'Orange' stirs creative juices

Pamela Martinez approached Sarina Shohet with a proposition late last year.

"I said to Sarina, 'Can I give you a really difficult assignment?'" Martinez recalled. "She said, 'Yes.'"

Students in Martinez's Advanced Placement art class at Irvine-based Tarbut V'Torah drew a single portrait for the project.

But Sarina drew two — one on white paper and the second on a differently textured brown sheet. The final graphite sketch, which depicts a friend whose parents are in the throes of a divorce, was titled "Cognizance of Her Teenage Psyche."

"This double assignment forced [her] to consider the process more carefully, bringing each drawing to the same stage of completion simultaneously," Martinez said.

"The drawings are difficult to execute because the artist will naturally compare the two drawings to see if they are the same person and thus begin to judge his or her own rendering abilities. Therefore, inherent in the task is a higher standard for the artist to achieve."

Without knowing so at the time, Sarina, 15, created work that her instructor deemed fit for Laguna College of Art + Design's invitational "Color It Orange." The event, open to high-schoolers from across Orange County, displays student artwork every spring at the LCAD campus.

Sarina's efforts paid off; she was one of 11 artists who received scholarships based on her contribution to "Color It Orange." The group was tapped by a committee comprising an LCAD faculty member and admissions specialist for the talent, skill and creativity they demonstrated.

They will attend a 10-week portfolio development program at the college and create an admissions package to further their goal of becoming college- or university-level arts majors.

The Seal Beach resident recounted visiting the exhibition with her mother and noticing a few works with ribbon flowers attached — hers being one of them.

"The room that my piece was in had walls literally covered in art," Sarina said. "It was crazy, and some of the work was incredible. I said, 'Oh my God, Mom, are you kidding? How did I win this?'"

Although she will be away at summer camp when other scholarship recipients — from Laguna Beach High School, Newport Harbor High School, Orange County School of the Arts and elsewhere — attend the class at LCAD, Sarina plans to enroll in the fall session.

The college, which was founded in 1961 as the Laguna Beach School of Art, hosted the program for the 40th time this year. According to college president Jonathan Burke, "Color It Orange" was the brainchild of Orange County resident Muriel Reynolds as an effort to publicize the college.

Initially, teachers submitted pieces created by students from kindergarten through 12th grade. A professional artist would then judge the work and pick a selection to be showcased. Also, for the first five years, two- and three-dimensional visual art was displayed at the Laguna Art Museum.

When its popularity skyrocketed, "Color It Orange" moved to LCAD. Now that the art is coming only from high school students, many of whom are enrolled in art classes, their faculty select the best work, Burke said. LCAD allows each participating school to contribute a certain number of works based on the exhibition space available for the institution to "handle, install and celebrate," he added. From March 15 to 23, "Color It Orange" featured 500 works — a figure that is on par with 2013 — contributed by 35 schools.

"I think any time there's an exhibition opportunity at a high school level and above, it spurs the students to think about their work being on public display, in front of individuals other than their peers and teachers," Burke said. "They think of themselves more professionally and realize that their work needs to be a higher level.

"It kicks up the quality, and that's partly what we're here for — to give young people the opportunity to show their work in an important setting, at an art college."

This year, LCAD didn't just recognize student artists, though — it also rewarded one of its own.

The college's trustees in March presented Nancy Lawrence an award for dedicating four decades to "Color It Orange." The Dana Point resident has served on Designing Women, a 12-volunteer college support group, while coordinating the annual event and has been an LCAD board member since 2003.

"Nancy was honored for stewarding, maintaining and giving care to art through 'Color It Orange' and art education," Burke said.

Lawrence, 76, admitted to approaching viewers who comment, "Wow, that's good art," and adding, "That's good teaching."

"Art is infinitely better because of teachers," she said.

On her part, Martinez believes that "Color It Orange" is an important survey of the talent among Orange County's youth and has helped her and her students see the hard work that goes into creating well-thought-out artwork.

"What's not to love?" Lawrence asked. "'Color It Orange' has changed lives because parents come to the exhibit and see their child through a different set of eyes. Some parents know their children are talented, but the fact that it is open to every child in Orange County means that we get families from all strata, and it either affirms or creates dignity for the child in the family's view."

Martinez is grateful that her students are on the receiving end of this unique experience. She finds that the portfolio development program, which otherwise costs $275, combines a "rigorous environment with a relaxed atmosphere — a great recipe for learning," and gives aspiring artists a definite leg up on college or a career in a creative field.

"I know that it is my job to inspire my students to take on challenges," she noted. "But the reality is, I can make suggestions all day long, and in the end, it's the student who has to put in the time and effort."

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