A conversation with Sihan Zhao, AP Studio Art student

By Evelyn Thoen

Transcribed from a live interview. Edits have been made for clarity and conciseness.

This past week, I was able to interview Sihan Zhao, AP Studio Art student. Sihan is a junior here at Maranatha, and an international student from China. She recently won a Silver Key, which is an art award from the annual Scholastic Art Competition, for one of her paintings.

Evelyn Thoen: What art class are you currently in?

Sihan Zhao: AP Studio Art for drawing.

E: What is your favorite part of this class, or what do you like about it?

S: I like it because I can explore lots of things that I’m interested in. I can do whatever I like on the topics Ms. Barnhart gives me. It’s really different from Chinese art classes because we have to follow lots of instructions and we have to paint on certain topics and we cannot add any elaboration. But in this art class, I can do basically whatever I want.

E: So you can explore your own style more?

S: Yeah.

E: How would you describe your style of art?

S: When I was pretty young, I liked animation a lot, so you can see a lot of my paintings are a little bit cartoonish. I like color, and I like the feel of watercolor, it makes me feel kind of dreamy.

E: Cool. So, you would say your style makes your art unique? Or is there anything else, in what subject matter you choose, or any special techniques you use, that makes your art unique?

S: I really like to have something that is a reflection of social issues in my paintings, and something that has a deeper meaning in my paintings. Something like that. For example, for some of my paintings, you know in critiques, [when we discuss our art in class] I will talk about some historical events or some people’s mental issues, like the feeling of isolation. It’s also my concentration [For AP Art, each student creates a portfolio, half of which is the Concentration, or a series of related art pieces]. I want to put that into my paintings because I want to use that as an expression to show my perspective on the world.

E: Ok, awesome. How long have you been making art?

S: I actually started painting when I was like three years old.

E: Wow!

S: But it’s not, like… I’m just playing, it’s not like officially learning.

E: Okay. What inspires you in your art? You’ve already talked about social issues, things like that…

S: I like literature a lot, and also I watch a lot of movies. I actually get lots [inspiration from], for example, The Great Gatsby. I really like the themes inside, and actually, that painting (points to her art piece on wall) is really inspired from The Great Gatsby.

E: So you’re inspired by literature and movies.

S: Yeah. And also some of my art [was inspired] after I watched La La Land. The theme in the movie is so beautiful, and I really wanted to paint something from that movie.

E: I haven’t seen the movie yet.

S: Oh, you haven’t seen it?

E: No!

S: You need to go see it, it’s so good.

E: Yeah. Do you have a favorite artist, or art movement?

S: My favorite artist, right now, is James Jean. He’s actually one of the artists we did the partner portraits on. [At the beginning of the school year, the AP Studio Art class completes a project where they make a portrait of another student in the class in the style of a well-known artist.]

E: Oh, ok.

S: And I also like Renoir, and also Monet. They are so good.

E: Yeah. What’s your favorite art medium to use?

S: I like watercolor and also colored pencil. Because with colored pencil I can actually paint small details on my painting.

E: Do you like to mix them?

S: I actually don’t really like to. I used to mix colored pencil and watercolor, but I don’t like the feeling when they mix together, because a lot of colored pencils are water soluble, and I don’t really like that feeling. Usually, if I really want to mix them, I will separate it into different parts [of my art piece].

E: Okay. Do you plan on continuing to make art later in life, or even doing it as a career?

S: I may not do it as a career, but I will do something [involving art], because I want to be an architect, and it’s art related. And also I like science and math as well. So I think architecture could be the perfect major for me. Also I will take separate art classes in college, and maybe after I get some money I will continue to be a “pure” artist.

E: Yeah. So about the Silver Key award you won from the Scholastic Art Competition… Was there a theme to the competition?

S: It’s actually just like an art competition, there’s no limit to the thing… It’s just anything…

E: Anything you want to submit?

S: Yeah. But I put my painting in illustration [as the category].

E: Is there anything special about the one you submitted, or why you chose that piece?

S: I like that piece because… I just like it. It’s hard to describe, because I spent a lot of time on it, so I kind of have a special emotion connected to that piece. And actually, the rest of it is because I felt it could photograph well. [The pieces were submitted online as a digital photograph of the art piece]

E: Anything else you want to share, about yourself, about your art?

S: Can I kind of describe what I want to do in the future?

E: Yeah, sure!

S: So, I kind of mentioned to you, [I’m interested in] making a combination of engineering and fine arts, so maybe in the future we can make 3-D models for the environment, so designers can do sustainable architecture on the environment, and then they can fix things on the program, to test the practicality for that architecture [model]. So I think right now, that’s my focus point. And also, I like architecture so much because my mom is an architect, and I always grew up visiting her company, and I saw all of the designers do all of their work on their computers … and I really liked that. That’s how I would elaborate on my interests.

E: Awesome, cool! Well, thank you!

S: Thank you!


This art piece won a silver key for the Scholastic Art Competition.


This art piece won an honorable mention for the competition.


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