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Michelle Ku may only be a 16 year old high school student, but she has already nurtured her artistic talents in everything from painting shoes to taking nature photographs to creating environmentally friendly pieces out of recycled materials. She also grew up with a family quite different than those of her friends.
Her family supported her choice to go into the art field by making sure she started art lessons at the early age of 5 and also letting Michelle become a part of the International Baccalaureate Program for art. Michelle feels incredibly lucky to have such help from her family to allow her to do what she loves and wishes that other individuals with a love for art had the same support and freedom in their career choice.
ToonariPost (TP): How and when did you first start practicing your art (are you traditionally trained or self-taught)?
Michelle Ku (MK): I drew a stick man upside down when I was three and I’ve been drawing ever since! But I started art classes at around age 5, with lessons outside of school. I took a 3 year break from lessons, then started with another teacher when I was around 14. Right now I’m 16 and in high school. I’m in the International Baccalaureate program for Art, where you keep an investigative sketchbook and finish a piece every two weeks.
As for self-taught, last year, I taught myself how to paint on canvas shoes and started a shoe painting business, Tokushu Shoes! I also bought a Canon Rebel T3 and started teaching myself photography. This year I am working hard on learning Photoshop and it is so challenging.Coffee helps!
Here are some recent photos I’ve taken. I love photographing wildlife the most.
TP: What sort of things were you learning while taking art lessons outside of school at such a young age?
MK: Each week our art teacher would go through how to do one drawing. Then, our homework would be to use the same sort of theme/idea but to make up our own picture. I remember one time we drew a snowman in class, and when I went home I drew a bunch of mice, some on helicopters and ladders, building a snowman together.
TP: How did you decide to become a part of the International Baccalaureate program for Art?
MK: I heard about Art IB in junior high, and I wanted to apply because it sounded super fun. There’s so much freedom because they basically let you do anything you want. You choose a theme, which can be changed throughout the year, and base your art around that. Right now, my theme is based on observations about the environment (how we interact with nature, making art from recycled/natural materials, and why we should be conserving the earth). Some examples of what I’ve done are: a recycled water bottle light fixture, a pop art painting of extinct animals, and a book sculpture.
TP: What mediums do you use for your art work? Which is your favorite and why?
MK: I can go through a pack of pencils a month, hehe. I absolutely love using acrylics, almost all my clothes are stained with paint at one point or another. I like acrylics because they are easy to use and very versatile.
Recently, I’ve fallen in love with digital painting in Photoshop and Sai as well. I also think that watercolor is a beautiful medium, and so fun to paint with. I’d say my favorite is traditional painting in general though, with any medium.
TP: Some of your artwork uses shoes for canvas. What made you decide to use shoes instead of another article of clothing for your work? What about this medium makes it difficult to use?
MK: It started when I saw a white, plain pair of shoes at the mall a long time ago, and was like “WANT TO DOODLE!”. So I’ve had this thought in my head ever since, and then I finally bought a cheap pair and experimented with them. Most of the challenge comes from getting the paint to last and stay on. But more experimenting and googling has helped fixed this problem.
I’ve never really been the type of girl to have a million pairs of shoes. I usually just have one or two pairs I wear everyday. That’s why I chose to paint on shoes instead of, for example, hats or shirts. Shoes are worn everyday (I believe most people do not go to school or work barefoot, haha) and a unique pair can express who you are.