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Creative careers: Russellville students get their start in art

FRANKLIN LIVING— When the average person thinks about art and creativity, they might conjure up images ranging from finger-painting as a child, to doodling in the margins of notes and grocery lists, to marveling at the works of the masters hanging in museums. While many, however, might see art as a simple hobby or casual interest, for others it’s something much more – a calling that speaks to the very soul.

“Artists are called to share their gift. It is something you have to do,” explained Melissa Grissom, Russellville High School art teacher. “Sometimes there are no words for what you are trying to say. It is just a feeling, and you know when it is right. That is the place for art in our lives.”

As an educator of the arts for more than 20 years, Grissom has been able to help many budding artists share their gifts and hone those talents. While some will always cherish their artistic endeavors as a personal way to bear their souls, others will take it one step further – as Grissom did in making it her career. “I enjoy teaching art because of the feeling of accomplishment that a student gets when they have completed a task,” Grissom said. “The student is proud of the project and themselves. That is something you can’t put a grade on. I enjoy watching students grow by learning new ways of thinking. Art can make you lose track of time doing something that you love.”

Three RHS students Grissom has taught who plan to turn their passions into careers are seniors Nichole Putman and Kalynn Suggs and 2017 graduate Nate Franklin. Their stories of how art has shaped their lives bear resemblances even as they stand alone, as unique as any artist’s masterpiece.

 

Nichole Putman

Sights set on arts education

The 18-year-old daughter of Judy and Alan Putman, Nichole Putman remembers a love of drawing that stretches back to her childhood. “I would sit at my family’s dinner table drawing with colorful pencils for hours on end,” she said. “I would take so much pride in my little doodles that our fridge was covered with drawings. Of course, as a child I took interest in cartoons, and that started to be a heavy influence in my drawing style. I started to draw more animated characters and people. It wasn’t until middle school that I was introduced to traditional art. It was at 13, she said, that she truly embraced art as a whole-hearted passion. Now she tries to do something artistic every day, whether its creative journaling or a simple sketch. She is also a member of the Russellville High School Marching Hundred, playing the flute and piccolo.

Q1: What kinds of art do you most enjoy?

A: I tend to paint realistic pictures in many different mediums. I use acrylic and oil paints, pastels, pen and ink, charcoal and, my favorite, watercolor. I do like to draw in a very animated cartoon-style every once in a while.

Q2: How do you get in your creative zone?

A: I get into my creative “zone” one of two ways. I tend to listen to relaxing music, like jazz or classical, while I draw. The second thing I do is have some sort of Disney movie playing in the background. Between the beautiful songs and light-hearted stories, it just gets me in such a good mood to draw.

My surroundings inspire me and my art. I really enjoy nature and old buildings. If I’m ever stuck on a piece, I like to take a breather and come back to it later. Art takes time, and if you stare at something too long, you’ll never know if it’s finished. I also like to look up pictures online of other artists’ pieces for inspiration.

Q3: What do you enjoy about being creative?

A: I enjoy the time I spend with myself while I work. It gives me the ability to enter a new and exciting world that I have created all on my own. I tend to be excited when I start a new piece. My mind is flowing with creativity, and my heart is roaring with passion whenever I start. Then I inevitability panic when I go to actually start the drawing process. On the other hand, I feel a breath of relief and self-pride in myself for finishing a piece.

Q4: How do you plan to pursue art as you grow older?

A: I want to become an art teacher for middle through high schoolers. I plan on attending Athens State University to complete a bachelor’s degree in art education. I also plan to have a small side business where I will take art commissions for interested individuals. I also would love to have a summer art class for younger children. My dream job would be to be an art teacher at a school that never had an art class before. I want to build my own art department for a smaller school. I could build a brand-new passion in children that never had a way to be creative.

Q5: Who in your life has encouraged or inspired your creativity?

A: I have to give credit to my art teacher, Mrs. Grissom. She has helped me with my art and has also pushed me to try challenging techniques. I also draw inspiration from a Japanese animator named Hayao Miyazaki. His films are so seamless, and each frame is hand painted. The backgrounds for each fill are painted using traditional art techniques and media.

Putman has participated in a number of artistic efforts over the years, including competing in the Times-Daily Design an Ad contest and creating a mural for the Russellville Public Library in celebration of 50 years of art education in Russellville City Schools. Some of her art will be displayed at the Artistic Renderings of Youth in Florence in the Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts building March 27.

“Nichole has served as the art club president for four years during her high school career,” Grissom said. “She is always willing to work hard to achieve excellence in whatever she does. She loves creating art and helping others. Her art is very detailed. She will make a wonderful art teacher.”

 

Nate Franklin

Going into graphic design

From pre-school days spent drawing dinosaurs, to middle school efforts to design sports team logos, Nate Franklin has always pursued his artistic interests. As a junior in high school he began to realize a passion of graphic design. “I wanted to do something business related, and graphic design uses business and creativity,” Franklin explained. When he’s not busy with classwork at Northwest-Shoals Community College or working on an artistic project, Franklin said he also enjoys playing basketball, spending time on the lake, going out with his girlfriend and pursuing his passion for Scripture and Jesus Christ.

