Alissa Sotelo could have spent her summers working the fashion runways in New York, Paris and Milan. She’s certainly got “the look.” Instead, she chose to sit in an Oklahoma City classroom learning how to draw and sculpt.
The 15-year-old took to the lessons like ducks to water, which is no surprise since her father is Edgar Sotelo, an award-winning painter who specializes in Western art.
The drawing classes at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum were led by nationally renowned artist Paul Moore, who has done more than 130 sculptures, including the Oklahoma Centennial Land Run Monument, one of the world’s largest studies in bronze, spanning 365 feet in length by 36 feet in width and over 16 feet in height, consisting of 45 life-sized bronze elements.
Moore had high praise for Alissa, the only teenager in his class, Western Art Workshop-Sculpture: Traditional Portrait Techniques for a New Century.
“I was impressed by her desire and drive to be an artist,” Moore said in an email. “Although the class was much beyond her experience, she worked hard alongside individuals that were, on average, in their 40s and 50s.”
While she was listening to Moore lecture, Alissa took extra clay and worked it into animal shapes.
“I made a dolphin without even looking,” she shared. “It felt natural to me.”
Alissa also attended a drawing class with William Whitaker.
Alissa says she grew up liking to draw and took art classes in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. She credits her mom, Michelle, for getting into the workshops.
“She pushes us all toward classes,” the “almost all-A” student said. “One day she said, ‘I want you to fill out this application.’”
According to Michelle, her husband was going to be at the Prixe de West Art Show and Workshop with William Whitaker. She thought her daughter might benefit from instruction, too.
“The Prixe de West Art Show hosts these workshops,” Michelle explained. “We read that Whitaker was very open for children to come, so we contacted him and she got in.”
The drawing class was scheduled during the last week of school, but Alissa’s parents agreed it was a good trade-off. It was an opportunity to spend time learning from the best. Her dad was already scheduled to be at the show. Her mom came up during the second week.
She told her mother, “When I got the clay in my hands, it was like I already knew what to do.”
Alissa has been creating art for years, folding colored paper into origami figures, drawing on napkins and in her sketch book and working with leather she found around the house.
“I grew up doodling to have something to do with my hands,” she noted.
Her little sisters, Aleah, 8, and Ava, 7, are interested in the fine arts, too, but right now, they’re limited to working with PlayDoh, she explained with a laugh.
When she started the class, called Drawing and Composition from Imagination, she wanted to concentrate on eyelashes and the small details.
Instead, she learned the importance of getting the main form first.
“The first day, we had a live model,” she explained. “You have to get the main shape right. If you don’t, everything else is wrong.”
After the first class, the youngster said she spent hours just drawing figures in motion.
“We did quick sketches,” she noted. “I had to get a new sketchbook because I filled my old one up.”
Her classes began at 9 a.m. and lasted until about 4 p.m., The intensity of the work caught up with the teen during the noon break.
“Even though we did nothing but sit in the classroom, I would fall asleep on the hotel bed,” she confessed. “I was tired from learning so much.”
Alissa plans to pursue her love of art this fall at Sulphur Springs High School, where she’ll be a freshman.
Her sculpting teacher thinks this is a step in the right direction.
“With hard work, I believe she has the talent to develop skillfully through the years and become an amazing artist one day,” Moore said.
Alissa says it would be nice if “I could just do this as my job and pay the bills. I’d do it happily.”
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