ne of the most daunting considerations for professional artists in training is the prohibitive cost of supplies. Like other college majors, artists have textbooks and lab time to consider, but there are also paints and canvases, charcoal and brushes to buy. The prices can stand between some artists and the careers of their choice.
“Art supplies are crazy expensive,” says portrait artist Katherine Doncourt, who, along with Caitlin Harhai, is a recipient of the 2020 Mt. Lebanon Artists’ Market Scholarship.
This is one reason for the age-old practice of artistic patronage: Those who value the arts can individually or collectively sponsor those expenses, allowing artists the freedom to grow in their craft. The one-time award of $1,000 per student is designed to alleviate the pressures of paying for supplies while pursuing higher education, making the arts a more attainable professional future. The award also acts as a validation of art as a career path and an endorsement of the value of professional artists as a part of the community, says Jennifer Rodriguez, chair of Mt. Lebanon High School’s Fine Arts Department.
“In Mt. Lebanon, the arts are celebrated and respected,” she says. “They want to ease any burden they can for kids in school. It has made a huge difference for some of my students.”
And while Harhai and Doncourt share the scholarship, their work and goals are different.
Harhai paints consumer-based subjects with designs similar to Andy Warhol’s, but more lushly detailed. She is taking her talent into an industrial design program at Virginia Tech beginning this semester.
“I’ve always felt kind of drawn to cars and automobiles,” she says of the interest she learned from her grandfather. Now, automotive design is one future possibility she dreams of pursuing. “It’s what I was passionate about,” she says.
But much of the skill that will go with her on this journey was hard-won in hours of work and study poring over books on color theory and paint mixing culled from the classroom library while pushing herself to try new genres and approaches, in spite of being colorblind.
This tenacity is characteristic of successful professionals across many disciplines. “Very few of us start with an exceptional talent,” Rodriguez says.
She believes determination and hours of effort helped separate both of this year’s awardees from the many talented artists who share the AP art classes at the high school.
“They have just unparalleled work ethics, and they have earned their talents,” Rodriguez says.
Doncourt, who spends as much as 60 hours on individual paintings, is excited to take one of this year’s scholarships with her to George Washington University in the fall. Doncourt paints portraits with a stark, modern view of the world that looks a lot like Andrew Wyeth’s work with the addition of aggressively modern elements like nose rings and tattoos. She sees future success as a studio space where portraits are at least part of her regular repertoire.
While Doncourt and Harhai see art and the future very differently they share both the scholarship and a critical anchor in the art world: Their talent was carefully nurtured by Rodriguez, known affectionately as J-Rod.
The students describe her classroom as a space that welcomes ideas, encourages exploration and rewards effort. Ultimately, it is Rodriguez who has so successfully nurtured these diverse talents, connecting them with books and ideas, projects and patrons to further their growth.
She is the essential glue that binds this year’s winners with the community so eager to support them, encouraging students to demonstrate work at the Artists’ Market, connecting them to both experiences and potential patrons.
“They (the community members) want to promote and help up-and-coming, rising-star artists,” she says. “We believe in this scholarship.”