One year ago, Isthmus art director Tommy Washbush created the cover illustration that marked the paper’s first print issue in 17 months. So it is fitting that he is back to celebrate our one-year anniversary in print as a nonprofit newspaper. 

Isthmus, founded in 1976, did very nearly go away in 2020 despite its deep roots in Madison and loyal readership. Tommy’s striking 3-D illustration represents the paper’s reestablishment in the heart of the city — metaphorically speaking, that is. We still don’t have an office. 

“I wanted to do something special and unique for our one-year anniversary issue, and I always like to take chances and try something bold,” says Tommy. “In a first for Isthmus, I removed the nameplate from the top and incorporated it into the subject matter of the illustration.”

The illustrations for Isthmus’ covers normally go through various drafts and come together over time. There is no pen or paper involved in Tommy’s illustration work. “I work entirely digitally, and start with basic shapes and colors and build on top of that to add detail and refine my composition until everything fits together.”   

A graduate of Madison College’s graphic design program, Tommy worked for Isthmus for 10 years before moving to New Hampshire and giving freelance art a try. After working with notable clients including Adult Swim, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Madison College and Zumiez, and amassing nearly 80,000 followers on Instagram, he returned to Madison in 2021 to guide Isthmus’ creative side.

See more of his work on Instagram at @washbeast.

[Editor’s note: We realized, somewhat belatedly, that much of the wonderful artwork that has graced our covers since Isthmus’ relaunch in print a year ago was never published on our website since it was not associated with a particular story. This monthly feature will rectify that. “Behind the Isthmus cover” will tell the story of the illustration and illustrator behind the design.]

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