By Naama Raz-Yaseef
This is the first article in a series highlighting the inspiring artwork initiated and led by The Watershed Project in North Richmond. Today, we are thrilled to share with you the completion of a project that brings beauty, joy, and a deeper connection to nature to the streets of North Richmond. This endeavor is a part of the North Richmond Watershed Connections, an Urban Greening project, and the Safe Routes to School project. For more details about these projects, please visit our website.
We aimed to create something truly special for the children of Verde Elementary School who walk to their afterschool program at Shields Reid Park Community Center every day. This 13-block route along Giaramita and Chesley streets lacks sufficient shade (although we are actively working to plant trees in the area) and is occasionally marred by litter (which we are also working on).
To ensure that we captured the interests and likes of the children, we engaged in a dialogue with them, inviting their ideas and suggestions. You can find more about this collaboration on our website.
Based on their feedback, we partnered with local artists to bring their visions to life. The initial phase of this project involved creating delightful water bubble drawings along the route, which not only enhance its aesthetics but also evoke the vibrant spirit of Wildcat Creek. This phase was completed in 2022.
Continuing our efforts this year, we expanded upon the project by incorporating stickers featuring ten different animals and plants native to the Wildcat Watershed. We intended to provide an enjoyable and educational experience for the children. To achieve this, we collaborated with a talented artist who specializes in vivid cartoon and anime illustrations, expertly engaging the young audience. Most illustrations include a “badge” that offers fun and interesting facts about each species. Additionally, in collaboration with our tribal consultants from the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, we integrated the names of these species in the native Chochenyo language, as part of our ongoing commitment to revitalize this important language.
We are immensely proud of the progress made in this project, which not only adds an artistic flair to the streets but also fosters a sense of pride and connection to the local environment. Stay tuned for future updates on this initiative as we continue to make North Richmond a more vibrant and sustainable community for all.
Installation of the stickers on Giaramida and Chesley streets will be completed in the summer of 2023. Have a look and tell us what you think! We think they’re amazing, and hope you will too.
Below is an interview with the artist, James Takenaka.
Please tell us about yourself
Jim is a Los Angeles-based Illustrator with a passion for narrative illustration and concept design. He graduated from California College of the Arts in 2020 with a BFA in Illustration and a minor in Writing.
What type of art do you make?
I am inspired to pursue any and all work that communicates character. For that, literature has been my greatest source of motivation. My style influences lean toward that of the cartoons I grew up on, especially the 2D animated films of the Disney Renaissance! (Some of the movies included in this era are The Little Mermaid, Tarzan, Mulan, Aladdin, and The Lion King; NRY)
How did you get into this specific art form? Why is it a meaningful art type for you? What’s unique about it?
I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil. I remember having very clear visions of what I thought characters looked like in the books I grew up reading. Character, as a focus, reaches almost any facet of illustration. Even with a public works project such as this, my goal was to allow the viewer to connect with the unique personality and character of each native animal. I think this sort of connection sticks with us the longest, through characters that feel like they breathe.
What excited you about working on the illustrations and design for these stickers?
I can clearly picture every poster or piece of art from my middle school, like the signs and the picture books we’d read. Being that young and that excited by the things around you turns your brain into a sponge! The idea that my work will be a small part of someone’s childhood is such an honor.
Do you have a favorite sticker (and why)?
I especially love how the Hawk and Fence Lizard turned out! Those drawings gave me the most grief as they went through several revisions. Struggling through a design tends to yield your best work! I always try to keep that in mind before I throw the towel in. Haha!
What was the most fun part of creating the stickers?
The most fun has been showing my loved ones the finished product. Hearing which sticker my partner loves best, or my mom, or my grandma, or my plumber, has given me such a confidence boost! Especially because all of their answers are different, thank god. I’m happy everyone can find something personal to like about one of them.
What are you looking to work on next?
Anything and everything that can make someone smile! It’s a simple thing to strive for, but so far it’s made my life so rewarding.