+ By Desiree Smith-Daughety + Photos by David Burroughs
Do you recall your earliest sketching attempts?
Ella Burroughs, a high school junior, recognizes the evolution of her own artistry from when she was just a moppet, drawing cartoon eyes and adding faces to sketches of the sun. “My parents wanted me to try new things and my dad is super into art,” she says. Burroughs’ father, photographer David Burroughs, offered parental nudges. “He let me sit in on his photo shoots and see his sketchbooks.”
Despite her initial objections, Ella was guided over to Bates Middle School’s Performing and Visual Arts (PVA) program by her parents. There, she entwined her nascent artistic talents with the program’s curriculum, developing an enthusiastic interest in portraiture.
Burroughs now attends St. Mary’s High School, which, in contrast to Bates, is more sports-oriented. Not being able to take art in her freshman year, she took a painting class at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and learned color theory. As a sophomore, she completed the requisite Art 1 class. While many students just worked to fulfill the credit requirement, Burroughs—ahead of many others with her PVA background—didn’t skim through. “Art 1 is the foundation and principles, but it was easy to build on that in the class because it’s what I like to do,” she says. “I could put more into what I did. Basic principles of design, such as putting emphasis on balance, unity, or rhythm—I didn’t know how to put that in artwork until this year.”
While she likes going off on her own and doing what she wants artistically, Burroughs also sees great benefit in the focused projects intrinsic to any course. A unit with emphasis on balance, for example, helped her deepen her knowledge. “It’s easier to grasp the concept when you have a direct goal,” she says.
While you may expect a teen to text and watch television for much of the day, Burroughs fills her hours drawing and playing guitar. She also plays bass in her uncle’s band. Burroughs finds that art tends to tell her how she’s feeling; when she is sad or angry, she will sit down with her sketchbook and work, as an outlet.
Burroughs has had life influences that differ from many of her friends. Her father worked in the film business, and she has met his film associates. Her worst fear is having a 9-to-5 job. “Seeing my parents and their friends doing what they love, it’s a whole different outlook,” she says.
Much like any high school student, Burroughs feels pressure to decide her future while she is only now unfolding her wings. She is preparing for the SAT exam, meeting with the school counselor, and considering colleges such as UCLA and New York University. With thoughts of her academic future roiling in her head, she has nonetheless set artistic goals, such as improving her skills with charcoal—up to now, pencil has been her principal medium. “I’m trying to get out of my comfort zone,” she says, “and also try watercolors, maybe take a painting class in the fall.”
Burroughs is familiar with the local artist hotspots in Annapolis, and frequently shops at local art supplier Art Things in West Annapolis. Like any hobbyist, she always leaves with more than she planned to buy. “I’ll be walking out and see an eraser and think, ‘Oh, I should probably get that’,” she says. She gushes over a recent find off of a social media site: “I got a new gel pen I’m excited to use to highlight over the pencil. It’s white. You put it over cheekbones and stuff.”
While Burroughs considers Georgia O’Keefe and her iconic flower paintings an early inspiration, her virtual peers, who post online examples of their work, are her current favorites. “There are all these portrait artists who do side-by-side portraits, explaining their techniques for how they did it; it’s kind of unconventional as a way to get inspiration,” she says. “I see a lot of high schoolers—it’s interesting to see others who are at the same level doing stuff, and for me [it’s] a good way to find inspiration.”
She has found YouTube to be a great resource for tutorials when she is feeling stuck and needs to hone a skill. She recently went to the site while struggling with highlighting and contouring, and found what she needed.
Notwithstanding her online inspirations, Burroughs places her artistic foundation squarely at her parents’ feet. “Art is definitely a skill you can learn,” she says, “I’d still be drawing bubble eyes if they hadn’t pushed for the PVA program. It’s how you’re raised.” █