Putting their best faces forward

Art students vie for top honors in citywide competition

Landon Dills (left), a senior at Air Academy High School and CIVA Charter High School senior Taylor Vallance put the finishing touches on their sculpted clay self-portraits March 8. The 18-year-old art students were participating in an all-city arts competition held at Sierra High School. [Express Photo/Regan Foster]

Taylor Vallance stepped back from her clay bust and gave it a critical look.

“Warts and all,” she said.

Then she burst into a grin. Vallance, an 18-year-old senior at CIVA Charter High School, is not usually a sculptor. Her preferred medium is watercolor, but on March 8 at the fifth annual all-city high school art competition, she stepped out of her comfort zone and sculpted a self-portrait.

It’s a sassy thing with a messy topknot that perfectly matched Vallance’s own funky hair and the sculptor’s same button nose. The subject’s eyes are cast up and away, as though captured mid-roll, and she is playfully sticking out her tongue.

There’s a tremendous amount of detail in the original work, especially when you consider that the artist crafted it in three hours while under the pressure of being judged by a professional artist. The bust is, in a word, cute. It’s lovable. And it definitely captures its maker’s spirit.

“I set out to do everything, even if it’s not the most beautiful part of myself,” Vallance said. “It shows my powers, not just in art but in life.”

Students who take four years of arts and music classes average almost 100 points higher on their SAT scores than those who take one-half year or less. And low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are five times less likely than their disengaged low-socioeconomic status peers to drop out of high school.

Rules of the game

A student’s mixed-media work sits before the pie of shoes on which it was based. Competitors in the division were allowed to use ballpoint pen with watercolors, sharpie with colored pencils and masking tape with charcoal to create their works, which were judged on craftsmanship, illusion of depth and creativity. [Express Photo/Regan Foster]

Sixty-one students from seven high schools descended on Sierra High School for the competition. The budding artists represented Harrison, Mitchell, Sierra, CIVA, Pine Creek, Air Academy and Liberty high schools, and put forth their best efforts with colored pencils, Prismacolor pencils, pastels, mixed media and, of course, clay.

They received the rules and were turned loose with three hours to complete their masterpieces. Once time was up, the works were handed over to professional street artist and muralist Lisa “Miss Boombox” Romans.

“It’s been great stuff, this is gonna be tough,” Romans said with a laugh. She had the unenviable task of picking the best entries from each of the five categories.

Participating in the timed contest, she said, gave the students a taste of life as a professional artist. That’s because time management and meeting deadlines are as critical to professional makers as talent and vision.

“It is really necessary for art students to see what it’s like in the real world,” she said.

 

Cayla Holling, 18, a senior at Pine Creek High School, created this still life using pencils and a small bag of Legos. Students were asked to create their own scenes from the toys, then re-create them in 2D using colored pencils. [Express photo/Regan Foster]

‘The kids need this’

There is a direct correlation between a vibrant arts-education program and student success.

According to the advocacy group Americans for the Arts, students who take four years of arts and music classes average almost 100 points higher on their SAT scores than those who take one-half year or less. And low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are five times less likely than their disengaged low-socioeconomic status peers to drop out of high school. Those same economically fluid kids are twice as likely to graduate college as their peers who had no arts education.

Sierra Art Teacher Todd Hale knows why.

“It exercises both sides of the brain,” he said. “Schools with better arts programs have better testing scores overall. If you have better arts education, you have better student results.”

The arts competition took root a half-decade ago at Mitchell High School. When Hale learned the contest was needing to find a new home, he didn’t hesitate.

“I said, ‘let’s keep it going,'” he said. “The kids need this. It’s good to compete, to help each other out. There’s so much camaraderie. This is awesome.”

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