Water is Life art contest

Classmates Derek Jiang, 10, and Shelby Perez, 11, of La Cañada Elementary School, are 1st and 2nd place winners of the "Water is Life" art contest, sponsored by Foothill Municipal Water District on Monday, May 5, 2014. The two are coincident winners of 105 entrants from Altadena to La Crescenta, in all grades from Kindergarten to 12th grade. For first place, Jiang won $150, and for 2nd place, Perez won $100. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / May 5, 2014)

Creativity paid off for two La Cañada Elementary School fifth-graders who recently beat out more than 100 other artists to win the top two places in this year's "Water is Life" art contest sponsored by the Foothill Municipal Water District.

Classmates Derek Jiang, 10, and 11-year-old Shelby Perez learned late last week their art pieces — which both feature strong messages about water conservation — had been selected to win first- and second-place awards, along with cash prizes and gift cards for the school.

Jiang's entry featured two versions of a single landscape split into a yin-yang shape, one side depicting a barren, waterless wasteland and the words "no water, no life." On the other side, a bright, verdant landscape and stream is framed by the words "water is life."

"It's yin-yang, black and white, (about) the contrast," explained Jiang, who also attends classes at a Temple City art school. "It's like water and no water, it's really different."

Perez said she'd entered the contest in years past but had never won. Her inspiration this year was a raindrop. First, she drew a giant drop containing several different land and sea-dwelling animals. The motto she chose was "water conserved is life preserved."

"I had a raindrop, and all the water's trapped inside of it," Perez said, relating the image to the slogan. "The water is holding all the animals together."

Perez and Jiang will join other winning artists from Glendale, Pasadena and La Crescenta, areas served by FMWD and its retail agencies, in a recognition and award ceremony to be held May 19 during the District's next board meeting.

Originally started by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, FMWD's lead agency, the "Water is Life" contest is open to thousands of local K-12 students, whose top entries are compiled into an calendar of student art.

FMWD employees selected the region's top 15 pieces to be considered for inclusion in the calendar, and agency managers selected the final three, according to Daniel Drugan, a water program technician.

The contest is about reaching out to the public with important messages of conservation and environmental stewardship, Drugan said Monday.

"It's important for us, as an educational tool, to educate kids about the water commissions and the importance of conserving water, especially in light of this current drought condition," he said of the contest. "These kinds of programs get the gears moving in the kids' heads, that's what's really important."

La Cañada Elementary art teacher Robin Torres, who organized participation on campus, said she was delighted the two top winners were her own and hoped next year to possibly make it a bigger schoolwide lesson on environmentalism, as expressed artistically.

Jiang and Perez, meanwhile, don't know how they'll spend their prize winnings. They're more focused on the joy that comes from a job well done.

"I just thought it would be a good experience," Jiang said.

--Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Follow on Twitter: @SaraCardine.

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