Artist David Velasquez, known as Big Sleeps, in front of his new mural on Cherry Avenue in Long Beach, during its opening celebration on Saturday, Feb. 1. The mural consists of words in Chicano style lettering, most prominently "Determination," against a blue and yellow background. (Kristen Naeem | Signal Tribune)
Artist David Velasquez, known as Big Sleeps, in front of his new mural on Cherry Avenue in Long Beach, during its opening celebration on Saturday, Feb. 1. The mural consists of words in Chicano style lettering, most prominently "Determination," against a blue and yellow background.

Kristen Naeem | Signal Tribune

New mural tattoos Cherry Avenue with Chicano calligraphy

February 7, 2020

The celebration of the completion of Long Beach’s newest mural on Saturday, Feb. 1, was accompanied by a message of hope by the artist.

David Velasquez, known as Big Sleeps, is an influential Los Angeles based artist, known for his skill in regional latino lettering. His calligraphy book, Letters to Live By, is used in tattoo shops all over the world as a valuable reference.

But before achieving success as an artist, Big Sleeps spent some time in juvenile detention years ago. The artist used the attention surrounding his new mural to encourage kids in similar situations not to give up on themselves.

Besides completing the new mural in Long Beach, Big Sleeps also led a series of art workshops in Chicano lettering for youth, through the local nonprofit Centro CHA, a non-profit Hispanic/Latino human and social service agency that advances and advocates extensively for the well-being of underrepresented, low-income Hispanic children, youth and families in the City of Long Beach..

“I feel like I’ve made pretty good progress,” Big Sleeps told the crowd, “using lettering and graffiti and even spray painting to reach out to kids and give them a shot to create something beautiful. I’m really happy with the turnout of the mural. We named it ‘Determination’ because I just feel like that’s a really important word. Never quit and just stay determined in anything you do and you’ll see results. I obviously applied it to my lifestyle. I had some pretty tough times as a youngster, in and out of institutions or whatever, and was able to push through and become a pretty happy artist. I love what I do.”

Centro CHA also works with young people that have been through the juvenile justice system. Rehabilitating previously incarcerated youth has been one of the nonprofit’s main tenets since it was founded in Long Beach around 31 years ago.

“What we do is provide job training,” Centro CHA employee David Ramirez told the Signal Tribune, “and skills training as well, to have these members who have been formerly incarcerated be able to rewrite their future and be able to adapt to society again.”

While Big Sleeps knows that it’s easy for kids in these situations to get discouraged, he aims to send them a positive message through his art.

“It’s always important to try to bring inspiration to young kids,” Big Sleeps told the Signal Tribune, “especially those that are struggling with falling into negative peer pressure or influences that aren’t in their best interest. Me, having lived that lifestyle or experienced that type of childhood, and being in juvenile hall and California Youth Authority, knows how easy it is to be discouraged or disappointed by just growing up in certain environments. But I think bringing some form of inspiration or hope is always important, which is why I always fill my projects with positive words and stuff like that, just to try to show the kids that there’s always a positive outcome if we make the effort to stay determined to push through. I feel like it’s really important to have that goal in mind, to know that there’s something good at the end of the tunnel.”

Big Sleeps also talked about the importance of social media in helping the careers of young artists, especially those from marginalized groups.

“That’s always tough, but thank God for social media. We can always look for local artists in our communities, or workshops or whatever,” Big Sleeps said.

The artist also frequently holds events to support youth interested in art.

“They can always look up Big Sleeps, which is me, and see if I have something going on. I’m usually traveling around different countries working and stuff, but when I’m in town I’m always trying to put some projects together for kids, or something inspirational to keep handing the torch down. There’s a lot of talent around and we want to make sure that we have these youngsters tap into their fullest potential.”

Big Sleeps goes on international tattooing tours often, his artwork captured on the skin of countless customers across the globe. The latest tour announced on his social media will be in Havana, Cuba from Feb. 10 to Feb. 16. Unfortunately, the artist was forced to cancel another tour he had planned for next month in China, due to the recent outbreak of coronavirus.

The Determination LB project, consisting of Big Sleep’s mural and youth workshops, was supported by Long Beach Transit, Centro CHA and the Arts Council for Long Beach.

Visit Big Sleeps official Instagram here.

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