Originally published in the Journal Inquirer Monday, Sept. 10, 2012
By Kristen J. Tsetsi
EAST WINDSOR, Conn. — At just 14 years old, Ryan Gondarowski is preparing for his first solo art show. Hanging at eye level in the Warehouse Point Library community room, several of the 21 pieces in his collection — in watercolor, acrylic, pen and ink, and colored pencil — adorn the walls, Ryan’s landscapes, still life, and sketches revealing a talent rare in someone so young.
“He is just so naturally good at it,” says Library Assistant Liz Knauff, who learned, after watching Ryan check out five or six art books at a time, that he had several original pieces at home.
Of course, she’d seen him in the library for other reasons, too. A student of homeschooling since he was in fifth grade, Ryan spends a lot of time there.
But all those art books, and the discovery that he was working on his own creations at home, inspired her to want to give him an opportunity, she says.
“And then he brought his work in to show us what he did. When we saw it, we thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible.’”
He began art instruction with a charcoal drawing of a pine tree just four years ago as a student of his maternal grandmother’s.
When his mother, Marci Stiles, decided to homeschool Ryan she knew she wanted to expose him to different instructors. So, she says, she asked family members what their talents were and whether they would be willing to share them with her son.
“My mother said she absolutely loved art,” Stiles says. “When it started, it was a typical once a week art class. The classes kept getting a little bit longer because he loved it so much.”
By eighth grade, Ryan was taking credit-free art courses at Manchester Community College, as well as a few watercolor classes. So far, color theory has been one of the more fascinating things he’s learned, he says.
“I was kind of surprised how much color had to do with the feel of the painting,” Ryan says, pausing between hanging paintings on metal clips hooked into grooves in the wall. “Warm colors, cool colors, and how to use and manipulate that.”
For the last few months, he’s been taking a class in working with colored pencil.
His first colored-pencil drawing, a still life apple, has the realism of a photograph. His second, drawn on top of a watercolor background, is a mesmerizing water, cliff, and rock landscape.
It’s the colored-pencil work that takes the longest, Ryan says. A watercolor might take an hour to an hour and a half to create, but the colored pencil landscape, for which he used about 100 different colors, took 50 hours. It’s also his favorite of the pieces in the collection.
“Probably because I spent the most time on it and find it the most interesting,” he says.
As much time as Ryan may spend on his artwork, his schoolwork isn’t suffering.
“What’s been really beautiful about it is that he’s been able to do all his academics,” says Stiles, a certified teacher. “He’s taking honors classes, and he does a correspondence high school. When he’s done with his work, he can pursue what he really loves to do.”
In the future, he hopes to incorporate art into his career, which will ideally have anything to do with graphic design.
“Advertising, video game design, it doesn’t really matter,” he says.
As Ryan lifts one of his paintings against the wall to rest it on the hooks, it slips from his grasp for just a fraction of a second before he catches it. His mother jokes that that’s why only he is responsible for hanging all the artwork. “No liability,” she says.
The piece that almost fell is a watercolor of a neighborhood in the tropics, a palm tree poking into the landscape just left of the frame’s center.
It’s the only obvious summer depiction. And although summer is Ryan’s favorite real-life season, “Fall is the best to paint,” he says.
Among the fall paintings are a watercolor abstract of orange-leafed birches against a dusk sky’s pastel hues, and an acrylic of a blanket of yellow and orange leaves on a forest floor, set off by a few narrow, white birch tree trunks.
Both of these will undoubtedly be an object of desire for true lovers of fall, but the acrylic, along with an oak tree painted on an artist’s palette, won’t be for sale to the show’s visitors. They’re already spoken for by Ryan’s two grandmothers. The oak tree is on loan from his maternal grandmother, who told Stiles when Ryan was in 7th grade, “Well, I’ve taught him everything I know,” and the autumnal acrylic is on loan from his paternal grandmother, whom his mother says is responsible for financing some of his art classes.
The rest, however, are available, the themes and styles so varied as Ryan continues to explore and find his own voice that there’s little risk of visitors not finding something they’re drawn to.
Even his mother, who has a few favorites, can’t say she has a “favorite, favorite.”
“They’re all so different,” she says.
Asked which of the pieces would be the most difficult for him to part with, Ryan says, “I find anything difficult to part with, but I’m just getting better, so I may as well.”