Young artist's talents blossom

The first hint that Karis Zavala would become an artist surfaced when she was 18 months old in a “Mommy and Me” class with her mother.

Among a group of toddlers, Karis drew perfectly symmetrical happy faces which were noticed by nearly all of the adults in the class, except for Karis’ mother, Susan Zavala.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” she recalled.

Now 8 years old, Karis’ painting of three large sunflowers recently landed among the top 10 winning pieces out of thousands of entries submitted by children throughout the country and Canada in a contest run by Celebrating Art, a website that promotes the artistic talents of children.

For a family with no artists in it, Karis’ talent has taken everyone by surprise, and there is another reason for their awe.

Two weeks before her 2nd birthday, she was being held in her mother’s arms outside a storefront when an elderly driver who meant to hit her car’s brakes pressed the gas pedal instead, crashing into Karis and her family and severely injuring all of them.

Karis suffered a serious head injury and some medical professionals thought her future was questionable.

“I was told life was going to be very challenging for her,” Zavala said. “[But] God kept her here for big things.”

Doctors predicted Karis would struggle with learning disabilities. Although she needed speech therapy, she has made huge leaps, Zavala said.

While she still sometimes endures small seizures, her coordination and balance — once shaken in the few years after the accident — have improved.

Karis learned how to paint with acrylic oil in the spring of 2012, when she began taking a class at Michaels in Glendale at 6 years old. The teacher initially wondered if Karis could hold her attention during the two-hour class which had 10 adults, but Karis proved she could.

Accolades for her work began earlier this year when she won third place in her age division for a portrait she made of the legendary entertainer Josephine Baker in a contest for students across Los Angeles County to honor African American Heritage Month.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa awarded Karis a glass trophy for her portrait, at which point Karis handed him a portrait she painted of him.

As she prepares to enter third grade, Karis estimated she’s read more than 200 books since she began school. When she isn’t painting or drawing, she’s writing down song lyrics in a book.

In one painting she depicted an outdoor scene featuring a dirt path with grass on both sides and a blue sky above. Karis likens the grass that appears to move in the wind to a piece of music.

“The grass is swaying different ways, like a type of music,” she said. “The music goes high or it goes low.”

For Karis’ friends and family who admire her budding talent, their names belong to a growing list — each waiting for a painting.


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.


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