Though at first thought, Utah County might not be the kind of place you’d expect to see on a scenic postcard or billboard, a second thought might begin to stir up the beauty and potential, and that’s exactly what Explore Utah Valley is hoping to capture with its new, artistic tourism campaign.
“Sometimes I think we take it for granted we live in such a beautiful place and area,” said Charlene Christensen, the director of services and marketing for Explore Utah Valley, essentially the proactive arm for tourism in the area. “We feel we have some super iconic locations to build awareness of with the visiting public as well as with our residents.”
From Payson’s Grotto Falls to Pleasant Grove’s Evermore Park, Spanish Fork’s Krishna Temple to Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon, there’s plenty to see and do while in Utah County if you simply take the time to recognize it.
Understanding just how many of these great attractions and resources the area has to offer both those who live here and those who visit, the team at Explore Utah Valley focused on brainstorming the best way to highlight them, leading to a variety of artistic renderings featuring things like Utah Lake, local waterfalls, some of the area’s festivals and city celebrations, and venues like Thanksgiving Point.
“How are we able to share this in a fun and innovative way?” Christensen said of the brainstorming that led to the concept of original artwork. “Wouldn’t it be fun to focus on the creative aspects of what our area has to offer in this unique way?”
Joel Racker, president and CEO of Explore Utah Valley, explained that the next step was to team with advertising agency EKR, which is how they connected with project artist and EKR Art Director Kolby Larsen and began to create a series of beautifully crafted posters and images to spotlight the area’s iconic attractions.
“You see iconic posters of Utah’s National Parks or places like Yosemite, the Rockwell kind of thing; we have iconic (places) here,” Racker said of the foundation for the posters. “They’re mainly produced to show people a little something different and unique … to inspire people to look deeper. That’s what you have to do – get people to say, ‘I have to take a second to look at that.’ ”
With roughly a dozen posters released last year and a dozen more set for this year, the response from venues and those who have seen them has been overwhelmingly positive, which has enabled the campaign to continue.
“I would like to personally commend the Utah County Commission for their vision and allowing us the funding to do this,” Racker said, noting that Explore Utah Valley is a smaller hospitality and tourism group, and it was financial support from the commission and county that allowed the campaign to move forward and focus on drawing people from outside the county into the area while helping locals understand all the Utah Valley has to offer. The campaign has been successful enough that it even drew the attention of the Utah Tourism Industry Association and won the 2018 Tourism Works award.
“It enables those who are in hospitality to submit some of their marketing projects and ideas so that we can all share and learn from each other,” Christensen said of the annual competition. “(The posters are) different than just having your typical photography. It takes a little bit more time and a little bit more thought and process determining what we wanted to focus on. … It was well-liked and well-received.”
According to Racker, the goal has been to “grow the visitation, inspire people to travel and build a sense of pride in residents,” all of which benefit the area economically and otherwise.
“I just hope that people who learn more about Utah Valley through the posters will realize how much the Utah County area has to offer,” Larsen, a 15-year Utah County resident, said of the artwork he created and continues to create with Explore Utah Valley. “We truly live in an area where you can enjoy Eden-like landscapes and urban life and entertainment.”
Larsen has had a lifelong passion for art that has only grown and evolved as his life experiences and interactions with others led him to his current career.
“As an art director, I have the responsibility to make sure my fellow designers are producing high-quality work that will help elevate our clients’ companies,” he said. “I honestly feel like I have an easy job because I’m surrounded by some amazingly talented designers who constantly impress me with their innovative problem-solving skills and design abilities. EKR really is a hub for some insane talent.”
It’s Larsen’s talent, though, that has been spurring on the artistic side of the Explore Utah Valley campaign.
“I’ve always loved Utah Valley, Larsen said. “Even though I lived in Texas for 10 years, I always felt like Utah was my home. I remember visiting my grandparents in Provo and falling in love with the cool Utah air, the beautiful vista of the mountains, and the sound of construction in the background -- and I’m not kidding about that, for some reason that construction sound imprinted on me when we were visiting.”
With that personal connection, Larsen visited many of the local sites being considered for poster features, and delved into past images of the landmarks to start his process.
“After taking and gathering photos, I draw out a few black and white thumbnail sketches to figure out the best composition for the location being illustrated,” he said. “I especially enjoyed getting early access to the Butterfly Biosphere to take reference photos. Each location has been determined in advance by the marketing team at EKR and the team at Explore Utah Valley. We’ve had to narrow down some very long lists since there are so many great places to visit.”
Larsen said he’s still hoping to do a poster of Thanksgiving Point’s Museum of Ancient Life, with images of the Alpine Loop, Camp Floyd, Mount Timpanogos, Rowley’s Red Barn, Springville Art Museum and Tibble Fork currently in process.
“I think my favorite would be the Bridal Veil Falls poster since that was the first one I did and it was the most challenging,” Larsen said of the series. “Figuring out the style and strategy for creating that poster took some additional time and helped establish the direction for the rest of the posters, and I’m very happy with the way it turned out. I also love the Provo City Center Temple; I had fun turning the family statue into a ‘living’ family.”
According to Larsen, the response he’s seen on his end of the project has also been great, with a lot of it going back to the original nature of the images.
“I believe illustration has a way of capturing the soul of a scene in a way that photography can’t,” he said. “I believe it has become harder for some photography to really catch our attention; we scroll through hundreds of photos (on social media) every day. Illustration has a unique way of inviting someone to really engage with an image. The viewer starts to ask themselves questions like, ‘What does this illustration remind me of?’ or ‘What creative twist did the artist put on the scene?’ and ‘How did he/she execute their work?’ I think in a lot of ways illustration has a way of breaking down complicated scenes into their most important and iconic elements, which helps create an enjoyable viewing experience. Illustration gives a new take on a vista someone may have seen hundreds of times already. … For this campaign we want people to stop and appreciate the magnificent sites that occupy Utah Valley through the poster illustrations.”
With artwork already hanging in buildings and on landmarks around Utah County as well as popping up on social media, the word is certainly spreading about all the area has to offer, and it’s something Larsen said he’s loved working on.
“My favorite part is creating a series of art that hasn’t really been done before,” Larsen said. “We see plenty of illustrated travel posters for places like Paris, Greece, New York, Hawaii, even southern Utah, etc., but we don’t see posters highlighting some of the most beautiful and interesting places right here in the heart of Utah. Giving iconic places here in Utah Valley more artistic appreciation has been very exciting.”
To see all the iconic locations featured so far, as well as to learn more about them and artist Kolby Larsen, visit utahvalley.com/things-to-do/iconic-locations.