Anything but VASE-ic

The annual state visual arts competition is a test of an artist’s creativity, patience and endurance

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Anything but VASE-ic

“Strings”  by sophomore Bridget Russo is a dedication to her triplet sister, Bella (a newspaper staffer).  Russo said she pulled multiple all-nighters to complete this piece with embroidery thread on a canvas. Photo courtesy of Bridget Russo. RIGHT: Freshman Ruby Borden’s piece “The Antagonist Within” features a battle between a woman with fiery red hair and an equally fiery monster, representing her struggle with her inner demons. Both two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces can be submitted for VASE in a variety of media.  Photo by Olivia Watts.

“Strings” by sophomore Bridget Russo is a dedication to her triplet sister, Bella (a newspaper staffer). Russo said she pulled multiple all-nighters to complete this piece with embroidery thread on a canvas. Photo courtesy of Bridget Russo. RIGHT: Freshman Ruby Borden’s piece “The Antagonist Within” features a battle between a woman with fiery red hair and an equally fiery monster, representing her struggle with her inner demons. Both two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces can be submitted for VASE in a variety of media. Photo by Olivia Watts.

Photo courtesy of Bridget Russo.

“Strings” by sophomore Bridget Russo is a dedication to her triplet sister, Bella (a newspaper staffer). Russo said she pulled multiple all-nighters to complete this piece with embroidery thread on a canvas. Photo courtesy of Bridget Russo. RIGHT: Freshman Ruby Borden’s piece “The Antagonist Within” features a battle between a woman with fiery red hair and an equally fiery monster, representing her struggle with her inner demons. Both two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces can be submitted for VASE in a variety of media. Photo by Olivia Watts.

Photo courtesy of Bridget Russo.

Photo courtesy of Bridget Russo.

“Strings” by sophomore Bridget Russo is a dedication to her triplet sister, Bella (a newspaper staffer). Russo said she pulled multiple all-nighters to complete this piece with embroidery thread on a canvas. Photo courtesy of Bridget Russo. RIGHT: Freshman Ruby Borden’s piece “The Antagonist Within” features a battle between a woman with fiery red hair and an equally fiery monster, representing her struggle with her inner demons. Both two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces can be submitted for VASE in a variety of media. Photo by Olivia Watts.

Olivia Watts, staff reporter

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The face of an old woman, a bust painted to look like marble, a vase with a face, a teapot full of eyes and a woman fighting a dragon.

What do all of these things have in common? They all placed in the district VASE competition, and they were all created by McCallum students.

VASE stands for Visual Arts Scholastic Event, which takes place across the state of Texas at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. The middle school level is called junior VASE, while the elementary level is just called TEAMS. Texas is divided into 20 districts; Austin is located in District 13.

Entering VASE isn’t as hard as it might seem to those who are new to the subject. For some students, VASE is voluntary, but for others, like freshman Ruby Borden, it is required to attend for their fine arts major.

“I’m a major, so I had to, but I also decided because I entered VASE as a middle schooler and I really enjoyed it, and I like seeing all the artwork at the end and walking around,” Borden said. “That’s also why I stayed later, to see all the art.”

Despite being a freshman, Borden brought two complex pieces to VASE. “[For] my painting, I used just acrylic paint on canvas, and then [for] my sculpture, I did mixed media. So I did epoxy, wire, paper mache and cardboard.”

Borden’s painting was called “The Little Moments,” and her sculpture was called “The Antagonist Within.” Each has a unique, carefully designated purpose.

“So [for] the painting that I did, I wanted to do something lighthearted and joyful, because teenagers have this stigma where it’s depressing and deep art, and I want to do the opposite of that,” Borden said. “The sculpture I did was about fighting with our inner demons and overcoming things.”

Sophomore Vanessa Lee, who entered VASE for the first time this year, explains the VASE process.

“The teacher suggests if you would like to go or not, unless you’re an art major, then, the teacher gives you some paperwork asking different questions on your piece and why you decided to join VASE,” she said.

The art teachers who sponsor their students assist them with the entry process, the preparation of their pieces and everything in between.

