Featured Student: Nianna

Today I’m posting about Nianna (age 13), who recently got successful admission into LaGuardia High School (a school that specializes in the arts, basically like a magnet school) after a long arduous preparation process for the school’s portfolio requirements and audition.

After we had lessons together for about 9 months with LaGuardia High School in mind, she was able to improve her skills, build a great portfolio, and she was prepared for her audition.

Here is one of her final portfolio pieces:

Here’s some of her work I’d received before we started our first lesson together:

What I’ve realized over the years was that an artist can have the ability to draw something well, but completion and polishing for good presentation is actually a separate skill. I think what students ought to know is that there is value to any time put into practicing drawing, even if you don’t finish the work. Any sort of drawing counts as sort of like drilling, and the student acquires more of the skill of whatever they practiced. A dancer might stretch to become more flexible and be good at a few dance combinations, but putting together a polished choreographed performance is a separate item. It requires dedicated time and effort.

There is value in unfinished pieces — artists will gain skills that carry them through any future pieces that require those skills. But if you want an audience, especially as a professional, it’s important to make sure your work is completed and presented well.

The way I’m going to split up the next part of this post is by subject matter and showing Nianna’s progress over time.

Here’s a shot of a still life she drew:

In the following still life below for her portfolio, you can see how much more carefully she shaded in the objects, and how all the geometric shapes are much more straightened out:

The first time we went over color, we tried experimenting with rendering a leaf without using only green:

Here are the other colored pieces she put into her portfolio (alongside the flowers piece at the top of this post):

What I try to teach to all my students when I teach color is that, given your illustration process is open to the whole range of colors, don’t just use the light and dark versions of the same color for the same object if in theory that object is just one color (like an egg, a rose petal, a hand, or a tennis ball). Use cool versus warm colors to add more contrast. When I paint leaves for example, I like to use not only greens, but blues and turquoise for the darker areas, and orange and yellow for the more highlighted areas. Colors will pop out more and look even more like themselves if there is a color contrast next to them — this can be shown in Nianna’s landscape painting, where brown, yellow and amber colors are used alongside the greens on the hills. The depth of that painting was also accentuated by how faded out the blueish backdrop was rendered.

Nianna had expressed that she enjoyed illustrating fabrics. What can be tough about them is that there needs to be balance between stiffness and fluidity — in the line work, shading, and in the resulting illustration.  Since she’d expressed this interest, I suggested that she draw pictures of dresses to keep things exciting.

I think Nianna was a natural when it came to drawing draped fabrics in full value.

Here’s one of her fabric pieces in her portfolio:

In this last section, Nianna shows her drastic improvements in drawing portraits.

Like many of my students who aren’t too familiar with drawing hair, Nianna started out with what I call “spaghetti hair.” I’d written about it in the past (about halfway through the post), and it is definitely the most common mistake that artists make when they first try to draw hair, myself included. But it’s really great that artists make an effort and put some kind of hair on the head anyway just to keep the illustrations coherent, completed and polished.

Here’s some of her work during the first (or at least one of the first) lesson we had with going over hair:

Definitely the first step is to realize that hair should be parted into smaller sections. Some sections can cast shadows and sit on top of other locks of hair, some sit underneath other locks of hair.

I think Nianna’s drawings of Emma Watson were fairly recognizable, and by this time she’d significantly improved her skill of drawing portraits.

Here are the portraits that went into her successful portfolio:

With this next one, Nianna demonstrated her capacity to take risks. Portraits of people looking up are among the toughest to render, in my experience, and Nianna illustrated it very confidently. A lot of editing, time and effort went into this one and I’m really proud of her for finishing it. This piece could easily have been really demoralizing but I’m really impressed that she pushed through the process.

Well, that statement can actually be said about the entire process of building a portfolio on a deadline!

The preparation process for LaGuardia High School was a long, stressful and exhausting one — but look how far you’ve come! I am so proud of you, Nianna — you’ve worked hard, and you have earned your successful admission! Congratulations! ❤

Thank you for checking out this post everyone! I hope Nianna has inspired you all 😀

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