One Stroke of Inspiration


catherine prestoy, reporter

Walking into the art room at 6 p.m. on a Thursday night greeted by an enthusiastic group of artsy, inspired teenagers, Rachel Downs begins to explain the wintery woods inspired backdrop for the winter formal dance.

This year, the advisor Rachel Downs created the Art Club. Art Club members have participated in the homecoming parade, created the backdrop for the Winter Formal dance and simply create artwork.

“I tend to really push kids to feel comfortable in expressing whatever they feel is necessary to express,” Downs said. “I am constantly creating, too, and I think that helps to encourage students if you’re continuously making if you’re an artist yourself.”

Art Club members assemble weekly and work on a project, create their own individual art or listen to a guest speaker. Recently, club members have painted the ceiling tiles in the art room. The few ceiling tiles that sit on the roof of the room are basic patterns of leaves and abstract nature pieces.

After teaching at New Mexico State University for five years, Downs wanted to get accustomed to high school life again.

“I wanted to work at high school because I really miss that part of my life,” Downs said. “I feel like this is a really important time for human beings and their development and I feel very passionate about the arts.”

Downs knew from an early age that she wanted to be both a teacher and an artist. “I started painting when I was very young–two or three,” Downs recalled. “[I was] finger painting with my mother and I decided I wanted to be an artist the day I left the womb. I was a fan of art very young and it just stayed with me. It’s really the only constant thing in my life.”

Downs’ parents always supported her artistic passion. “If it wasn’t for [my parents’] support, I wouldn’t be an artist and a teacher because I wouldn’t know those things were so important,” Downs said. “Education is of the utmost importance. Doing what you love is what you should do.”
During the school year, Downs works alongside her students to encourage them with their work.

“I’ve been doing journal work or charcoal or pastel because I want to work alongside them,” she said. “I want to share that and I want to reciprocate back and forth with students about art and about life experiences and meaningful experiences.”
Art Club President Anna Cormack explained that she likes how Downs focuses more on the meaning of the student’s work.

“Whenever we’re working on a project she likes to ask us about more of the idea behind it,” Cormack said, “like the conceptual side of it, instead of the technique we’re using or the formal side of it. That’s different from my past teachers.”
Expression plays a key role in artists and their work. Downs found that expression is free for everyone to portray in their different ways.

“When I saw “Guernica” [by Picasso]–which is a 40-foot long painting about war–I realized I was certainly in a place where I was free to express myself…and that I understood that expression. [The painting] validated myself as a teacher and an artist.”

Downs explained her own artwork as fundamentally figurative with abstract qualities.

Her most inspirational piece, “Break Dance” portrays her process of being diagnosed with a chronic illness. “In order to deal with that illness, I had to deal with life before the illness and life after the illness. The fleshy, right side [of the painting] is my childhood, before the illness.  The dark, deeper side [of the painting] is adulthood, after the illness.”

Downs had said it is an oil painting that would last for hundreds of years.

When asked to describe art in general, Downs explained, “[Art is] a mindset.”

For anyone dreaming of pursuing art in the future, Downs offers the best advice she can give. “Do it.”