Poised with a Pencil
How does a 16-year-old entrepreneur have over 70,000 followers on Instagram (more than triple that of two years ago), donate works to Hospice and Transition to Betterness for their auctions, and have a month-long art exhibition where she sells seven original pieces?
It all started with a cupcake.
In grade eight, Madison was going on a family vacation and decided to draw to occupy herself on the plane. She had dabbled in art her whole life, but it was at 35,000 feet when her parents and the onboard service members knew she had a gift.
Madison was already an Instagram user, sharing a few personal photos and a little bit of her artwork, but when she noticed her peers’ attempts at drawing a cupcake, she thought she’d give it a try on the plane.
She illustrated a smooth chocolate cupcake with pink frosting and a juicy raspberry on top. The drawing looks like a photograph. You almost wish you could reach into the print and take a big bite.
Madison’s parents, Sharon and Colin, kept looking over as Madison created, and shared glances of wonder. When Madison was done, Sharon gushes that the “stewardesses were picking it up and showing people.” Humble but honest, Madison knew she had an ability she had to nurture.
“At that point, I decided to dedicate more time to my art and pursue realism,” she explains.
Now, Madison is in eleventh grade at St. Thomas of Villanova High School. She elects to take the sciences and art, and she has an above 90% cumulative average. She draws every day in her basement studio, but she says “it goes in waves,” depending on her level of motivation and inspiration. In August, she averaged about two to three hours a day.
Madison’s studio is a small space with an easel where she can paint and a counter where she can get lost in her drawings and sign her prints, but Sharon explains that Madison’s work has taken over the house like “tentacles.” No one in the house minds, though. Not even her younger brother, Jacob.
“She’s a good kid and she works really hard. The money she makes she doesn’t blow. She invests in herself and her business. She’s investing in her future,” Sharon explains.
Last summer, Madison was accepted to the Windsor-Essex Small Business summer company program funded by the Ontario government. The requirements are that you have to be a full-time student between the ages of 15 and 29. Madison had to complete a business proposal and estimates. She learned how to handle money, promote her business, and after a successful completion, was awarded $1,500 to begin. She bought a camera to film videos on YouTube and to photograph her own artwork, business cards, and banners.
When I met Madison, she had just finished her month-long exhibition at the Gibson Gallery, a historic railroad station in Amherstburg repurposed as a gallery. She was also collaborating on a project with a number of artists across the world on Instagram.
The collaboration involved having a shaded rainbow across the eye of their chosen photo of the week. Think Ariana Grande with a glittering rainbow across her face. Madison didn't necessarily like how her piece was turning out, but because she posted the progress pictures on Instagram, she forced herself to finish it.
“The photo was also a part of a collaboration. I don’t want to let the others down that are working with me.” She didn’t let her team or her fans down. She finished the project with over 4,000 likes.
Her struggle is evocative of the time she drew a portrait of model Cara Delevingne, a photo you can see on her Instagram. She tried adding texture to her forehead using white ink, but it spilled and turned the drawing dark because of the graphite. She had to cover the mark up with a rose headband. She’s still not 100% happy with the final product, but struggle is a part of being an artist. And it didn’t stop her from continuing to create or having her first show.
Madison ran her first exhibition with the help of her family and the fantastic staff at the Gibson Gallery. Sharon explains that the gallery “reached out last year to do a show, but at the time we didn’t know if her portfolio was large enough, so we booked for this year. Madison worked on all her pictures and then you rent the gallery for the month. It’s staffed and they take care of the transactions with a commission.”
Madison and Sharon spent the first day curating, placing the pictures where they thought they’d look best. They held an opening reception the following weekend, and throughout the month, people would drop in for free and explore Madison’s distinctive world.
Eighteen original works and their prints, created by Sooters Photography, were on display. She limits each run to about 100 prints per artwork, and numbers and signs them. Once she sells out of her current prints, she plans to print 250 and keep increasing the number as her customers increase. As of now, the prints are available in a 5x7 ($15), an 8x10 ($30), and an 11x14 ($50). Her original artwork has sold for $250 to $350.
At the time of the interview, Madison was still waiting to hear back from the gallery for a final count of the number of prints sold. She was told that her large sale of originals is a key distinguisher of her talent: patrons buy originals because they see them as an investment knowing Madison will continue honing her skill.
I grew up with family members who drew and painted, and I wondered if Madison felt pain when she sells her original works.
“There are certain pieces that are really special to me that I don’t want to give up, like the first cupcake and my eye drawings because they’re especially challenging. But with my other pieces, I’m happy they’re going to someone who will take care of them,” she smiles.
For Sharon, it’s a little more bittersweet. “When someone buys them it tugs at my heartstrings. It’s gone.” But she sees the beauty in letting them go to the buyers. “Something spoke to them, and inspired them and they felt they needed that in their home. When you’re decorating your home with artwork, it’s very personal. You pick out a picture for a specific reason. As a parent, I feel so honoured.”
Another gratifying part of the exhibition was that Madison interacted with a number of different people, some of them artists, and a handful of kids “who are fans on Instagram.”
“It’s such an honour to give back to the community because when I was younger I would look up to a lot of artists who inspired me and got me to the point where I am today,” says Madison. “I see myself in these young kids who are fans and encourage them to pursue artwork.”
I explain to Madison that 10 years ago, when I was in high school, there wasn’t an Instagram. She can’t imagine. She attributes her success to the platform because it keeps her motivated and inspired.
“I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am without Instagram. So many people have inspired me to keep going and if I hadn’t been on Instagram I wouldn’t have seen the cupcakes. I’m sure I’d always be drawing, but I honestly don’t think I’d be at the point where I am today.”
She also uses the platform to challenge herself to create a new drawing every week. It doesn’t always work out, but she tries.
As for the future, Madison still wants to go into the sciences, whether to end up as a surgeon or an engineer. She knows there are programs at the University of Windsor like SMART (Science Meets ART), and she keeps science as her priority. Wherever she ends up, she will continue pursuing art.
And her parents are on board no matter what. “If it did take off, I would absolutely support it,” promises Sharon. “It’s a difficult career. We’ve been supporting her all along and you have to do what you’re happy with so for her, if she gets into engineering and she hates it and says, ‘I want to be an artist,’ then she can pursue an art career.”
For now, Madison will continue enjoying her teenage years: keeping up a social life, working in colour pencil while blasting Drake and Nicki Minaj, creating oil paintings of animals to donate 50% of the profits to World Wildlife Fund, cooking, and dreaming of the next place she wants to see again: Japan.
I leave the interview in awe of this humble young woman who knows that her success is due in large part to the village of support behind her, and who wants to give back to the community and make the world a better place.
Madison has included an outline of her sunflower portrait so that you can relish in creating a piece of art. (see next page)
• Whether with a friend or on your own, find a clean surface with room to lay your pencils or markers.
• Some artists can’t focus if they listen to music, while others can work only if accompanied by music or noise. Find what works for you.
• Be patient—you can’t create a masterpiece in five minutes.
• Use an array of colours. You don’t need an expensive pencil set.
• Play with the colours and layers and how they blend together...Enjoy!