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Thanks to Ariel, he’s part of that world

Grad returns to guest lead former teacher’s class

East Grand Rapids — When Dylan Bonner was a student at Wealthy Elementary, he frequently left his mark in the art classroom. Teacher Holly Lampen recalled that she would enter the room and immediately know Dylan had been there. Not because anything was out of place, but because of what was on the whiteboard: endless drawings of Ariel, the main character in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

“(Lampen) was very supportive of me coming into the classroom and drawing Ariel on the whiteboard pretty much all the time, and that meant a lot to me,” said Bonner, a 2009 EGRHS graduate. “She also basically let me pivot any assignment to (drawing) Disney princesses or something like that.”

As it turns out, those early teacher/student interactions were leading to something special for both of them. Bonner is now a Disney contract artist, creating art for the international company in a freelance capacity from his West Michigan home. He and Lampen, who now teaches at the middle school, have kept in touch over the years and collaborated on a few projects. He also helped Lampen start a digital art class at the middle school about five years ago. 

And in a true full-circle moment, Bonner recently visited Lampen’s digital art classes as a guest teacher for a drawing lesson. Using the digital art program Procreate, iPads and digital pencils, he walked students step by step through the process of drawing a favorite cartoon character: Ariel.

“It’s so rewarding as a teacher to have a student stay in touch and want to share what they’re doing with our crazy middle school art room,” Lampen said. “It’s super-energizing for all of us. (The art students) can learn some tips and techniques that they can use in their work right away, and that builds excitement in the process.

“But I also want them to hear (from Bonner) that being an artist doesn’t come easy — you’re not going to instantly get hired by Disney to draw for them. You have to work for it.”

Artist Dylan Bonner’s drawing of Ariel is projected on screen for the class as he draws the Disney character

Discovering Creative Options

As he sketched Ariel’s face, Bonner narrated what he was doing for the class and his work was projected on a screen so that everyone could follow — and draw — along. At each step of the sketch, he gave out tips like using the blender tool for a softening effect or flipping the image to gain a new perspective.

“Think of the shape like a hunk of clay,” he advised as some students struggled to draw Ariel’s profile or choose a just-right skin tone. “It can look messy and it’s totally fine. … When I’m drawing, I’m really indecisive with my colors, too. It can all be changed.”

‘It’s so rewarding as a teacher to have a student stay in touch and want to share what they’re doing … It’s super-energizing for all of us. They can learn some tips and techniques that they can use in their work right away, and that builds excitement in the process.’

— art teacher Holly Lampen

Eighth-grader Cienna Cubillo, iPad in hand, soaked it all in. She said she considers herself more of a “traditional” artist, but has always been fascinated by people using technology to create art. She wanted to take the digital art class to explore more of that creative side. 

“I got really excited when Mrs. Lampen told us a Disney artist was coming in — I brought a bunch of my sketches to maybe show him,” said Cienna, who would like to work in art someday, perhaps as a storyboard artist. “It was really cool to hear from him and I think I learned a lot.

“It means a lot to me (that Bonner would visit their class) because art is something that I’m really passionate about. Seeing somebody who made a career out of that is really special.” 

Bonner, who in high school helped lead Lampen’s classes as a teacher cadet, said the most rewarding part of his career has been seeing how people respond to his artwork. He’s under no illusion that every student will respond the way Cienna did, but said the opportunity to help them discover creative options is exciting.

“Middle school is such a fun age; you can get a good banter going with them and it’s really cool to see the ones who are really into it, see the pieces that they’ve done and their genuine excitement,” he said. “But even with kids where art isn’t their thing, it’s still a good outlet to see what they’re capable of and explore something new.”

‘It means a lot to me because art is something that I’m really passionate about. Seeing somebody who made a career out of that is really special.’

— Eighth-grader Cienna Cubillo

For those students interested in going further with art, Bonner encouraged them to “utilize all of your resources,” including social media, personal connections and exploring both digital and traditional art forms. Bonner’s own Disney opportunity initially came about because someone noticed his work on Instagram and invited him to test for the position. 

“As non-Disney as it sounds, I don’t do just the ‘follow your dream’ stuff,” he said. “I explain how (a career in art) happened for me, but also that you’re going to get a lot of rejection. I hope I can break that down in a way that’s realistic but still encouraging if they want to go in that (art) direction.”

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter (covering Cedar Springs, Grandville, Lowell and Rockford), editor, copy editor and social media manager. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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