When senior Sophie Ye was five, she lived in an apartment complex with several other kids her age. In the apartment directly underneath her lived a girl named Angie, a 9-year-old who painted. Ye looked up to Angie like an older sister — wanting to be like her in every way. One day, when Ye visited Angie’s house, she noticed a painting of lotus flowers that Angie had created, and was motivated to start learning art herself.
Although Ye always had an affinity for drawing, this marked the beginning of Ye’s official art career, and she began taking classes from the same teacher as Angie. At first, Ye started off with the fundamentals — basic pencil sketches and shapes. Eventually, she was introduced to oil painting. Since then, painting has become both Ye’s favorite form of art and her speciality.
“My favorite medium has always just been painting because graphite and color pencil and whatever other mediums are like sticks,” Ye said. “I find those too rigid. It’s not something I really enjoy because I feel really restricted when I work in those mediums ... I prefer free flowing mediums.”
As Ye has grown older and more experienced with art, she claims that her art has improved in both its technique and meaning. For example, Ye has learned to not only paint everyday objects and images, but also convey abstract ideas like thoughts and emotions — a skill she claims takes both time and understanding.
“I used to just work in a strictly representational sort of style in terms of just being realistic and [painting what I see],” Ye said. “But now I have more of a tendency to put my own spin on things, usually through manipulating colors and brushwork. I’ve also started using a little more symbolism. There are certain concepts which I tend to approach from a more surreal sort of standpoint, because abstract concepts you can’t really represent in a very strict and realistic manner. It doesn’t really get the point across.”
According to senior Alex Wu, a long time friend and fellow artist, Ye is able to tackle larger, more complex ideas because she has an extremely strong foundation in various art skills, such as shading, lighting, cross-stitching and more. According to Wu, all of these skills comprise of an artist’s toolbox — the more diverse the tool box, the more projects the artist is able to tackle.
“[Her] ideas are a lot more subtle than what you originally [see],” Wu said. “On the first take, you get a general notion of what she’s saying … but you get to feel the deeper meanings on the second or third take. And that’s when you can see the more subtle details of more subtle expression that she might be implying inside the piece.”
Ye’s current art teacher, Helen Yang, echoes Wu sentiments. Yang has been teaching Ye for almost five years now, and she believes that one of Ye’s biggest strengths is her creativity.
“She doesn’t want to just copy what she sees,” Yang said. “Most of her projects, she tries to express an idea ... she’s able to capture a different mood in every single project. Even if she’s just a drawing from observation, she tries to capture the things that are interesting to her so it’s not a just a mirror copy of a photo.”
Ye explains that she uses natural elements to create these subtle meanings, especially flowers. According to her, natural landscapes are powerful because they can convey a lot of symbolism and abstract meaning.
“There’s something about painting landscapes that for me is really calling me because I feel more connected with the world around me that way,” Ye said. “So it’s really comforting and there’s a sense of peace that seems to come with it for me … [Flowers] are very hard to paint. Every time I try to draw one, I’m like, I never doing this again. And then I start the next thing and guess what I’m including? I’m including more flowers and the flower that I’m including in this painting is probably going to be more complex than what I did my last one. I don’t know why I do it myself, but I do.”
Ye explains that flowers and water, coupled with variations in color scheme and lighting, help her create art that is more meaningful. Through these variations, she is able to convey different kinds of emotions and find things that speak to her the most. One of the concepts that she is most inspired by is personal growth, or what she describes as “the redemption arc.”
“It’s just something that seems to speak to me in a certain way, just because I think it’s a very real part of every person’s life,” Ye said. “You make mistakes, you grow from it. And then in some cases, you do have to go through this personal redemption arc — other people might have forgiven you, but you also have to come to terms with what you’ve done. And you have to accept yourself for it.”
Over the course of the last 12 years, Ye has greatly developed her identity as an artist and painter. And as she has grown, she also began seeing more success in terms of accolades. Aside from winning international competitions from the World Peace Prayer Society, she has also won a federal competition hosted by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Despite these accomplishments, Ye claims that the awards are not really important to her.
“I’d say that’s the most meaningful thing that my art has brought me is basically just the fact that I can use it to make the people around me happy.” Ye said. “I’m not the kind of person that tends to give a lot of gifts, but then when I do give gifts, cards and stuff, I usually tend to draw something on it. And I’ve noticed that people seem to like that because it’s like a personal touch, and that makes me happy. And I think it’s something that is worth being proud of.”
Beyond Ye’s artistic touch on gifts, Wu believes Ye’s art has also enriched their friendship. Wu has known about Ye’s art for almost 10 years, after being in the same art class as Ye during elementary school. Seeing as Wu and Ye both create art (Wu is a sculptor), Wu and Ye frequently share their art pieces with each other, whether it’s asking for help or simply showing pieces of art they are most proud of.
“It allows our friendship to be a little more dynamic,” Wu said. “Part of it is we can bounce off of each other on what we create ourselves. But also we can talk about what others have created, and what our thoughts are on it and how we can embed that into our own work or what we should do about it ourselves.”
Because of the heavy workload that comes with senior year and college applications, Ye has primarily been working on her art portfolio for college rather than pieces for enjoyment. In fact, in the two weeks leading up to her college applications, Ye spent over 50 hours in the studio working on her art. On regular weeks, she usually goes to the studio about once or twice a week, usually working for several hours at a time.
According to Yang, this type of detailed effort helps Ye create stronger, more refined pieces. In fact, Ye’s dedication is one of Yang’s favorite parts about teaching Ye.
“She’s so dedicated to art — when she works on a piece of art, she’ll stay very focused and she’ll spend a lot of time working on it,” Yang said. “And she’s confident, she’s creative. She’s detail oriented, and she’s willing to work hard. I’s my pleasure to teach her because as a teacher, I love somebody who’s really dedicated to the subject matter.”
Ye says she puts so much time into her art is because she deeply cares about the hobby. Ye explains that over the years, painting has become a form of “catharsis,” a way for her to channel her emotions, whether they be happy or sad, into something productive and beautiful.
“Put it in simple terms, being an artist is a fundamental part of who I am,” Ye said. “If you take that away from me, then I’m not going to be me.”