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R.I. opened a design contest for its new license plate and 900 people responded

Annie Agresti's colorful design for the license plate contest featuring a lighthouse.Deanna Agresti

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island needs a new design for its license plate as it prepares to phase out the iconic “Wave” design.

Nine hundred people have some ideas.

“We are pleased with the number and quality of the designs submitted to the license plate contest, ranging from professional schematics to children’s hand drawings,” Paul Grimaldi, a spokesman for the Department of Revenue, said in an email. “It’s obvious that Rhode Islanders took this opportunity to heart and we will treat all the designs with the same seriousness during our review. It will take some time for us to complete the review.”

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Those 900 would-be license plate designers submitted 940 designs by the Jan. 7 submission deadline; some people could not limit themselves to just one. The Boston Globe, naturally, has filed a records request for all 940, but given the high volume the Division of Motor Vehicles, which falls under the Department of Revenue, is still working on it.

Finalists from those 940 will be selected by a panel of DMV staff, and then Rhode Islanders will vote online to pick their favorite.

The license plate design proposed by Karyn E. Jimenez-Elliott, an associate professor of graphic design at Johnson & Wales University.Karyn E. Jimenez-Elliott

Submitters included Karyn Jimenez-Elliott, a professional graphic designer who went with a minimalist version of the Newport Pell Bridge at sunset, as well as an anchor in the top left corner. In the top right corner, she put a lesser-known icon of Rhode Island: the striped bass.

“There’s a unique love for striped bass among anglers in Rhode Island,” Jimenez-Elliott told the Globe. “And there’s just something about driving over the Pell Bridge, and that sunset. We have such beautiful sunsets here.”

Sometimes graphic design means creating something for a small, focused target audience, and also getting paid money for it. The DMV license plate design is neither of those things: The winner’s reward will be $0, plus the appreciation of hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders on the highways and byways, and the bridges, of the state.

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“To have something that’s designed for everyone out there, just everyone in Rhode Island — that’s really awesome,” Jimenez-Elliott said.

Deanna Agresti was responsible for several of the license plate designs. A Cranston resident who went to Rhode Island School of Design and teaches art at East Greenwich High School, Agresti submitted a few slightly-tweaked versions of her own design, inspired by the state flag. A couple of her students also submitted them as optional assignments. And she helped her daughters, 6-year-old Lucy and 8-year-old Annie, with their designs.

Lucy Agresti, 6, left, and her sister Annie Agresti, 8, hold up their license plate designs. Deanna Agresti

As soon as Lucy and Annie heard about the design contest, they set to work on drawings all by themselves. Because they can draw but don’t know how to use Adobe Illustrator, Deanna brought them into digital form.

“No, move it this way, change this color,” they’d tell her as she worked to carry out their vision.

Lucy, for instance, drew an anchor. But, she specified, it was actually underwater, and it had a chain attached to it, and it had a bit of a tilt. It gave it a sense of movement through water. The fish swimming alongside were also Lucy’s idea. Annie, meanwhile, went with a lighthouse featuring a sunset.

“When I looked at their sketches, I was like, ‘I never would have thought of this,’” Agresti said. “They love making art.”


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.