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Young Achievers: Northwest art students capture live event

Eight sketches created in an hour depict the living canvas at CMS superintendent’s celebration 

By Reid Creager
Correspondent

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The event celebrating Heath Morrison’s first 100 days as superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools attracted a steady bustle of people – amid islands of quiet artisans.

Roughly 1,200 invited guests who made their way inside the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center on the evening of Nov. 26 quickly became a living canvas for eight Northwest School of the Arts students. Four seated at easels in positions around the downstairs lobby, four more upstairs, they each sketched a scene that creatively communicated the energy and diversity of the crowd in a sophisticated uptown setting.

The media: Sharpies, charcoal, colored pencils, watercolor, graphite, Copic markers, pastels. The result: a powerfully varied collaboration that reflected the depth of students’ work at the school and elicited raves from many passers-by, including Morrison.

“I was pretty ecstatic about it,” said senior Alex Carroll. “I haven’t really had a chance to do anything like this, and I thought it was a great thing for us to do.”

Alex was among the group nominated by the school’s art department, which conceived the idea and plan. First, students were given input from the faculty about what the scene at the Blumenthal might look like and what some of their creative options might be.

But the decisions were all theirs.

“After we figured out generally what mediums we might want to use, we had to figure out what we could do quickly, at home,” said junior Christy Verhaagen. She said students then told Northwest visual arts chairwoman Tamara Conrad what to bring in – “a tackle box full of all of our supplies.”

Students arrived early at the Blumenthal to stake out their individual positions, getting a look at their background settings and other surrounding details they would draw. Once guests began to appear in the early evening, students had a little more than an hour to sketch the people and finish their work.

The short timeframe and students’ high standards posed a formidable challenge.

“I did as much as I could. As soon as I got in there, I started to lay it down, all the structures,” said Alex. “Then I waited for people to come and then just started little sketches of people and tried to apply a little bit of color.”

“I went through three sheets of paper in planning this composition because it was kind of hard to see where I was going to set up everything,” said Brandi Kinard, a junior whose advanced works are featured just inside the school’s entrance and in the library.

“I wanted to capture everything as a whole in the right proportions.”

She said people who approached her were impressed with the quality and diversity of the sketches, a tribute to the students’ individuality and discipline: “I didn’t want to look at anyone else’s idea because I didn’t want to get inspiration from theirs.”

Brandi got some strong feedback from a VIP.

“Heath Morrison came by and looked at my work, and he actually wanted it in his office,” she said.

Students said the guests’ frequent visits didn’t bother them or affect their concentration.

“I mostly got compliments and ‘How do you do that?’ and ‘That’s really good,’ ” Christy said.

Senior Michelle Segovia said, “They were very sweet. They were definitely interested in the arts and the school.”

Michelle, whose sketch had the most facial detail of the eight, said the size of the crowd created a challenge.

“But I had a mental image and just went along with that. I think it created more of a layering of the people.”

Project creators Conrad, Arts Director Andrew Lawler and art teacher Allison McDonald agreed that the experience enabled students to display the rewards of a demanding curriculum while showcasing their skills. All hope for a similar project involving their students next year.

“The feedback we got was absolutely amazing,” McDonald said.

Conrad posted all eight art pieces as a mural along a wall near the front of the school Thursday – not far from the striking, musical-themed mural that fills an entire wall and greets visitors entering the front door.

Alex said he helped with that mural last year. He’s proud that the school’s surroundings – which include original art on ceiling tiles – help set it apart from others.

“It’s a good atmosphere,” said Alex, who started there as a sixth-grader. “I get to focus on what I like to do and hopefully will be able to major in this one day.”

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