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Ligers, tigons and zonkeys, oh my.
Hybrid critters are showing up in coffee shops and restaurants throughout the Triangle and beyond.
Its all part of Apex High School art teacher Ian Sands ongoing efforts to get people involved with art.
Sands and his students placed about 25 pictures of critters in unsuspecting venues.
The idea is that anyone who happens to stumble upon one of the 4-inch CritterColor blocks should color it with the attached crayons, snap a photo of the finished product and then post the picture on the projects Facebook page.
About a dozen completed critters have shown up on the Critters on Zonkey Street Facebook page so far, including one from Chevys Ale House in Apex and a shop in Boone.
Im really interested in interactive art, said Sands, 47. Its more fun for me to know that somebody found it, that they colored it in. They are creating the art right along with me. To me thats exciting.
Sands created his critters in 2006 from doodles on Post-it notes. He started with the zonkey a cross between a donkey and a zebra and then researched other cross-bred animals.
He came up with a wholphin, a dolphin-whale mix; a tigon, a tiger-lioness; a liger, a lion-tigress; and a sweese, a swan-goose.
Since then, Sands has used his critters in different ways to get the public involved in art.
He launched the Lost Critter Project at the Halle Cultural Arts Center. Twenty-three large foam critters were spread across businesses on Salem Street in downtown Apex.
Each animal had a message asking the finder to return it to the Halle.
Sands worked with the Apex Chamber of Commerce to expand the project in 2009. About 500 critters were hidden in downtown Apex, and finders were asked to return them to specific businesses such as a bookstore or coffee shop.
Sands was hooked. In 2011, he partnered with The Graham Johnson Cultural Arts Endowment to create 30 interchangeable blocks displayed in downtown Wake Forest. Passersby could mix and match the 18-inch Critter Cubes.
Sands critters have even landed on a local billboard and on a Raleigh Art-on-the-Move bus.
His love of art started as a child, when he dreamed of becoming a wildlife artist. After he finished art school, he wanted to be an illustrator.
Sands journey into interactive art started after he did some street art and found it dull and dry. People would look at it and then keep moving.
He started wondering about how people interact with things. His first thought: They find things that are lost.
With the CritterColor blocks, Sands has no control over the final product.
(People) get to decide what to do with my art, he said. I think theres an internal artist inside everybody.
Apex High School junior Katelyn Whitehead, 16, was one of the students who helped spread the CritterColor blocks. Its something that everyone can do and can include everybody, Whitehead said.