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Drawing is emphasized in a big way at Lyme-Old Lyme High School (LOLHS), according to William Allik, drawing and painting teacher at LOLHS and fine arts coordinator for Regional School District 18.
"Drawing is a necessary preparation for all kinds of art, including our 3-D and digital programs," Allik says, "but it is also a language spoken by designers and builders the world over - that's why we view it as one of the most useful and versatile skills we can offer our students, I personally get less interested in 'art' and more interested in drawing every year."
So it's no surprise that LOLHS students took first and second place prizes in the drawing category of the 30th annual Future Choices juried competition and exhibition on display at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, presented by the Shoreline Arts Alliance. Students from schools along the Connecticut shoreline and river valley were eligible to participate.
Madelyne Grabowski took first place for her drawing titled "Skatepark," and Mercedes Crespo took second place for her drawings "Old Man," "Four," and "Five." Both students are seniors and plan to pursue art in college.
"Like several of my strongest students over the years, Madelyne is interested in three-dimensional forms," Allik says. "She brings a sensibility to drawing and design that is informed by experiences making models and creating ceramic forms in our architecture and pottery programs- experiences that give her work an amazing solidity.
"Mercedes has been studying drawing with me since she was a freshman, currently in AP, and really hit her stride this year," Allik says of Crespo. "Her understanding of the facial and hand forms is very detailed, and her mark-making is exquisitely delicate and assured."
He adds that both students were awarded Gold Keys for their portfolios at the Connecticut Scholastic Art Awards.
Grabowski says she was "excited, honored, and a little shocked" that she received the first place award in drawing.
"It felt good to know that my hard work had paid off," she says.
Drawing is Grabowski's preferred medium because she plans to pursue a career in architectural design, and the ability to render forms accurately is a necessary skill in that field.
"Drawing also appeals to me because I like the design and rendering challenges it possesses," she notes. "There is the challenge of creating an innovative and appealing design of the objects on a page, and then there's the challenge of accurately rendering the objects onto the page.
"I also really enjoy the patience and concentration that drawing requires because it allows me to shut out the stresses in my life - at least for a couple of hours," she adds. "It calms and focuses my mind. When I am working, I am in control of what I'm doing and my goal is simply to create something that I love."
Grabowski stresses that she wouldn't be who she is today without the guidance and support of her art teachers, Adam Raiti and William Allik.
"I am very grateful for being able to learn from two great teachers; they are my mentors," she says. "The help (they have both) given me throughout my high school career has been invaluable to my growth as an artist and as a person."
Crespo says that winning the award was a huge honor. She began drawing as a young child and says what appeals to her about drawing is that "it's so versatile and with it you can produce nearly anything. I think being able to draw is a great skill that can showcase someone's talent and creativity in a really beautiful way. I love the fact that I can create something and tell a story."
She says her teachers has a hand in her recent success.
"Just because someone's good at art doesn't mean they can teach, but Mr. Allik is a great teacher and taught me so much in my high school career," she explains. "He really pushed me this year to take my work seriously and that's definitely a reason why I was able to reach such an achievement."
Third place in drawing went to Hannah Smith of East Lyme High School for her drawing "The Dragon." Smith is a senior who also plans to study art in college.
"Winning this award was a very pleasing surprise," she says. "I put a lot of passion and effort into my art and having that recognized makes me feel more confident about wanting to pursue art in the future."
Smith says that what makes drawing especially appealing is the amount of careful detail she can put into her work.
"Details can be the difference between something looking realistic or not. My style is definitely realism and detail oriented - especially in shading," she says. "Shadows are very important in making objects look three-dimensional. To make it look real, the different values within a shadow need to be recognized. I've found that easiest with drawing, (using) both graphite and colored pencil, depending on the mood I want to express."
Smith also credits her teacher, Rachel Michaud, with her growth as an artist.
"Mrs. Michaud is an amazing artist and I always take her critique to heart … She pushes us to really think outside the box and work outside of our comfort zones while always standing behind us for support.
"I love doing her class-assigned pieces because while they have certain parameters, they still allow me to be me," she continues, "which is really what art is all about, expressing yourself."
Allik stresses that he's very pleased that the focus is back on drawing in schools.
"The art world really left drawing behind in the 1960s and '70s," he says. "Bringing technically excellent drawing back to the forefront of art education is one of my life's greatest passions."
What: Future Choices exhibit
Where: Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts Sill House Gallery, 84 Lyme Street, Old Lyme
When: Through March 12. An artist reception and awards ceremony will be held in the gallery on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m.