Building a body of work

Ashland High School senior Rosemarie Caruso displayed a skillfully done figure drawing to adult artists visiting campus to help students develop art portfolios.

"I did that in driver's education class," Caruso said of the small sketch.

After admiring her pencil drawings of figures and faces during the high school's first Portfolio Day earlier this week, the adults began pushing her to stretch even further as an artist.

Hilltop Gallery co-owner and former art professor Richard Newman encouraged her to experiment with composition, since most beginning artists tend to center their work in the middle of the paper.

Scott Malbaurn, an instructor with Southern Oregon University and the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York, recommended she experiment with large pieces of paper, watercolor and ink.

At Caruso's request, the adults gave her several assignments — including completing a life-size self portrait of herself in charcoal, doing quick sketches with her left hand and making 100 drawings of the same object in a week.

The adults and students were brought together after the Ashland Gallery Association learned that students didn't know how build art portfolios for the college and art school application process, said AGA Administrator Kim Olson.

Portfolio Day was made possible through the help of AHS art teachers, local artist volunteers and a Jackson County Cultural Coalition grant, she said.

The students who attended Portfolio Day each received a black, high-quality artist's portfolio for storing and displaying their work and photographs of their art.

In addition to hearing assessments and advice about their art, students learned about the importance of good grades in high school, building a portfolio, applying for college or art school and what they could expect in their first years.

"If you're an F student, you probably will not be accepted, even if you have the best portfolio in the world," Malbaurn said. "So keep your grades up."

Several of the adult artists impressed upon the students the importance of documenting their work through photographs.

Professional photographer Lewis Anderson gave tips on photographing art work, noting that all artists either have to learn to take photos of their pieces or pay someone else to do it.

Anderson said the process of creating a portfolio never ends for people who go into artistic careers. Artists need strong portfolios, whether they are applying for college or trying to get into an exhibit.

"You build it for your whole life," he said.

While finished pieces get most of the attention, the adult artists advised the students to keep sketchbooks — recording both their drawings and their thoughts.

"Being able to talk about your work is incredibly important," said artist Whitney Rolfe, a recent SOU graduate.

She said she can refer to her sketchbook to remember what she was thinking while making a piece, or to recall important parts of the process, such as the precise paint color that she used.

At college or art school, students can expect to take a broad spectrum of classes in the beginning, then focus on areas of interest and work with more independence and responsibility in later years.

Hilltop Gallery Co-owner and former art professor Rochelle Newman encouraged students to become well-rounded and educate themselves broadly, studying history, foreign languages, math and other subjects in addition to art.

"You have to have something to say with your art," she said.

Sonora Mindling-Werling, a high school junior, said she enjoyed listening to the diverse group of adult artists and learning about different careers in art, from professional photographer to art restorer.

"I really liked hearing how many different kinds of artists there are," she said. "Within the spectrum of art, there are so many different paths to follow."

Local artists and AHS students plan to reconvene in January 2014 to continue working on the students' portfolios.

The Ashland Gallery Association hopes to win more grant funding to expand the program to more students and high schools in the future, Olson said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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