Lifelike drawing of pet gecko wins top art award

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 8, 2019

 “Poppi” by Chaolei Lewis, a junior at Lake Shore High School, won an American Vision award at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

“Poppi” by Chaolei Lewis, a junior at Lake Shore High School, won an American Vision award at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

Photo provided by Holly Bolen

 “Fluff,” by Chaolei Lewis, won a Gold Key award.

“Fluff,” by Chaolei Lewis, won a Gold Key award.

Photo provided by Holly Bolen

ST. CLAIR SHORES — For the first time in the history of Lake Shore High School, an art student has won a prestigious American Vision award, given out to only five students in the area’s Scholastic Art and Writing Awards contest.

“This is the highest honor that they give at the show,” said Lake Shore High School art teacher Holly Bolen. “She puts a lot of dedication and time into her work. She’s taken classes on her own.”

She’s talking about junior Chaolei Lewis, of St. Clair Shores, who said that she’s been taking art classes at school since freshman year, but had no prior experience except for elementary and middle school art classes. Since she got to the high school, however, she’s enjoyed pursuing drawing and painting, which are her favorite hobbies.

Nearly 900 students submitted 2,432 works of art and 71 high school senior portfolios of eight pieces of work to the Michigan Thumb Region of the competition this year. Students were awarded with honorable mentions, Ken Hoover Best of Show Art Portfolios, Silver and Gold Keys, American Vision and Voices nominations and Best in Category. Five Gold Key winners are selected as the region’s “best of show” and are nominated for the American Visions and Voices Medal, which are selected by a panel of jurors in New York City to win a regional American Visions Medal.

Lewis’ charcoal piece, “Poppi,” won the region’s American Vision award. She also won a Gold Key for her drawing, “Fluff.”

Bolen said that Lewis has taken classes at the Anton Art Center in Mount Clemens and won a scholarship in last year’s competition to take a class at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

The award-winning piece was assigned by Bolen as a “dramatic lighting charcoal project in my advanced art class.”

“They are required to manipulate and test and work with specific lighting to create dramatic shadows and highlights within an environment or on an object.”

The subject is chosen by the artist, and Lewis chose her pet crested gecko, Poppi.

“A lot of work went into planning how I was going to do the piece, because I knew I wanted a certain style,” Lewis said.

She started by taking 50 photos of her pet, but Bolen sent her back to take more.

“They have to play around with lighting and composition,” Bolen said. “This project, although working from a photo, she put a lot of time to get the right composition and lighting. She’s very detail-oriented and she’s very meticulous and great with textures, so that’s kind of, I think, what sets her apart is the technicality of it.”

This was the first time Lewis had worked with charcoal, she said.

“I used a grid to try and get the proportions right,” she explained. “I did a little bit of practicing beforehand, but then I tried to fill in the dark and tried to make it look as correct as possible.”

Lewis’ piece will head to New York City to compete in the national competition in March along with other Gold Key award pieces and portfolios.

“I’m proud of Chaolei. I think she deserves it,” Bolen said. “It kind of validates the work that I do with the students and the time that we spend. I believe in quality over quantity.

“Sometimes we don’t get a lot of work done, but the work that we get done is extraordinary.”

Lewis is excited and nervous for her work to be judged in New York, but she’s happy that her piece did so well.

“It was a pleasant surprise, because it’s kind of a personal piece because it was of my gecko,” she said.

Other winners from Lake Shore High School are Garnet Gao and Megan Humphrey, who won honorable mentions for drawing, and Samantha Talanges, who won a Gold Key for mixed media.

Bolen said that Talanges won the College for Creative Studies best of category this year, which Lewis had won before. She’s hoping Talanges will take advantage of the scholarship as Lewis did.

“It gives them a different teaching perspective and ideas, so I’m really excited that we won that award again,” she said.

The art students will next compete in the Anton Art Center Macomb County Secondary Student Art Show.