Teen shows her stripes among festival's artists

Splashes of blue, green and red shoot out in the form of an elephant; the movement of its large ears and trunk swaying among the vivid hues.

In another painting, the eye of a zebra gazes out of one-third of the canvas, its black and white stripes sharply delineated against the deep, vertical depth of field. The images are riveting, drawing in the eye to examine fine details.

They are the work of 15-year-old Camellia Steele, a resident of Pasadena.

Steele will be one of many artists whose work will be on display Nov. 2 and 3 at the Toluca Lake Fine Art Festival in the Burbank Media District. It will be the second public showing of her work — painting that she began doing a little more than a year ago.

The thing about Camellia is that she really has no formal training other than when she was 4 years old and her parents enrolled her in the Mission: Renaissance art school in Pasadena.
There she used pastels and learned how to draw, but her immersion in art ended at age 8, until she decided to start painting birdhouses at age 13. They became so popular she began selling them to merchants, family and friends. Then she decided to “go bigger” and took up painting on canvas.

She's had no formal training in acrylics or any other form of painting. When she decided to paint, Camellia said, she “wanted to get really good at it. I like making beautiful artwork.”

She's the youngest artist to display her work at the fine arts festival, which formerly took place in downtown Burbank, an event that was going into its 10th year when funding expired and organizer Ronda Mills decided to move it to an area sans shops and restaurants.

Mills said of Camellia: “She has a good body of work, especially for such a young artist.”

Camellia's own mother and father were surprised by their daughter's talent. Neither of them are painters, and no one in the family has displayed such artistic leanings.

“We were very surprised. Every time she did a painting it was at a higher level than the last one,” said Camellia's mother, Sally Steele.

To nurture their daughter's talent along, they enrolled Camellia in drawing classes, which Camellia said “helps your painting,” and cleared out the dining room to make it into an art studio.

While she said she just loves to paint, Camellia is also bent on becoming a financially successful artist. She recently attended an artists' convention in the Caribbean and rubbed shoulders with and got advice from other artists on how to promote her work. She has since set up a Web page at Fineartamerica.com to display her work and bio, and she has also sold a few paintings, including the elephant, which Camellia said was one of her first abstract pieces.

Camellia said she loves the subjects of nature and animals. Most are set against vivid backgrounds of color — “I like using a lot of color,” Camellia said — but a few, including the zebra and a finely detailed tiger that she said is her best work, are done in black and white.

She chose acrylic over oil because she finds it easier to work with, and it dries quickly. “I like painting fast,” she said.

Camellia paints every day after school, and on weekends. She has a group of friends who paint as well, and they sometimes get together and work. She also draws portraits while at school.

As for Camellia's future as an artist, a fine arts college may be in the horizon, but one thing is for sure: “I'm planning on painting and getting better, and becoming successful.”

What: Toluca Lake Fine Arts Festival

Where: Burbank Media District, on Riverside Drive, between North Pass and West Alameda avenues in Burbank

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Price: Free

More info: (818) 813-4478, westcoastartists.com

--LAURA TATE is a regular contributor to Marquee.

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