Press "Enter" to skip to content

Nelson County student billboards share public service messages with flair

Next time you’re driving past an array of digital billboards on the highway, some of the public service messages you see may have come from the clever minds of Nelson County High School art and photography students.

Paying attention to roadside wildlife hazards just got a little more interesting, thanks to Gavin Sisterman’s "Wait! What?" approach; the artist’s choice of a hippopotamus underscores the need to be both vigilant behind the wheel and prepared for surprises.

Adreanna Bibb’s depiction of a more frequently encountered Virginia creature, a fox, uses a combination of just enough detail and clean text to get the point across.

Nyala Brown’s "Stop Violence" message and crisp red hand graphic lend themselves well to vertical billboard displays, while Anna Wilkins’ vibrant yellow flower, bee and bold pun offer a humorous take on a reminder to be kind. Kyle Mehring’s beaming pups can encourage stressed-out drivers to smile while reminding them that adopting shelter pets is more than just a public service.

Creating digital billboards in art teacher Terry Ward’s class at Nelson County High School has reinforced the ways in which a clear, effective message can meet multiple needs at once and has shown students that there’s more than one path to creating successful communication.

His students learned how to make use of the GoogleDrawings app and other free Google-based products to fashion public service messages out of photographs they took on their phones or images they drew freehand and then apply the right amount of text in punchy fonts and sizes to get attention. There’s a time and a place for professionals and serious hobbyists to shell out for more pricey software and equipment, but Ward wanted the students to see what they could accomplish with free apps that are accessible and effective.

"When people are clipping by at 70 mph, you have to be clear," Ward told The Daily Progress. "Whether it’s an image or text, we’re looking for not a lot of clutter. If they crop in closely on the animal and the message is concise, people get the point not only with the words, but with the visual matter."

The students began their public service campaigns by choosing positive community-building messages, such as preventing littering, avoiding smoking or keeping animals and people safe from harm. Then they learned how to use different apps to create images and combine them with text. The choices the students made could fine-tune their messages to be useful in a variety of settings.

"Unconventional subject matter, or a great image, really stands out," Ward said. "It could become a print ad. It could be a poster. It could be on the side of a milk carton. There are situations when you have a captive audience and they have more time to read stuff, like in a stadium."

It’s as important to select the right words, and as few of them as possible.

"Five words is chatty. Seven is really talking too much," Ward said. "You need to be concise."

Ward selected "the best and the most billboard-y" of the completed assignments and sent them to billboard companies, which accepted work from about 15 students.

There haven’t been any local sightings yet, but Southeast Media Corporation and other companies’ digital billboards in Lynchburg, Richmond, Norfolk and Virginia Beach have been inserting the Nelson County students’ creations into their regular rotations.

One disadvantage over print billboards is that it’s hard to take a selfie in front of the finished product. Ward said his students accepted the ephemeral nature of the assignment, and he printed out certificates to make sure the students were recognized during the school’s recent awards presentation.

"The thing is, we don’t know when they’ll happen," Ward said of the digital billboards. "It might be at three in the morning. It might be during rush hour. They are rather ephemeral. If you drive by and see it, there it was."

All the more reason to keep your eyes peeled for hippos.


Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *