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California's whale tail plate gets makeover, fresh start [Updated]

August 3, 2011 |  3:51 pm

Whale tail remade for california license plate 
California’s freshly redesigned whale tail license plate has finally been rolled out and motorists can now order the eco-plate, which raises money for the state Coastal Commission.

The old plate, created by noted muralist Wyland, got deep-sixed when the Laguna Beach artist asked for 20% of the revenue the state was making off his artwork. The plate has been a steady revenue producer, raising millions for coastal and environmental programs.

The new plate is a crisper, brighter rendering of a whale's tail that California Coastal Commission officials say more closely resembles an actual whale — a humpback — than Wyland's more dreamy design, which showed a whale’s tail splashing out of the gray, misty ocean.

The plate had its official debut Tuesday.

After the dispute began with Wyland three years ago, the Coastal Commission sponsored a contest to design a new plate, with instructions to include a whale tail and a California coastal motif.

After sifting through the work of more than 300 contestants, judges settled on a hybrid of the top two entries, one by a painter, the other by a graphic designer.

The result is a more vibrant backdrop: a sunnier sky with just a few clouds and a tail splashing droplets of water into a deep blue sea.

"This new design looks like a bright day that is very evocative of California," said Christiane Parry, director of public programs for the Coastal Commission. "The old one was more hazy and moody, but this is a little more optimistic."

Not everyone sees it that way, though.

Steve Creech, project director of the Wyland Foundation, called the new image "a very poor imitation of a Wyland artwork."

[Updated at 7:45 p.m.: Wyland intended to direct a portion of the funds his artwork raised to his own environmental foundation, which has donated thousands of dollars to conservation and education causes.

The artist, who loaned his painting to the state 20 years ago, never intended to take any of the money for himself, but rather for his foundation’s work, a spokesman said.

The wylandfoundation was launched in 1993 to educate people about marine life conservation and protecting the environment.]


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Image: Redesigned whale tail plate. Credit: California Coastal Commission