Mason senior receives Scholastic Gold Key, advances to American Visions contest

Ally Guo | Staff Writer

Yempati’s finished art piece

Last April saw many students stuck at home, but senior Tiya Yempati used her lockdown experiences as inspiration for award-winning art.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is one of the largest student art and writing competitions in the country, receiving nearly 320,000 submissions across 28 categories in 2020. Participants are initially judged at the regional level, having the chance to win an Honorable Mention, Silver Key, or Gold Key, with all pieces awarded a Gold Key proceeding to national judging.

Additionally, in each region, five Gold Key-winning pieces for art and writing respectively are named American Visions & Voices Nominees, with Visions corresponding with art and Voices with writing. Of the five nominees, only one is selected to win the American Visions & Voices Medal for each region.

For the 2021 awards, Yempati earned an American Visions nomination for her painting April, an acrylic self-portrait of herself sitting at her desk during remote learning last year. A current Advanced Placement (AP) Art Studio student, Yempati’s concentration, or portfolio theme, centers around herself “in lockdown through the course of the summer, slowly losing [her] mind being stuck at home all day,” with the chair in her bedroom serving as recurring imagery in all of her pieces.

“April was one of the earlier pieces in the timeline of the narrative,” Yempati said. “It’s me [doing] online school [when] things [were] relatively easy and simple, like the honeymoon phase [of lockdown].”

Although the intent of the painting never changed, it underwent many adjustments from Yempati’s initial idea over the course of the four to five weeks it took to complete. For example, Yempati’s earliest sketches framed herself through a reflection in a full-length mirror to show a “different viewer’s perspective.”

Despite these changes and originally feeling “intimidated” and “overwhelmed” by the level of detail in the painting, Yempati said she was happy with how April turned out and felt that it successfully captured her vision, calling it “one of the first acrylic paintings where [she] really took [her] time and developed the details.”

In particular, Yempati is proud of her detail work on the rug and the books, the latter of which she “threw in there [at the] last minute towards the end,” when she felt that the shelf looked too empty, to show how she was “keeping [herself] occupied during quarantine.”

However, April is equally memorable to her for all the obstacles she faced while making it. Yempati said she tried to use her time in AP Art Studio as a chance to expand her skills and challenge herself. As a result, she created many of her pieces using acrylic paint, a medium she is less familiar with.

“Going into AP Art, I was kind of intimidated by acrylic paint,” Yempati said. “So I was like, ‘You know, why not try it out?’ [Afterwards,] I was kind of like, ‘Wow, I’m never using acrylic paints ever again,’ and then I continued to use it for my next four projects.”

Part of the struggle Yempati faced with acrylic was mixing paints, which she called the “bane of [her] existence.” She said she never managed to mix enough of a certain color, so she had to spend a lot of time mixing the right shade again whenever she ran out.

Yempati working on her art piece at school

Additionally, Yempati said she often struggled to find the motivation to finish the project, feeling like she was “‘never gonna get [it] done.’” However, listening to music helped her regain some of her momentum. She began using her CD player, telling herself that “‘if I paint, then I’ll be able to listen to music.’” Yempati said that although she does like making art in and of itself, sometimes it’s “so hard to keep going when you think a piece is not going well.”

“It’s funny because everybody sees the end results of your project, but they don’t know all the hours you spent on it and the frustration and how it looked [during] the first few days,” Yempati said. “For me, I can remember specifically which parts of the painting are tied to whatever music I was listening to at the time — little details like that regarding the painting. That’s part of my process; looking back on it, I can tell what emotion I was feeling where.”

Although April is one of Yempati’s most highly recognized pieces, she has a long artistic history stemming back to early childhood. She said she thinks she received most of her talent from her father, who is a music and art-oriented person. Although she was “inclined” toward art from a young age, including winning a national-level Scholastic award in seventh grade, she often felt like a “fraud” or “poser” because she wasn’t as “into art as other people [she knew].”

“This year I really started to grow,” Yempati said. “In AP Art, I had to think more creatively with my works, and creating a whole portfolio really tested my limits and helped me grow. Now, I feel much more confident in my abilities, and I don’t feel like a poser anymore.”

Currently, many of Yempati’s works are characterized by vivid colors, and she likes to make portraits and capture faces.

Yempati said she hopes to continue nurturing her love of art in the future. Although she plans to study business, she believes she’ll eventually have a “side hustle” related to art, whether that be making more traditional pieces or exploring her interests in custom shoes and fashion.

“When I see myself dabbling in art, it’s not contained to just drawing and painting,” Yempati said. “I’d be implementing that kind of creativity and other areas, like fashion design or custom shoes — things I’m interested in and then I implement that art aspect. [It’d] be cool to come up with new ideas for that kind of stuff.”

Photos contributed by Tiya Yempati