Young artist hones skills with pro in South Dakota

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Graduating London High School senior Drew Carter (left) spent May 12-17 in South Dakota at an exclusive artists’ retreat led by Scott Jacobs (right), a master of photorealism. Here, Carter holds his certification of completion, and Jacobs displays a painting Carter completed during the retreat.

(Posted May 27, 2021)

By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer

Stacey Hallowes-Billiter could hardly believe her ears.

Her student, Drew Carter, had just shared news that he had been invited to attend an all-expenses paid trip to South Dakota to study under the tutelage of a famous artist at an exclusive retreat in Deadwood.

While thrilled he would be able to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity–“it couldn’t have happened to a better kiddo,” she said–Hallowes-Billiter could not help but to reflect on how much Drew’s attitude toward art has changed in the four years she had known him.

“It’s been a turn of events, I can tell you that,” she said with a laugh.

Upon looking over Drew’s first assignment in her art class at London High School, Hallowes-Billiter knew right away the then freshman had an innate talent.

“The work that he turned in so was impressive,” she said.

What was not so impressive, however, was how little drive Drew had to hone those skills.

“He told me at the time it was just something fun for him to do,” she said.

Drew, now a graduating senior, agrees with that assessment.

“I never took it seriously until this past year,” he said, adding that it was due in part to a lack of confidence in his skills.

“Venom” is a piece of artwork Drew Carter created this year in Stacey Hallowes-Billiter’s Art IV class at London High School. Venom is a Marvel Comics character. Carter painted the image on a ceiling tile that will hang in the high school art room.

Ashli Carter noticed something different about her son’s drawings when he was younger.

“All of the people had green faces,” she said.

At first, she thought he just had a great fondness for the color, but it eventually got to the point where she had to ask him whether he was doing it on purpose.

“He was so confused,” she said. “He thought he was using a peach color.”

Harboring a suspicion that her eldest child was color blind, Ashli took him to an ophthalmologist where those suspicions were confirmed.

While Drew says his diagnosis was not a contributing factor in his growing disinterest in art, it also did not help matters either.

“It was sometimes very challenging for me because I could not distinguish between colors,” he said.

He added that he primarily kept his drawings and sketches to himself.

Over the course of his freshman year, however, Drew began to blossom when Hallowes-Billiter came up with a method to help him use a color palate.

“It opened a whole new opportunity for me,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, he was moving away from his preferred palette of blues, blacks and whites and transitioning to vivid drawings of Spider-Man in action and bold Lamborghinis.

“I started sharing my work and loved the reactions I got from it,” Drew said. “It kept me going because I wanted to impress them but eventually I started to impress myself.”

Hallowes-Billiter said something “just clicked” within Drew this past year.

“He’s on fire right now,” she exclaimed.

With little to do because of COVID-19 restrictions, Drew began to express his frustrations and boredom on paper.

“He would draw for hours,” Ashli said.

One day, he shared some of his drawings with his friend, Zack Kaehr, and thus began the whirlwind that would lead to the artist retreat.

Student Drew Carter recently completed this portrait of rapper Lil Wayne as a gift for his high school art teacher, Stacey Hallowes-Billiter. Carter, who is color blind, said Hallowes-Billiter was instrumental in helping him to distinguish colors as he honed his artistic abilities.

After looking over Drew’s artwork, Kaehr shared the pieces with his mother, Terri Ronna. Impressed by Drew’s skill, Ronna shared it with a friend and fellow art enthusiast, Craig Goldman. Equally impressed, Goldman shared those creations with Scott Jacobs, an artist who is considered a master of photorealism.

The way the story goes, Jacobs remarked on Drew’s talent and thought he would make a great student participant for his upcoming artist retreat.

Shocked, Drew told his mother who thought it was a joke.

“I didn’t mean it in a negative way,” she laughed.

She said she just found it to be a surreal chain of events.

“It’s not every day a renowned artist shows interest in your son’s work,” she said.

Despite some misgiving, Ashli wanted her son to have the four-day immersive experience where he could pick the brain of Jacobs and learn more about the medium of his interest. Then they saw the cost of the retreat.

“There was just so way we could afford that expense,” Ashli said. “I was just returning back to work, and the airfare, the accommodations, the retreat was just not in the cards.”

When word got back to Goldman, the art enthusiast who is also a collector, he decided to sponsor Drew’s trip to Jacobs’s studio.

“I couldn’t believe that this was really happening to me,” Drew said.

On May 12, Drew headed to South Dakota where he and several other students of various ages and skill levels painted with Jacobs, Jacobs’s daughter, Alexa, and artist Danial James. Participants learned advanced mixing techniques and other tricks of the trade, including how to network and get connections in the industry. It was immersive, eye-opening and completely “life-changing.”

Drew said he came away from the experience with a better appreciation for the craft and with more determination than ever to become a professional artist.

Hallowes-Billiter said she will not be surprised by the news when he reaches that goal.

“I do not see a single limitation on him,” she said.

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