Justin Tran, currently a student at Virginia Commonwealth University’s art school, creates clean, minimalist illustrations of Richmond neighborhoods. “I’ve been drawing since I was six,” he says, “but didn’t really know that I wanted to be an illustrator and designer until I reached college.” Since leaving his home of Northern Virginia for college, Tran has been taking in the sights of Richmond and using the city as inspiration for his work. From Bellevue to Manchester, Tran has captured the essence of the city’s distinct neighborhoods. Read about his artistic process and see if he’s capture your RVA neighborhood.
Where did you get the idea to illustrate Richmond neighborhoods?
I’m actually from Northern Virginia, where you wouldn’t believe the amount of people who still have this idea about Richmond — that it’s the crime-ridden city it was twenty-something years ago. I thought I’d make an attempt to bring those who are still stuck in the past back up to speed by lionizing the city’s urban vibrancy, charming landscapes and diversity of architecture through simplified line illustrations and an extensive color palette.
Your illustrations of Richmond capture the overall vibe of the city and specific neighborhood you are capturing.
Having lived in the D.C.-area my whole life before college, I felt like I was entering a different world when I first came down to Richmond as a prospective college student back in 2011. The Southern atmosphere and culture of Richmond certainly came as a dramatic change of scenery especially after growing up in the corporate/political climate of D.C. I love both cities; they’re just different and definitely feel discrete from each other, despite their proximity. My 2011 visit was my first time back here in almost 10 years, so Richmond is actually sort of new to me. Now that it’s been a year and a half since I started living here for school, I think it’s safe to say I’ve been well-immersed in RVA’s culture and have developed an eye for the city’s urban landscape.
What’s been the inspiration behind the illustrations?
I think it’s always been about celebrating the city and the overall appreciation its residents have for art and culture. Like I said, I was really surprised by it when I first came here but living in a place that treasures its art, music and food has certainly been an uplifting and gratifying experience.
How do you create these illustrations and what’s your process?
It’s pretty straightforward. I make a few chicken-scratch drawings in my sketchbook, then fire up Google Images and Street View to observe, sketch and mentally take notes of the different visual features present in the city. Then it all boils down to simplifying the features into something minimal that will still give a really good idea of what a building and/or landscape looks like even if the visual features aren’t there. I usually do the simplifying in Illustrator, where all of the final work is done.
What neighborhoods have you illustrated in town? Do you have plans to create more illustrations for other neighborhoods or Richmond fixtures/buildings?
Right now, there’s Bellevue, Carytown, Church Hill, Downtown, Forest Hill, Highland Park, Jackson Ward, Manchester, Monroe Ward, the Museum District, Oregon Hill, Randolph, the Bottom, the Slip and The Fan. That’s 15 neighborhoods in total, which I think is a good number to stop at, for now. If people would like to see other neighborhoods, I’ll definitely consider them.
When did you start creating them?
I did the original nine illustrations back in February 2013 when I was still in my Art Foundation year here at VCU. The first nine probably took about a week and a half to complete, and I remember staying up until 3 in the morning at my dorm or at the studio just to work on them. Nine months later, completely by surprise, the illustrations began to circulate quickly on Tumblr and other social media platforms, and suddenly there was a demand for other neighborhoods I hadn’t drawn yet, most notably Jackson Ward. So, I spent this past holiday season working on J-Ward and the other five remaining neighborhoods and completed the current series of 15 by the year’s end.
What are the dimensions and prices? What are they printed on?
The physical pieces are signed and numbered 10-inch by 12-inch prints, and are sold at $35 each with a limited run of 50 per neighborhood. (You can get a 10 percent discount by purchasing at least five prints, 15 percent off for 10 prints, and 20 percent off for 15.) They are digitally printed on 110 cover, warm white, acid-free paper with a felt finish.
Where can Richmonders get their hands on the illustrations?
The limited-edition prints are sold exclusively at an endearing little shop in Carytown called Orange, although the first nine neighborhoods I did back in February are also available as open-edition prints and in more sizes on my Society6 store (the paper is different and the discounts don’t apply there).
To learn more about Justin Tran, check out his Facebook page.