A Natural Artist

‘Artist of the Year’ shares her passion for animals and nature along with her talent

Posted on May 13 2012 in Features, For Youth

amandawhaling2013When December 2013 rolls around and calendar pages are turned, Amanda Whaling’s senior send-off to the Cooperative Calendar of Student Art will be revealed at last.

She’ll be a sophomore in college then, but her valedictory work — horses pulling a wagon at a snowy Christmas tree farm — will still be wowing those who appreciate the calendar and the talent and creativity it captures from students in all grades.

Amanda’s acrylic painting, which she completed in March, not only won the 12th grade division of the Electric Consumer/electric co-op sponsored student art contest, but it was judged “Best of Show,” making her the “Artist of the Year.”

“The things that make her special are her skills and the subject matter she chooses. She provides a wonderful product for a lot of people to enjoy,” said Rick Jones, Amanda’s art teacher at Center Grove High School in suburban Johnson County.

“With the calendar, there are a lot of people she’s touched that she’ll never know,” he said, sitting beside her. He noted people will keep and admire her works long after a calendar’s year has passed.

“That’s the pleasure artists have,” he continued. “They don’t get to see the applause that a musician does when they’re up on stage, but [their work] is still appreciated. Obviously, she does a lot of artwork that when people look at it they say, ‘Wow, that’s good.’”

Passion and paint

For 15 years, an Artist of the Year has been named in each of the student art contests. For almost half that time, Amanda has entered her works hoping to achieve that top honor.
“I shoot for it every year,” she said.

While it took her last year of eligibility to win Best of Show, Amanda is no stranger to success as an artist or to the pages of the art calendar. She is now a four-time grade division winner, one of only three in the contest’s history. She first won her grade division as a sixth grader with an illustration of a covered bridge.

amandaswinnersShe followed that up a year later with a winning work depicting two young boys enjoying watermelon on the Fourth of July. As a high school sophomore, she returned to the calendar with an amazing illustration of a black cat sitting on a park bench.

For the 2012 calendar, she won an honorable mention of an illustration of a rusting wagon wheel leaning against a tree.

The Best of Show painting incorporates Amanda’s love of animals and draws on her own experiences. She pulled together an old photo of her family at a tree farm with a found image of horses pulling a wagon.

She said it always was her family’s tradition to bundle up and head out to a real farm to choose and cut their own Christmas tree each year, going as far back as she can remember to when her family lived in Wisconsin. The tradition continued when her family moved to Johnson County. The work might also strike a nostalgic chord for Amanda when it flips up in 2013. “Last year,” she said, “my mom was like ‘let’s get a big plastic one.’”

Amanda’s love of art started in the early grades, but it was during a brief time when her family lived with her grandmother amid the cornfields of rural LaPorte County that she had her first success in the calendar art contest. That came when she was a sixth grader at South Central Elementary School in Union Mills.

“Oh, that covered bridge!” said Dori Huber, Amanda’s art teacher at South Central. Huber still speaks glowingly of Amanda’s work. “I knew she had it in her, and then … poof … she won the seventh grade division when she moved to Greenwood, and then the 10th grade division …. It’s so encouraging to me.”

Huber has her students enter the art contest each year and holds Amanda’s work up as an example for them. “The kids here know her name. They’re proud to know she went through sixth grade here. My kids just loved her ‘cat on the bench’ illustration,” Huber said. “She was a great student across the board, and it does my heart good to see what talent these kids have and to see them put it to good use.”

Hearing success stories involving former students, like Amanda, she added, “makes my 38 years teaching elementary art all worthwhile.”

Amanda said some of her interest in art was spurred by watching reruns of the “Joy of Painting” hosted by Bob Ross on public television. “When I lived up north with my grandma,” she said, “she had like literally three channels on TV. One happened to be PBS — with Bob Ross. I thought it was entertaining when he’d say, ‘I’m going to paint the happy tree now,’ and stuff like that.”

Ross, who died in 1995, was the bushy-haired painter with the soft voice and soothing demeanor who showed viewers how to create on canvas the impression of misty mountains, tall pines and wispy clouds with a few swipes of a brush or dabs and scrapes of a palette knife.

While Amanda said she prefers tighter detail and realism in her artwork, she noted she practiced his techniques. “He always painted nature scenes and made it look really detailed.”

Most of her interest and success in art, though, she attributes to her mom. “If art’s an inheritable trait, I feel as if I got it from her,” she said. Her mom, Wanda, is her sounding board for ideas and provides a critic’s eye for her work. But Amanda said she, herself, is most often her harshest critic. “I’ve always been a perfectionist,” she said. In those cases, Amanda noted, it’s her mom who’ll suggest she let something go and move on.

Because she is a perfectionist, Amanda admitted she often finds herself pushing and stretching deadlines. When she was a seventh grader, for instance, and the family moved to Greenwood, her mom delivered an entry from her sister, Kassie, to the Electric Consumer’s Indianapolis office on the Friday afternoon of the deadline. Amanda was still out in the car struggling to finish her work. That turned out to be the drawing that won the seventh grade division in the 2008 calendar.

While her sister turned her attention to sports, their little brother, Evan, now a sixth grader, has followed in Amanda’s footsteps. He won his grade division as a fourth grader, and this year won an honorable mention.

Amanda’s future plans include either Purdue University or Indiana University. She’s been accepted at both, but, as of mid-April, she hadn’t decided. She has a deep affinity for animals, especially marine life — whales and namely orcas — and would like to pursue a career in animal science or biology involving animals. While her love of animals has always been a large part of her art, art is probably not in the cards for her career, she said. “If I could do something with art and animals, I would. I just don’t know that there are jobs for that,” she said.

Along with two of her calendar winning works, she also won awards depicting animals in contests over the years sponsored by the Indiana Wildlife Federation, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and the Johnson County 4-H. “I like trying to capture the beauty of nature,” she said, “but not in a corny way.”

“That’s what makes Amanda so amazing,” Jones said. “From a young age, she’s combined a talent with a passion for animals. And she’s finding opportunities at not just REMC but other venues to showcase her talents. That’s a sign someone is taking a mature approach to the talent she has. It’s nice that it can be shared.”

Perfection and persistence

Like so many of her Artist of the Year predecessors, Amanda is an example of persistence. Her story closely mimics last year’s Artist of the Year, Stephanie Pitman, one of the other four-time winners. Stephanie, too, first appeared in the calendar as a sixth grader, then finally won Best of Show as a senior. Amanda’s parting advice as a sage senior to younger student artists entering the calendar art contest is to start early, and to keep trying.

As for Amanda’s college plans that don’t include art, Jones said, “She’s multi-talented. It doesn’t bother me as an art teacher that she’s not going to go into art in college. When someone has the passion she has and the talent she has, it’s always going to be there. I can’t imagine her just stopping doing art at the end of the school year and not doing it again.”

In fact, without the deadline of art competitions or class assignments, he said she might find more satisfaction. “It’ll be on her pace. Then she can reach the perfection she’s striving for — and savor it. Art is not just for artists that are making a livelihood at it,” Jones added. “It’s the process of creating and the joy that comes with that creation.” — by Richard G. Biever, senior editor

Click here to visit the May 2012 featured story on the art contest