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It doesn’t come easel-y

Sophomore reignites passion for art
Guos+portrait+of+Jose+Trejo+won+a+Gold+Key+in+the+Scholastic+Art+and+Writing+Competition.+She+completed+the+drawing+in+freshman+year+in+Michelle+Vassallos+Advanced+Art+II+class.+
Kelly Guo
Guo’s portrait of Jose Trejo won a Gold Key in the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition. She completed the drawing in freshman year in Michelle Vassallo’s Advanced Art II class.

It’s a blank canvas.

An hour later, it’s still not what she wants it to be.

Three more hours go by in a blur, and the canvas comes alive.

Sophomore Kelly Guo first ventured into the art world during third grade summer camp.

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But it wasn’t love at first sight.

“When I first started art, I hated it,” Guo said. “I hated every second [of it]. My hand hurt from grabbing my pencil the wrong way, and every single time I started drawing, my lines were crooked and I was pressing too hard so I couldn’t erase the lines. I was like, ‘Oh God this is awful. I have no talent for this. I hate this.’”

But Guo’s teachers were “great,” teaching her “step-by-step” and making sure she learned the fundamentals correctly. Painstakingly, with many mistakes and near giving up moments, she learned how to draw.

Even after Guo learned to draw successfully, her art career had a few more stumbles in store for her. When the pandemic shut down schools across the world, she took an almost three-year break from creating art. Even before COVID-19 hit, Guo had been feeling dissatisfied and unstimulated by art.

“It was because I didn’t really explore any other mediums,” Guo said. “I was just stuck in still life and pencil drawings. I didn’t really want to explore more. I was like, ‘No, I don’t like colored pencils. No, I hate watercolors. Oil painting, oh please, no.’ It got boring after a while because after doing the same thing over and over for years, you don’t really like it anymore. So during COVID[-19], I just dropped out.”

But she knew “deep down” that she still had an affinity for art and guessed that trying new mediums would get her back into it. Towards the end of her hiatus, Guo started subconsciously drawing no matter her surroundings.

“I found myself often doodling around on scrap pieces of paper and decided that maybe I’d give art another shot,” Guo said.

Guo jumped back into art with full enthusiasm in her freshman year, taking on new mediums and exploring other aspects of art outside her comfort zone.

“[Using] colored pencils was nice,” Guo said. “Oil painting was fun. And I started doing still life again, and it’s good. ”

Guo’s painting of a rusted car is one of her favorite pieces. She entered it in the rodeo’s School Art competition last year. (Kelly Guo)

Guo carried her dedication to art through freshman year, where she began high school art with the more experienced crop of Bellaire’s artists in Advanced Art II. After receiving all the help her art teachers gave her when she came back from her art intermission, Guo decided to pay it forward when she started volunteering every year at the same summer camp she attended in third grade: Zhang Yaowu Art Center. She helps kids working on their own art pieces, reassuring them when they stumble.

“[Art] is usually more of a solitary thing, but during the summer, I help teach the little kids how to do stuff,” Guo said. “It’s really cute. I’ll see them mess up, and I just remember all the times I started messing up, and I [tell them], ‘No, don’t worry, I’ve got this.’”

Although Guo struggled when she started art, her talent grew with the work she put into it. Alongside art classes at school, she attended classes twice a week for four hours up until sophomore year. When Guo entered her second year of high school, she dropped to once-a-week four-hour sessions to better balance her academic workload. Although she lost time spent on art, Guo gained skill and appreciation for it, and her enthusiasm for the subject even outside of school was not lost on her classmates, including junior Elroe Mengistie.

“She took an art class outside of school, so she’s really devoted, and I admire that about her,” Mengistie said. “And seeing all the artwork that she’s done outside of class and the amount of effort it takes, I could never do that personally. The fact that she went above and beyond to do it on her own time, that’s pretty cool.”

Guo takes life skills from school and works them into her art to ensure she’s creating the best possible piece. Guo’s classmate last year in Advanced Art II junior Bailey Goldstein noticed how this trait led to Guo’s ability to bounce back from setbacks when trying new techniques.

“Kelly is very good at adapting,” Goldstein said. “Art, especially when we were constantly trying something new, could quickly go south, but Kelly was good at taking a breath and recovering seamlessly. I don’t think there was one work that she did that didn’t require some sort of flexibility, and she did it pretty flawlessly.”

Goldstein also noted how much Guo cared about the feedback she received about her art, going out of her way to weave critiques into her art to enhance it.

“Kelly is incredibly talented for sure,” Goldstein said. “It was impressive to watch her produce works with such creativity and care. She was really quick too, and she was thoughtful and open-minded when considering any feedback she got — implementing it into her process to make her work even better.”

In addition to receiving recognition from her classmates, Guo also won a Gold Key in the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition during her freshman year for her portrait of computer science teacher Jose Trejo.

“He was the only teacher that I wasn’t afraid of asking in the middle of class to do a silly face,” Guo said. “That was one of the requirements: you had to do a really silly face. My art teacher wanted us to explore outside the typical smile, and Mr. Trejo just gave me a really really happy [smile], with teeth and everything.”

Guo was astonished to learn that her piece had won a Gold Key for Scholastic, adding that she didn’t even understand what that meant until a friend told her she had advanced to nationals. After her portrait was finished, she was hesitant to show it to Trejo. She didn’t want him to dislike it, but he put her fears to rest by adding it as his Microsoft profile picture immediately.

“It doesn’t do Mr. Trejo justice, but he liked it,” Guo said. “So that was kind of a confidence boost.”

The portrait of Trejo was outside of Guo’s familiar sphere of drawing objects. She usually elects not to draw people as subjects because inanimate objects can’t judge her creations, but Trejo’s reaction assured Guo and made her more willing to experiment with her art.

Regardless of what Guo draws, the primary roadblock to creating art is time. Getting her art flowing can take hours, but inspiration comes fast after she gets in the zone.

It was impressive to watch her produce works with such creativity and care.

— Bailey Goldstein

Although Guo has faced struggles during her journey with art, pushing past the hard moments has led her to find more success and fulfillment from it. From working hard to get into the zone to rekindling her love for drawing after the pandemic, Guo has found more satisfaction in her art despite having left it.

“It’s just interesting me more now [and] it’s less boring,” Guo said. “It’s like, finally, I’m free.”

This story was originally published on Three Penny Press on February 15, 2024.