Portland Skyline: There’s Fine Lines and There’s Tracing


Dreams of a pink skyline.

This post was inspired by the Pittsburgh Orbit, well, actually, the idea was straight up stolen from them. We only steal from the best. When I saw their tribute to Pittsburgh skyline art I was reminded of the images I’ve collected of precise lines and graphics that have created images of Portland skylines used in advertising, company logos, school murals and art pieces. I hadn’t gotten around to pulling them together but seeing the most recent Pittsburgh Orbit post made me realize it was time.

With no clear guidelines every design takes a stab at what to include and exclude. They might sneak in a bridge or two but all the bridges would be impossible. Distinctive skyline landmarks like KOIN Tower and Big Pink are a must. The goal is to make Portland recognizable. Otherwise, why bother? You’d be left with a generic urban landscape. There’s also the trick of creating a one dimensional image that may not jive with the East-West lay out of the city. Giving leeway to precise skyline design is necessary to fully appreciate different designs.

Getting Schooled

Opening doors for Portlanders.

When dealing with school murals it’s safe to assume the work is by students. This means I’ll step light with my critiques. At Jackson Middle School, the Portland skyline graces one of the front doors blending with door handles and windows. It’s a sunny depiction of downtown around the Hawthorne Bridge. (I risk a grilling if I get a bridge name wrong.) The scene stretches from Big Pink to the KOIN Tower with lots of Willamette River and a desolate Waterfront Park that resembles the morning after Blues Fest after everyone has gone home but cleaned up after themselves like good Portlanders. This portrait is colorful and cheery yet devoid of people. Perhaps a post-plague, Portland portrayal.

Portland’s lego inspirations.

At Wilson High School we get a 3D representation with dark shadows and blossoming trees. It’s a pure design I appreciate. I’m no art critic. I only long for images that fit the theme. This works well and it offers equal space to bold letters declaring the city’s name. This youthful statement of the obvious is forgivable. It only takes one recognizable building to make it an authentic Portland skyline and this fits the bill. The mural’s mostly monochromatic design works—like the city’s motto.

Simply Get it Right

Going Uptown!

It takes very little. If you want to make the skyline a logo you just have to work geometric shapes into the patterns that resemble downtown. Blocky rectangles topped with a triangle equals a KOIN Tower. We’ll take the graphic artist’s word for it. Uptown, downtown, wherever you’re going, you won’t get lost when your company name fits within the boundaries of a few of the city’s buildings.

Portland after dark.

The Audubon Society uses the city as a rallying cry. Save energy, birds and make the stars more visible it declares. This poster has nice detailing like purple skies, flying geese, a giant moon and it sneaks in the Steel Bridge. Some buildings don’t appear to be in the correct order. Is that Big Pink standing next to the KOIN Tower?  Who cares. There’s no need to get picky when it’s more about the message. If Portlanders turn off the lights there will savings, sightings and our skyline will pop like a breath taking silhouette for all to gaze upon.

Whimsical Wins

Life in a fairy tale.

I didn’t steal this image so much as borrow it. Famous last words. Details are sketchy. It may have been spotted in a coffee shop downtown. I love the idea of Portland as a land of enchantment of sorts, the kind an artist’s imagination brings our locale. Sandwiched between mountain ranges, we get clouds of falling rain, puffs of heart smoke from chimneys and an abstract rainbow mixed in with Portland landmarks like the St. Johns Bridge and the tram that bring the image home. The tram is part of the city’s whimsy and for lack of a better word, charm so it’s great to see it included. Bonus points are granted for the creation of an image of a place, I assume, most of us would be willing to live.

I’ll have a Portland bagel.

I entered Spielman Bagels in Multnomah Village after deciding to write about Portland skyline art. I was greeted by a theme appropriate illustration as part of their menu board. More whimsy here with what can be spotted under the bright lights. We get the tram, Mount Hood, the Freemont Bridge and the buildings that are a must invite for any skyline art party.


I know all of you are begging for more images which I hope to present sooner than later. Portland images appear before me with regularity and there’s  also a backlog on an old phone that couldn’t be located at press time.

2 thoughts on “Portland Skyline: There’s Fine Lines and There’s Tracing

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