Stretching Her Wings

Meet the 'Artist of the Year'

Posted on May 12 2010 in Features, For Youth

Heidi Ziebarth, a fifth grader at Harrison Elementary in Warsaw, won Best of Show in the cooperative student art contest with her mosaic of a parakeet (see cover). Heidi’s own parakeets, April, left, and Maddi, were her models and inspiration. Photo and stories by Richard G. Biever

Contest’s youngest ‘Artist of the Year’ blazes her own artistic trail

Heidi Ziebarth is an 11-year-old with a sense for adventure and a love for nature.

Her family’s Warsaw home backs up to a small neighborhood lake where she spends much of her time outdoors exploring. And for the subject of an upcoming speech in school, she selected frontiersman Daniel Boone for his trail-blazing treks into the wilderness and encounters with Native Americans.

Not surprisingly then, when it came to entering this year’s Student Art Contest, she delved into an adventurous, creative project that took her down her own, individual artistic path. The artwork is an elaborate mosaic of colorful painted paper she cut and pieced together to create a parakeet on a branch.

“I’ve always liked drawing, and I’ve always liked writing and doing lines and making stuff up,” Heidi said, “but I never could really find what I wanted to do. Drawing was OK, but it just didn’t feel right. There wasn’t any spark.”

Then she found the mosaic technique that works more like a puzzle. “It actually feels right,” she said. “So I was like, ‘why don’t I do this?’ And since I love birds, ‘why don’t I put a bird in and some flowers?’”

bestofshowHeidi’s work won her grade division in the contest and will illustrate the month of May in the upcomingCooperative Calendar of Student Art 2011. Her initiative in creating the imaginative and intricate piece also earned it the “Best of Show” from among the almost 2,800 total entries in the contest. That makes Heidi, a fifth grader at Warsaw’s Harrison Elementary, the youngest “Artist of the Year” in the contest’s 13 years.

“This project really motivated her to stretch her wings to claim herself as an artist, too,” said Heidi’s mom, Christi, a professional artist and a former art teacher. “This technique did it for her,” she added. “That’s a skill unto itself.”

“This artwork definitely got our attention the moment we saw it,” noted Marianne Wiggers, one of the contest judges, an artist and employee of Southeastern Indiana REMC. “We were all taken with the detail, the original idea, how she used the medium in a unique way, the strong graphic appeal it has.”

Since the Ziebarth home is not on the local Kosciusko REMC lines, Heidi said she first learned about the contest from her classroom teacher, Sarah Ashton, who printed out a flier with the rules and information. She gave it to several of her students who she knew were artistic and could handle the extra work.

“She loves art,” Ashton said of Heidi. “There definitely is a passion for art in that family.”

This year, the contest encouraged students to pursue their own passions in their work while tailoring them to the monthly theme each grade was assigned for the calendar.
As Heidi noted, another of her passions is birds. She has two parakeets, April and Maddi, which provided plenty of inspiration. They live in a cage in the corner of her bedroom, right at home with a palm tree and an iguana painted on the wall. The tropical island mural, painted by Heidi’s mom, continues around the four walls. Other artificial birds of 2- and 3- dimensions and tropical themes decorate the room.

Art runs in the maternal side of Heidi’s family. Besides her mom, Heidi’s grandmother and great-grandmother are also artists. Heidi draws her creative nature from them, and also found inspiration and support from a family friend, Jenny Flowers, an artist wrapping up her degree from Grace College in nearby Winona Lake. Heidi’s dad, Tim, is the director of alumni services and teaches finance at the college.

Christi noted creativity has always been emphasized at the home with Heidi and her two younger siblings, sister Morgan and brother Collin. “The kids are not allowed to use the word ‘bored’ because creativity is the opposite of that,” she said.

But sometimes having a parent good in art, Christi said, can paralyze children artistically because they are unable to produce exactly what they envisioned. She said she tries to take their minds off the end product and has always let her kids explore. Heidi worked to find her own artistic vision and voice with the mosaic.

To create the art, which Heidi said she worked on over the course of a month, Heidi first sketched out ideas. Her mom helped her focus by suggesting she zoom in on just the bird and flowers. Jenny offered tips for the paint. Heidi was used to drawing parakeets, she said, but her mom suggested she look at her own birds until she got the shape just right. She then painted several sheets of large colorful swatches. The “squigglies” in the paint were created with a fork.

The finished 8.5 x 11-inch work uses 80 pieces of cut paper that Heidi meticulously cut out with an X-acto knife. She used multiple photocopies of her final sketch as the pattern to cut out each of the various colored shapes. She then applied tacky glue with a brush to the back of each piece and mounted it to the white background board. “It dries in about a minute, so you have to be really fast. I moved each around with my finger until I got it exactly where I wanted it to go,” she said.

“It was like a puzzle that you had to make sure fit just right, and didn’t leave too much of a gap,” Heidi said.

One of the biggest problems Heidi encountered was the smallest piece of the work — the bird’s beak. She said she must have cut out 10 different ones before being satisfied.
Heidi went back to her own birds for help with the beak’s shape and size.

“Maddi, my white bird, was really good at posing,” she said — pausing when she realized the comment sounded a little funny. “No, I mean literally …,” Heidi continued, “… she’d cock her head to the side, and I’d tell her to stay. Then I’d draw it. If it didn’t look right, I’d draw it again, and she really stood still — which is very, very unusual for them.”

Though she had spent a lot of time already on the project, it took one final marathon session to finish. She spent much of the Sunday before the contest’s Friday, March 19 deadline to wrap it up so it could get in the mail. But the dual awards, statewide recognition, $300 in prizes, and personal satisfaction paid off.

“Encouraging creativity is a legacy in our family,” noted Heidi’s mom. “Heidi’s caught the contagion of that, as well.”

“This piece,” noted Sharon Roeder, another of the contest judges, “should encourage other young artists to explore their creative spirit.”