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Student artwork depicting Michigan’s strengths wins state competition

Vintage-style painting highlights nature, landmarks and industry

Forest Hills — When announcing the winner of this year’s State of the State art contest, Lt. Gov. Garland Gilchrist said he was encouraged “to see Michigan’s strengths through these students’ eyes.” 

The winning entry gives the eyes much to enjoy, compliments of Forest Hills Northern junior Sydney Kuipers.

Sydney’s artwork has a layered look made from gouache, which has a consistency somewhere between watercolor and acrylic paint. Icons from industry, famous landmarks and natural images like the Pictured Rocks float under a superimposed silhouette of the state. The words “What makes Michigan strong” frame the image on the top and bottom. 

‘My advice to others is to try things you are not sure about and don’t give up.’

— junior Sydney Kuipers, winning artist
Sydney Kuipers’ winning gouache entry includes powerful words, iconic images and a silhouette of Michigan
Sydney Kuipers’ winning gouache entry includes powerful words, iconic images and a silhouette of Michigan (courtesy)

The whole creation has a vintage feel and visual movement, drawing the eye around the perimeter and into the center, giving the viewer a virtual journey around the state. 

Hundreds of K-12 students from across the state entered the competition. Five finalists were identified, and Sydney’s entry was chosen by Gilchrist for the top prize.

Sydney, who is also president of the school’s art club, hasn’t won any other art competitions, but she was one of 242 students in the world to earn a perfect score on the AP studio art exam last year, as a sophomore. She had taken an interest in art only three years before. 

“I took an exploratory art class for the first time in eighth grade,” she said. “My advice to others is to try things you are not sure about and don’t give up.” 

Sydney takes constructive criticism and listens well.’

— Kendra St. Antione, art teacher

She is not even taking an art class at the moment. But as soon as Kate Silivio Martus, one of her former art teachers, heard about the contest, she let Sydney know. 

“Sydney has skill and determination, and she works hard,” Silvio Martus said. And she “takes constructive criticism and listens well,” added Kendra St. Antoine, also a former art teacher of Sydney’s. 

Making Artistic Choices 

Talent certainly is important in creating such a notable piece of art, but the real key to it was planning, Silvio Martus noted. Sydney used an iPad to sketch out individual items and move the images around to lay out the design just so. “I worked on the project all 11 days that I knew about it,” Sydney said. 

She considered the images carefully — including what not to include. She thought about adding the state’s two most famous universities’ logos, but she would have had to leave out schools that are important to many. 

‘Sydney has skill and determination, and she works hard.’

— Kate Silvio Martus, art teacher

And while she included the state bird, Sydney really wanted to add the Kirtland’s warbler. She is an active birder and thinks the latter is much cooler than the robin. But she thought that the smaller warbler wouldn’t have been noticed in her lively creation. 

Her love of birds is evident in her AP portfolio, which can be viewed on her Instagram site: sydney.kuipers.art. She’s fond of Cherry Republic’s treats, too, and will receive a gift box from the Michigan-based company for her winning entry. 

She and her dad will attend the State of the State address on Wednesday in Lansing, at one of the landmarks she depicted in her entry. 

What’s more, her award-winning artwork will appear on the cover of the event program. 

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Carol Lautenbach
Carol Lautenbach
Carol Lautenbach is a reporter and columnist for School News Network. She has been a writer since second grade when her semi-autobiographical story, "The Magic Pencil," earned her a shiny Kennedy half-dollar in a metro-Detroit contest. For three wonderful decades, Carol served Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in a variety of teaching and administrative roles. In her current work as a consultant and at SNN, she continues to be part of telling the story of the great promise of public education. Carol has also written for The Alan Review, The Rapidian and Midwest Living, and is co-author of the book, “Making Schools Work: Bringing the Science of Learning to Joyful Classroom Practice.” She loves to not cook, and she keeps her bag packed for art, outdoor and writing adventures.


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