract images of the Air Force Academy chapel and downtown buildings mix with text.

A city with a wild side

We noticed that our friends loved the dual nature of Colorado Springs—good sized city with all the culture and amenities meets majestic natural playground. We decided that our proposed Intersection design would focus on the unique blend of urban and natural that makes the city special, and we decided to design the piece out of words. As we pitched in our proposal:

This is the art of Colorado Springs. This urban center nestled under Pikes Peak is all wrapped up in these words, and these words will literally be my work of art. As a digital artist and branding strategist I’m passionate about identities. How can a list of disparate attributes add up to one unique entity? How can this hodgepodge of words represent a unified locale?

My vision is to create a new typographic piece that represents Colorado Springs’ identity as a link between urban and wild. I will use layers of color and type to emphasize the diverse opportunities of the city. Words and phrases of various sizes and styles will meld into a semi-abstract scene of typical Colorado Springs. Passersby will be able to look at the multi-faceted yet cohesive piece and say, “Yeah, that’s why I live here.”

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Two sides focus on the urban parts of Colorado Springs and two on the natural.

Words, words, words

A few weeks after submitting our artist’s statement and examples of typographic designs Josh created in the past, we were delighted when the Downtown Partnership told us we were one of the 15 artists/designers selected for the Intersection project. We were assigned the traffic control box on the southwest corner of Boulder St. and Tejon St. near some of our favorite downtown hang-outs.

Typography has always been a strong point for Josh, but he needed hundreds and hundreds of words to work with. That was my job. Using every tool and trick I knew, I created lists of words related to the city side and wild side of Colorado Springs. The words appear in the final design in various sizes, some create a textured background that one may not even realized is written text. Others are prominently featured on each side of the box.

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Josh’s rendering brought the words and shapes together.

The design process

Once he had his hundreds of words, Josh pulled out ones that particularly aligned with the vision and featured those more prominently in the design. He actually hand-sketched the first version of the design, and I’m amazed as I look back at that sketch, how similar it is to the final product. Much like when he designs a logo, the multi-layered design went from sketch to rendering to full-color delight.

I distinctly remember him printing out a tiny scale model of the box. It was about five inches tall yet contained every perfect detail of the final design. It adorned a shelf in our office for months. Looking back, the design process is one of the things Josh would do differently if he were to tackle the project again. He said he would do the initial sketch in a bigger scale so he could fine tune the shapes even more.

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Josh’s original sketch of the Urbanatural design

Our first collaboration

Months after we submitted our final design the vinyl wrap was installed on our metal box…backward. We had intended the “wild side” of the piece to face the mountains and the “urban side” of the design to face the city. Somewhere along the line the design was flipped. This was understandably frustrating for us at the time. Now when I see the final art piece I rarely think of it.

When we pitched the design back in March 2015, I was still a teacher. We knew that it was going to be my last school year and that I’d be joining Josh full time in June. In many ways, the Intersection design was our first major collaboration, our first project as a husband-wife team. Every time I drive by that corner and see the vibrant colors, I realize how glad I am that we took the risk, left our day-jobs, and built Kettle Fire together.

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The complete design is striking as a flat image.

More Colorado Springs art

The Intersection box was just the first public art piece we designed for downtown Colorado Springs. In 2017 we designed the Bernstein at 100 mural installed at Tejon St. and Vermijo Dr. We’re thrilled to be a part of the artist community that makes the area an official creative district.

“Josh and Megan rose to the challenge; they were a pleasure to work with throughout the entire process, from their creative design concept to their professionalism through fabrication and installation. We’re pleased to have their work in downtown Colorado Springs!”
— Lara Garritano, head of Intersection project

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The design still looks great four years later.

Urbanatural was sponsored by Vectra Bank and can be seen on the southwest corner of Tejon St. and Boulder St. in downtown Colorado Springs.

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