Communication arts senior believes Richmond can be any color you want


Communication arts senior Mabel Barreto created the first draft of her Richmond-themed coloring book for an unlikely venue: a bench in a Fan pizzeria.

The piece, titled “The Richmond Experience,” spans the length of a wooden booth in Benny Ventano’s Pizza. Rams flank each end of the artwork, with bicycles and buildings bursting out of the rapids of the James River.

“I finished with the bench, and I saw it and was like, ‘I want to go bigger,’” says Barreto about the project she completed in February. “When I was making this piece, I had the idea of making this huge coloring page. I was just like, ‘That’s what I want. I want this piece to keep growing and adapting.’”

“The Richmond Experience” formed the basis of Barreto’s new book that celebrates Richmond’s unique landmarks and festivals with elegant black linework begging for color. Though it remains a work in progress, she had the chance to debut a much larger version of the initial illustration at the student-run communication arts show “Pilot Episode” in November.

The artist was granted an entire wall at the Anderson for her print, which inspired her to let visitors contribute to the work. At first, she considered curating the available colors in the bucket of pencils in the gallery, or adding a little color to the piece beforehand to nudge contributors toward a certain palette. But she abandoned those plans when a little girl walked in.

“She was one of the first people—a daughter of one of the professors—and when she saw it her eyes lit up,” says Barreto. “She ran and grabbed a bunch of markers, and started drawing a rainbow chin on the ram. I was like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, what is she doing? But, wait! It’s fine. It’ll all come together in a way.’ And I feel like it does come together now.”

Visitors added wild colors and even original drawings that play off the artist’s existing lines. Just as the black-and-white illustration at the base of “The Richmond Experience” is a celebration of the city, the exhibited version is a broad dialogue between countless members of the community.

“The spontaneous actions and choice of colors—how different ones mix and how certain patterns are done—I find so interesting,” she says. “That’s so much better than if I had just planned it out.”

Though she graduates this December, Barreto has made her mark on VCU’s campus. She worked with the Wellness Resource Center for a year, and recently painted a mural of birds and flowers in their building. She spent her summer with the Division of Student Affairs as they launched their tobacco-free campus campaign, designing signage, banners, posters and vinyl. She’s also the graphic design chair for the professional business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi.

Barreto equates drawing with pure joy, and credits the communication arts program for stoking her excitement in illustration. At the Anderson, she was proud to share a room with a dizzying variety of student work.

“We’re these super cute, shy geeks that love animé and Pokémon,” Barreto says. “We’re all introverted and weird and I love it. We’re all so unique in our own ways, and we benefit from each other. As we go throughout our years in communication arts, I’ve definitely seen that we’ve all honed in on what we’re good at. It’s been amazing to witness. People have found their style and are running with it.”