For many people, art is a hobby or peaceful past time. But for others it is much more than that, it is a passion, a creative way to connect with the audience and even a future career path.
This was the case for local artist Cecilia Schmitt for as long as she could remember.
Schmitt has showed an interest in art ever since she was a young child, always drawing when she was growing up. But it was not until middle school when her art teacher Bob Donovan introduced her to painting that her love for art took off. Schmitt credits many of her current interests to her middle school art teacher going above and beyond in the classroom.
“He introduced us to a lot of different mediums that I don’t think a lot of art teachers in middle school would have,” said Schmitt. “There is this thing called Lino printing or linoleum printing, which is essentially carving a block and making a stamp. Which for a middle schooler is pretty advanced to learn.”
Schmitt continued painting through middle school and into high school and it was there she realized she had a real talent and began enjoying the attention her work was receiving. Schmitt continued with her passion of art by drawing cartoons or painting her favorite band designs onto blank shoes. Whenever she had time on her hands, she was either drawing or painting.
“It is much more than a hobby, it is literally my life,” expressed Schmitt.
At the same time Schmitt was discovering her talent, a local artist named Fran Volz was installing large murals of Hollywood icons in downtown Rochelle. During the instillation of the Marilyn Monroe mural, Volz invited local art teachers to the event to share his plans for two more murals in the near future. One of the art teachers attending that day was Bob Donovan, Schmitt’s former teacher.
Donovan and Schmitt have a very close relationship, she even calls him her “art dad,” so when the opportunity to help with the murals presented itself he didn’t hesitate to sign her up.
“As people would come in they were impressed, and I brought Bob over,” explained Volz. “He said he might have some former students who would be interested in helping paint these murals. The next thing I know, these teenagers were showing up.”
The murals Volz had planned were one of Elvis Presley and one of John Wayne. The one of Elvis was already being painted by a different former student, but the one of John Wayne needed help getting finished. Mario Rocha is a former RTHS student who started the work on the John Wayne mural, but had to stop due to time constraints. Schmitt then stepped in and completed the work on the mural.
For Schmitt, it was a great opportunity to build her future resume and get her name and artwork out there for people to see. She had displayed her art at small venues such as Hoarse Flower in Rockford, Bagels and More in Beloit and she even organized an art museum in high school. But this was by far the biggest display of her art to date.
“Ever since I started high school and decided to get serious about art, I have been trying to get every opportunity I can to get my name out there,” added Schmitt.
Schmitt’s dream is to work professionally as an artist, whether it is an art teacher, a creative director at a business or working freelance. Wherever it presents itself, a career in art is her ultimate goal.
“Right now, I am going in the direction of studying graphic design, because I know there is a huge market for it,” explained Schmitt. “But then part of me is like maybe I should take some time off school and really try to pursue a career on social media outlets.”
While many artists have a specific style, Schmitt likes to try all different types without settling on one particular niche. If she had to put her art into a category, she describes it as “surrealism with a twist of nature and human anatomy.”
The mural she painted was categorized as a portrait, a style she enjoys painting, but is more difficult when comparing her painting to grainy old photos online. Another thing that made the mural more challenging was the sheer size of it and anything that had to be done, whether it is adding one stroke of paint or moving a pallet, involved lots of physical work.
“It is harder because it is physically demanding when we have to do a lot of painting or move panels, it’s a workout,” said Schmitt.
All of the supplies for the project were purchased at the cost of the artists and the only funds provided were from a $600 grant received from Reagan Carmichael. That may seem like a lot of money, but at a cost of $200 for just the panels, it gets used up quickly. To help fund the project Schmitt created a GoFundMe page to earn money, but she hopes the community will help support and value the arts more.
“Artists help the community and we are helping Rochelle,” said Schmitt
The John Wayne mural is completed and plans to attach it to the Computax/Needles Quilting building located downtown Rochelle before the end of the month are set.
A second mural painted by Schmitt is nearly finished and will be 40-feet by 12-feet, almost four times the size of John Wayne. This second mural will be attached to the side of Bills Trading Post, facing the GloWellness building and is an original design by Schmitt. The mural features a deer, who’s antlers transform into a magnolia tree. This second mural fits more of Schmitt’s style.
Schmitt said being an artist involves receiving lots of criticism, or often hearing that it is not a career and nothing will come from it. But one thing Schmitt would tell anyone trying to become an artist in the future is follow your passion and stay positive.
“Listen to the voice inside of your head instead of others, because the voice that is going to make you happy is your own voice,” she offered.