Q1: What kinds of art do you most enjoy?

A: I like to try and get involved with all different types of media and techniques. I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for all the artwork I do now, but I always start out with a pencil and sketchbook. I love making digital paintings on Photoshop. Most of the digital paintings I do are personal and many times based off Biblical scripture. I also love to design logos or graphics. It is so fun to me, getting to design a logo for a business or group and see it resemble a group of people and what they represent.

Q2: How do you get in your creative zone?

A: What I love to do while I work is listen to music. I’ll let a playlist go, and I’ll start to work. I get so keyed in, I just block out my surroundings and get so focused. I do use inspiration from other artists and get ideas, but I always want to make something different and use my creativity. I like to create something never done before and use my own style.

Q3: What do you enjoy about being creative?

A: I love the challenge of trying to make something creative and different and new. The most satisfying part of a project is seeing the finished product and seeing businesses and other groups using it.

Q4: How do you plan to pursue art as you grow older?

A: I definitely want to become a graphic designer and minor in marketing. I am transferring in the fall to UAH. Graphic design would definitely be a dream job for me. A career doing what I love would not even feel like a job. So I could see this being a career and hobby.

Q5: Who in your life has encouraged or inspired your creativity?

A: I would like to first off thank my family for encouraging me and always supporting me – also for always looking at what I make and giving advice. I would also want to thank my high school art teacher, Mrs. Grissom, and my college art teacher, Jane Frederick Sharp. Both of these women pushed me to be the very best and helped developed my craft.

Franklin’s latest project was designing a T-shirt for his church, Calvary Baptist, and he is planning to release some new Scripture artwork soon. “I’ll go through a book of the Bible and create a painting with theological meaning. I believe I can preach the gospel and tell the good news through my artwork,” Franklin explained. He has also been brainstorming ideas for Major League Baseball logos, with the buzz about an MLB team headed for Nashville, Tenn. “I have a contact with the main investor who is working with MLB to bring baseball to the Music City,” Franklin said. “How cool would it be if one of my logos ended up on an MLB uniform?”

Grissom called Franklin “a gifted artist who is able to work in different art media.”

“His artistic abilities range from portraits to graphic design,” Grissom added. “He has a positive spirit of kindness that spills over into his art.”

 

Kalynn Suggs

Cartooning for a living

Kaylnn Suggs first discovered her artistic passion as a third-grader. The 18-year-old daughter of Billie Jo Suggs and Carlo Suggs said she now draws every day and is working to design her own webcomic.

Q1: What kinds of art do you most enjoy?

A: I involve myself in many types of art. I don’t really enjoy doing realistic art though.

Q2: How do you get in your creative zone?

A: Music helps me create. I get more inspired and ideas begin to form when I listen to different types of music. Sometimes just sitting around and thinking keeps me from getting “art block.”

Q3: What do you enjoy about being creative?

A: I enjoy the fact that I can impress others by drawing and painting. When people enjoy my work, I feel happy and proud. When I finish any project and create a piece, I feel complete and proud of what I created.

Q4: How do you plan to pursue art as you grow older?

A: When I get older I want to have a career in graphic design. My dream job is to create my own cartoon/comic series. I want to have my own franchise.

Q5: Who in your life has encouraged or inspired your creativity?

A: My family has encouraged me to pursue my art. When I was younger my Meamaw taught me how to draw Snoopy. I think she really got me started with art.

“Kalynn has been involved in art throughout her high school career,” Grissom said. “She always strives to create art that is original. Her style of art is unique and forward-thinking.” Grissom said Suggs strives to do her best at whatever she attempts to do. “She won the Times Daily Design An Ad NW-SCC scholarship her junior year. She will make an excellent graphic designer. She has a unique style that is innovative.”

Grissom has seen firsthand the way art can make a difference in a student’s life. A lifelong artist herself, Grissom has brought art into school systems in Decatur and Cullman, as well as her alma mater at RCS.

“Art is an important subject area. Art can be a teaching tool for all subject areas,” Grissom said. “Art is helpful for visual learners and for those that need hands-on experience. All students benefit from some type of art exposure.

“Art is all around us, from the cars we drive, to the clothes we wear, to the furniture we use, to the cell phone technology every person holds in their hands every day,” Grissom added. “Creating art can also be therapeutic. The possibilities are endless.”

For budding artists who are still discovering their talents, Grissom recommended practice and patience. “Keep a sketchbook and never throw your work away. You can always go back to it and look at it from a fresh perspective to find new inspiration,” Grissom said. “The more you practice, the better your art becomes. Be open to trying new things outside your comfort zone. Never quit and keep trying. Find people that are role models that have accomplished what you want to achieve.”

At the end of the day, Grissom said art is something all can experience and appreciate – whether they consider it a personal passion or not. “Art is a wonderful thing that enhances communities, schools and individual lives. Art is a universal language that everyone speaks. It is something that can be felt with the heart and can touch a person’s spirit without saying a word.”


Photos by Montana Hester and Chris Webb

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