At this time of year and especially on Christmas Day, many people in the Triad and around the world are happily opening presents, sharing meals and enjoying time away from work to observe the holidays. However, for some people who already have a challenging time in the day-to-day, this season can be hard, said Ashton Hall, a 15-year-old Winston-Salem artist and freshman at Ronald Wilson Reagan High School. For the first time, she is opening up to share how she makes the dark days more bearable for those in need of a creative outlet.
Hall has over 20 art journals. What began as sketches and drawings soon became extraordinarily well-illustrated comic characters, both real and imagined, with words and phrases to express her feelings or favorite song lyrics, movie lines or events happening in the world. Hall learned that by drawing what she was feeling, she was able to calm herself down. She said she doesn’t always add words to her drawings, although some do have a hard-core meaning when she does.
For example, she was so moved by a documentary about anorexia, where the fashion industry glorified eating disorders. She drew a female with a flat stomach and tiny waist with protruding ribs and the model’s perceived thoughts, “My lungs feel so heavy and tight, I wish I could remove every rib in my body to make myself prettier, thinner, better. And even then, it makes me feel miserable— I CAN’T EAT.”
After watching school shooting videos, Hall made a drawing of kids holding protest signs with, “March for Our Lives” and “Protect Kids, Not Guns.” Hall said she was really inspired by hundreds of kids who were being so strong and still fighting for their rights to be safe right after a traumatic experience. She said, “These kids had passion before this happened. They may have been confident and happy like the main character in the drawing with dyed orange hair, but now they are all changed.”
One drawing was born out of listening to a song with lyrics questioning what to do regarding taking depression medication that inspired a drawing of a figure in all pink. Hall said her character looks happy with really cool hair and tattoos, but she is actually hurting inside. It’s similar to a recent self-portrait, “Nothing Lasts Forever,” where she wishes she could smile and mean it.
Other drawings near and dear to her heart include one of a former friend that ended on a harsh note. She called it “Chapter Closed,” to express how it feels to lose a friend when you once considered them the person you would share everything with. Recently, she has found a new friend who is an artist “with a good vibe” who is giving her advice on art and inspiring her to practice more.
Hall said she was about 4 or 5 years old when she accidentally painted over one of her babysitter’s paintings. She said she did this after getting excited by her canvases, brushes, acrylic paints and watercolors. The babysitter’s son, Jacob, was a digital artist and created Disney-like cartoons on the computer, Hall said, which really influenced her to create characters similar to his, but preferred to draw by hand but not as realistic.
Hall said she was moved to a higher level in art after taking art classes all three years in middle school and in elementary school. Her art teacher had a huge collection of professional Prismacolor pencils, and once she tried them, she really liked the way they blended, especially since they weren’t too exact or neat. She likes a little messiness in her drawings, and colored pencils remain her favorite medium today.
Hall said she is inspired daily by her mother, Denise Hamilton McKibbin, in her creative performances as an actor and professional singer. McKibbin recently played The Acid Queen in “Tommy” at the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance and is practicing for January’s “Disaster!”
“Being a creative person myself, I understand this is what you want to focus on,” McKibbin said to her daughter.
Hall said that if she could change one thing in this world, it would be with the school system, so those talented artists could receive the same kind of credit that those who excel in science, technology, engineering and math do. She said she believes artists will be the ones who have different ideas to fix things. She hopes to become an art teacher or an art therapist.
“I believe that everyone should have something like this to fall back on to express how you feel,” Hall said. “Especially if you don’t have friends or family to talk to. Having a creative outlet or a social media page makes you feel a lot less alone. Drawing makes me feel like I have control because I have to focus in order for it to turn out good. As long as I have my art, I know I’ll be okay.”
TERRY RADER is a freelance writer/editorial/content/copy, creative consultant/branding strategist, communications outreach messenger, poet and emerging singer/songwriter.
See Ashton Hall’s work on Instagram.