This is a tale of talent and motivation, a community’s support, and the awards (and rewards) that follow.
Telluride High School junior Brooke Shifrin fell into artwork through her best friend in the fourth grade.
“Being around her, I just got exposed to it,” Shifrin said. “I always took art classes, and I’ve never let it go. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a totally good pastime for me.”
In addition to being a “totally good” pastime, Shifrin’s works have won completely excellent accolades. She’s the three-time consecutive winner of the Ah Haa School’s Youth Award; her most recent win, for a drawing she calls “Doll,” took place at the Ah Haa depot during the March 5 Telluride ArtWalk.
Drawing, Shifrin said, is not her specialty.
“Mostly I like to paint, with oils and acrylics. They’re my ultimate favorites,” she explained.
Her depiction of a girl underwater, which won Ah Haa’s award last year, is a painting. The year before that, “I did a photorealistic drawing of a cat, and entered it on a whim,” Shifrin said. “It ended up being successful. That’s what motivated me to do things with art.”
Shifrin is quick to share credit for her success.
“I’ve had the support of many people at the high school,” she said, “from the graphics design teacher and others. The school really provides for students, no matter what they want to do. I basically exhausted all the graphic design classes there, so I was allowed to take an online independent (art) course through (a program called) Dual Enrollment. I got both high school and college credit for it. A bunch of students have done this before. It’s awesome that the high school is able to offer advanced classes beyond AP.”
Her inspiration for art has also inspired Shifrin to give back.
“Our high school has a program called Teaching Assistant,” she said, “where students can approach instructors in subjects they’re interested in, and then go around and help those teachers and their students. I did this for graphic design. I’m eating up anything I can get over there.”
“Eating up anything I can get” pretty much describes Shifrin’s appetite to learn and to grow. (“She’s a busy bee, this girl” her father Scott Shifrin remarked. “She doesn’t rest.”)
At Ah Haa, Shifrin has developed a special friendship with instructor Tara Carter, who oversees the school’s youth programs.
“We recently started an Emerging Artists program for grades 7-12, where kids can use our open studio space,” Carter said. “On Wednesdays, we bring in locals to speak to kids about what it’s like to be an artist, or an illustrator or a graphic designer,” to give them a taste of what being a real-world creative is like.
“After that,” Carter said, Shifrin “just stuck around.”
What has impressed Carter the most about Shifrin’s work is not the awards she has gleaned per se, but her progress as an artist. “Faces and heads are notoriously the most difficult things for two-dimensional artists to capture,” Carter remarked of Shifrin’s “Doll,” a depiction of a woman’s face that seems to reveal its underpinnings, as if the work is being stripped away (or created, take your pick) before our eyes.
“A lot of art instructors encourage students to draw a grid first, and to use it to help plan out their works,” Carter said. “It’s been really interesting to see Brooke explore this idea more. She applied the grid to the final piece; she embraced it. What she’s doing isn’t clearly realistic or geometric. It’s a beautiful blend of both. She can look at a subject, and dissect it, and the result is a beautiful portrait.”
“She’s really, really talented,” Carter added. “The other thing about Brooke is, she’s really driven. You don’t always see that with artistic kids. Sometimes the practice of art itself is fulfilling enough, but Brooke has drive, and it’s paying off because of her efforts.”
What does Shifrin want to be when she grows up? You might be surprised to learn it’s not an artist.
“I want to do something artsy,” she clarified. “A graphic designer or an architect — those are two things I’m very interested in.”
As for where she might want to matriculate once she graduates next year, “I’m going to be honest. I don’t know that quite yet, where I want go. That’s the question everyone asks. I want to stay in Colorado or in the West, that I know.”
Carter is sure of something else about Shifrin, “She’s a special kid, for sure.”