A! Magazine for the Arts

Youth Spotlight: Alex Thompson

June 29, 2010

Alex Thompson is a 16-year-old eager to expand her creative horizons. She says, "I'm trying a little bit of everything - pottery, polymer jewelry, abstract art, wire basket-weaving - as well as trying out large-scale and miniature works. Up until the fall of last year, I'd been strictly a realist, but now I'm loving it all."

The daughter of Scott and Katherine Thompson of Bristol, Va., Alex is a home-schooled sophomore who, when she's not creating art, works for Taco Bell. "I have to pay for art supplies somehow," she laughs.

Alex has been taking art lessons from Bristol artist Carlene Presnell for almost eight years. Of her teacher, Alex says, "She's shown me a lot about art and taken me through the ropes of almost every medium. When I first started, she began my lessons with pencil - to work on my ability to tell proportions and to be able to find depth through tone in anything I draw. After pencil, we stepped up to charcoal in order to become more familiar with the bones of all art: composition and tone."

After black-and-white, Alex took a broad step into color, beginning with pastel. She recalls, "Mrs. Presnell had me take my time with each piece I did, though I've never been a patient person. Once I had completed two pastels, we moved on to watercolor, and then oil and acrylic. I immediately fell in love with oil - the texture, the feel, and its ability to cover the canvas so smoothly. I completed my choice of oil, a colorful pear composition, and then she tested my learned ability by having me copy a "master.'"

Once Alex had tried her hand at all the media offered in lessons, Mrs. Presnell began helping Alex improve each of them. Alex credits Mrs. Presnell as one of her strongest advocates over the years: "She has definitely played a key role in mydevelopment - never criticizing my works, simply leading my love of knowledge down this artistic path."

Most recently, Alex's efforts have included portraits, plein air painting, and watercolor. She admits that the latter is her least favorite medium but adds, "I'm beginning to enjoy its simplicity."

What Alex enjoys about her art is "playing with color, figuring out the most appealing and unexpected combinations, as well as mixing warm and cool in a cohesive manner." She adds, "But art isn't all color. There has to be a form of structure leading the eye - acomposition. That is the one thing that has surprised me the most, because no matter the style of art, a composition always has to exist." This has led her to enjoy finding the similarities in all styles of art, go into any style with the same initial mindset, and "[not] over-think the style and intimidate myself...let it branch off into its own realm once I've become more comfortable with it."

Regarding inspiration, Alex says, "I know it's a broad answer, but color is what inspires me - color and light. I love the dramatic times of day, early in the morning and as the sun is going down."

This past year, Alex received a special Christmas gift that allowed her to branch out even further in her creative pursuits: pottery classes at One of a Kind Gallery in Bristol. "I'm now finishing up my second set of classes. I look forward to every Thursday night because pottery has really become calming for me, though, I'll admit, I was ready to toss the clay across the room my first two nights. My instructor, Mr. [Ed] Lockett, encourages you to take control of the clay and to make it work for you. I think pottery has helped me with all my artistic endeavors, allowing me to approach each task with a sense of ease. It's made me realize that intensity is not always the best way to become good at something."

Alex thinks of her life itself as "an artistic activity," so she tries to take as many classes as she can afford and is even considering adding stained glass to the mix. Every Wednesday, she goes to The Arts Depot in Abingdon "to paint with the Wednesday Morning Painters, and I'm excited to be exhibiting with them during the Virginia Highlands Festival this year." Alex has entered work in the Highlands Festival Youth Show and the Appalachian Fair over the past six years and has always walked away with ribbons in hand - most notably, Best of Show in the 2008 Appalachian Fair.

She also spends every Friday, from 9 to 5, at her art teacher's studio, assisting with teaching and cleaning tasks, and working on her own pieces. She hopes to start painting plein air on the grounds of Abingdon's William King Art Museum this summer.

Alex acknowledges that art is a significant part of her life: "All in all, I have some sort of artistic activity going on every day, whether out in a group, or just on my own." She cites the importance of every artist she meets, and the influence they can potentially have on her. For example, "painting at the Depot in Abingdon and being involved in Bristol's 606 State Street Gallery has given me an insight into other artists' ways of working. I always pay attention to a person's work, doing my best to notice their individual style and statements."

In the future, Alex plans to teach various styles of art and perhaps work in a museum as an art curator. "That would allow me to be involved first hand in sharing art with the public. However, I'm trying not to plan out my future, to just let it develop, because I'll be happy with any artistic direction my life takes."

Alex concludes, "Every moment is a time for learning, so I keep my eyes open. I want to develop my art continuously. Art makes my life an adventure - always changing and leading me down new roads to new sights and new people."