Freshman Ruby Borden’s piece “The Antagonist Within” features a battle between a woman with fiery red hair and an equally fiery monster, representing her struggle with her inner demons. Both two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces can be submitted for VASE in a variety of media. Photo by Olivia Watts.

“I think it starts with encouraging them,” McCallum ceramics and sculpture teacher Carey West said. “[We help] them find a piece that they think is suitable, then we sign them up digitally and help them through that process, check their UIL qualifications, and then, when it gets closer to the event, we start helping them prepare the pieces. Up to the point where they get interviewed, we’re there to fix any problems, or get them on the right track or make sure they’re in the right place. After that, it’s all up to them in the interviewing and judging.”

This year, the high school level VASE for Austin ISD took place on March 2 at San Marcos High School. State VASE will take place on April 26 and 27 at the same location, lasting a majority of the afternoon and involving a good amount of patience from the artists.

“You go on a bus to a high school,” Lee said, “and you wait outside until the judge lets you inside, and then they grade you on your piece and they ask you a few questions. After you finish being judged, you wait in the cafeteria of the school. Then the bus will take you back to your school; then you can go home.”

According to the artists involved, sometimes the waiting around can actually be more fun than the contest.

“I got to see a few of my friends from my old school, and I miss talking to them,” Lee said. “I actually reconnected with my friend. We took drawing class together back in middle school.”

A variety of 3D pieces can be entered in VASE along with 2D pieces. This includes ceramics, sculptures, fibers and many other media. Junior Graham Protzmann took advantage of the 3D categories by entering his ceramic piece, which will be advancing to state.

“I did [VASE] last year when I was in Ceramics 1, and it was pretty fun. My friends who are art majors did it, and it just seemed like fun,” Protzmann said.

Protzmann is actually a tech major, which only added to his surprise over his state advancement news.

[My piece] was a prismacolor portrait of my two best friends. I was just thinking about who I wanted to draw next, and I hadn’t drawn my friends yet. It was my way of showing them how much they mean to me.”

“It was cool because I wasn’t really expecting it at all,” Protzmann said. “[My piece] was a set of three ceramic things. There was a bowl, a plate and a jar, and they were all glazed in the same way. It was a couple of pieces from different projects, and then I glazed them all the same way to make them a set. [The technique] was a kind of glazing thing that I’d never tried. I asked the teacher how it would turn out, and she didn’t know either. I just wanted to see what would happen.”

Freshman Gage Sanchez is another one of many artists from McCallum who had a piece or two make it to state. Both of his pieces, he said, captured the essence of everyday life by romanticizing the constants in his life.

“I had a painting in acrylic, with my dog, and a clay sculpture of my friend’s head with a city on top,” Sanchez said. “I used regular clay, polymer clay, epoxy, acrylic paint.”

For Sanchez’s pieces “Urbanization” and “Just a Bit of Contrast,” he explained that the pieces held an additional meaning for him.

“My sculpture was more about global change, how it’s affecting kids and how kids could learn to change just slightly in their day to help our world,” he said.

Another McCallum student advancing to state VASE is sophomore Bridget Russo.

“I did an embroidery piece where I just sewed on a canvas of my sister, and I did a mosaic-style piece where I cut pieces of paper out that were different colors and glued them to look like this photo I took in Spain of some fountain,” Russo said. “You get scored one through four, and both [of my pieces] got fours. From the fours, [the judges] pick which ones go to state. Both of them got a silver seal, which means they’ll both advance to state.”

Of course, art’s purpose and importance varies from artist to artist and from piece to piece. Lee said her art was a way of communicating her appreciation of loved ones.

“[My piece] was a prismacolor portrait of my two best friends,” Vanessa Lee said about her piece entitled “My Sisters.” “I was just thinking about who I wanted to draw next, and I hadn’t drawn my friends yet. It was my way of showing them how much they mean to me.”

Students said they appreciated the experience of having their personal art analyzed, celebrated and appreciated. After all, the face of an old woman, a bust looking like marble, a vase with a face, a teapot full of eyes and a woman fighting a dragon all have more in common than they seem.

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