Ivan Lima is a master of making Oakland’s landmarks even more outlandish. He turned the East Bay into a fried egg, and made the port cranes doubly imposing. But he’s still surprised to see his designs on the street. We talked to him about Oakland design, community work, and those eternal cranes.
How did you end up designing in Oakland?
Well, I started school in psychology. I had this idea in my head that I would be a starving artist if I went into art. Little did I know that there were so many outlets out there for art.
So I took a bike trip to the West Coast and ended up here as my last stop. I just fell in love with San Francisco and Oakland, it was just my place. It was calling to me. I thought, “I’m gonna go back to my art.” I started taking graphic design classes and from then on I was like “Yeah, this is what I’m gonna be doing for the rest of my life.”
What’s your idea of a perfect Oakland day? What would be some greatest hits?
I’d say waking up and getting a cup of coffee, walking around the farmers market and going to a typical Oakland street festival. One that involves all the local foods, chefs, and food trucks. And a bunch of cool Oakland art.
You’ve designed so many classic Oaklandish shirts — how did you get your first gig?
When I got into design, I saw Oaklandish’s shirts, and thought, “I would love to work with these guys one day.” And then they showed up at my portfolio show after I finished my courses. I was like, “Wow, they came to me! This is great.”
The first one that I finished was Sunny Side. From there, I just kept on doing more and more.
What’s it like to see people out and about wearing your shirts? Do you give people shout outs?
It’s usually somebody with me. I’ll point it out and be like, “Hey, I did that shirt.” And then they’ll yell “Hey! He did your shirt!” It’s good to know my stuff is out there and they’re getting a kick out of it. It makes me really happy.
Can you give an example of the inspiration for one of your designs?
Well, the cranes is one of my favorites. I thought, “Let me do something where it’s it’s gonna pop and show their grandiose personality.” And I thought, “Let me reflect this image and it’ll be even better and even bigger. They guard our city. It’s going to be on the water and have this beautiful reflection.”
Proceeds from your Oaklandish shirts go to Innovators awars, and to various other non profits for there there. So what does it mean to you to have designs that are also going back to Oakland?
That’s always been my goal, to use my art to communicate, no matter what language. To make a change somewhere in the world. And my community — it’s where I live, it’s where I’ve fallen in love, and where I want to remain. To make a positive impact in mine, and others’, with my designs, is incredibly gratifying.
I recently co-founded an organization in the San Francisco area called SF Smiles; it’s a charity working with other charities. We do donation drives. We do major events in the city and festivals. And the money is allocated it to organizations that need it. We’ve worked with Homeless Prenatal, WFO, and Public Works. Mixing with all of the other organizations in San Francisco and Oakland, it’s a lot of fun.
Any Oakland landmarks that you think deserve a design soon, that haven’t been immortalized yet?
Yeah! Some of those old building here on Broadway or San Pablo or any of those old areas. It would be great to highlight those.