Mazda selects NSU student design for 2017 art car

jessicacross2017Design work by Northwestern State University students Jessica Cross of Natchitoches and Rachael Gaude of Ventress will be featured at the Washington, D.C., Auto Show, one of the nation’s top five auto shows presented by the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Jan. 27-Feb. 5. Cross placed first for her “Kisatchie Forest” design and Guade placed second for “Honey Bubbles.”  Their work will be applied, or “wrapped,” on a 2017 Mazda Miata and displayed at the Mazda booth at the show.  Julien Montousse, director of design at Mazda Motor of America, selected the top design choices.

In addition to the wrapped vehicles, Automotive Rhythms Magazine is presenting an accompanying “Art In Motion” exhibit of poster prints showcasing Northwestern State student work that was also submitted for the competition.

The designs were created by students in Visual Communications 3220, taught by Collier Hyams, a professor of art who developed a relationship with Mazda several years ago as an opportunity for students to apply their ideas to a product.

“I like cars and package design projects and I wanted to find something wide-reaching and multi-disciplinary that would mean a great deal on a resume,” Hyams said. He encouraged his students to adopt a design firm mentality to develop their ideas. This year’s them revolved around reflection-based surfacing, in which the car reflects its surroundings, either literally or figuratively.  It was the first time either Cross or Gaude had attempted an industrial design project.

Cross is pursuing a degree in fine and graphic art with a concentration in graphic communication and a minor in photography.  Because she grew up in central Louisiana where pine trees dominate the landscape, she based her design on Kisatchie National Forest.

“Considering this year’s theme was reflection-based surfacing, I thought it would be interesting to reflect the environment surrounding the car,” Cross said. “After coming up with a theme, I decided to go with an abstract-minimalist style. I built a gradient effect from top to bottom, giving a sense of perspective and depth to the design. This combination allows the viewer to grasp the design with only a glance.”

Cross plans to graduate this May and hopes to find an internship at an ad agency and eventually do freelance work or work for a publishing company creating book covers.

Gaude is majoring in fine and graphic art with a concentration in studio art and a minor in communications. When given the assignment, her first inclination was to create something obviously reflective such as mirrors, water or personal introspection, but decided to stretch the theme by incorporating an uncommon reflective surface to make her design stand out. Her point of departure was her experience in beekeeping with her father.

“This car design’s purpose is to raise awareness for the declining honey bee population,” she explained.  “The environment surrounding the car plays a huge role in the design of the car itself. Just as I have gazed at my reflection in a bucket of golden honey after a harvest from one of my own hives, a viewer would be able to see themselves and the outdoor environment reflected within the honey design. It subtly reminds the viewers of the crucial impact bees have on the environment and how the natural world would change for the worse without honey bees’ work as the leading pollinators.”

Gaude plans to continue to expand my art skills, earn a graduate degree in art and eventually teach at a university.

Hyams’ relationship with Mazda began when the company opened a new factory in Mexico and issued a call for design concepts that reflected the theme of Mexican art and culture. One of his former students from Georgetown University won the competition and his students have participated in the competition ever since.

“I enjoy brand identity projects,” he said. “I’m always looking for projects in applied arts.  It’s practical rather than theory.”

The Mazda RX-Vision series concept car will be one feature of the Washington Auto Show, which annually showcases cutting-edge exhibits, latest model cars and displays of historic vehicles at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.  For information on the Washington Auto show, visit

For information on NSU’s Department of Fine + Graphic Art, a department within the School of Creative and Performing Arts, visit

2 thoughts on “Mazda selects NSU student design for 2017 art car

Comments are closed.