“Something in me snapped, and there was no turning back.” – Assata Mason
Looking at Assata’s masterpieces, you would think she has been painting for a long time. The maturity of her perspective, the ease of her process, and the brilliance of her work – hers must be an origin story of someone who drew before she could even walk. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
A late bloomer
Believe it or not, Assata only started painting almost two years ago. “I still remember the date: December 20, 2016. After watching one of Mary Doodles’ YouTube videos, I pick up a pencil and start to draw. I mean, I have always appreciated art. But this was the first time I had ever created one,” she tells me.
The experience is a revelation, especially to the 18-year old. “I remember looking at my work, and then something in me just snapped. After that moment, there was no turning back.” True enough, Assata has found her calling and approaches her newfound passion with laser focus. For one, she started taking her time at YOUmedia seriously. “I have been going to the Library’s YOUmedia program since I was a freshman. But to be honest, I was just really there to hang out with people,” she confesses. That soon changed as she became dedicated to learning her craft from longtime YOUmedia mentor, Jeff Lassan.
“I love Jeff! He introduced me to different media – acrylic, oil, and watercolor. With his help, I also ventured into graffiti and printmaking,” Assata explains. It is also under Jeff’s tutelage that Assata learned the cardinal rules of painting she now lives by:
Rule #1: Manage your time.
Rule #2: Clean your workstation.
Rule #3: No matter how busy you are, always, and I mean always, wash your brushes.
But Assata says that what she most appreciates about Jeff is that he treats her like an artist, not a newbie.
Of Art and Opportunities
Assata is as determined as she is artistic. After discovering her passion for painting, she is set to make a career out of it – so much so that this spring, she solely applied to The School of the Art Institute, only one of the top art schools in the country, with no backup plan. Naturally, her parents disapproved (at least in the beginning.) “My dad is an educator. He has dreams for me. He has always envisioned that I will do something big. But not once did it cross his mind that it would be in art,” she explains.
With her college application submitted, the waiting game began. It was in June that Assata received a call. Not only had she been accepted to The School of the Art Institute, but she would also be awarded a full scholarship!
She shares, “I received the call while I was in the middle of my art class [if you could believe it]. The phone nearly fell out of my hand and I just started crying.” Assata called her mother immediately – first, to tell her the good news, and second, to cook up a surprise for her father. “My mom called my dad and told him to meet us at my grandma’s house because we have something big to tell him,” she says. When Assata and her mom broke the news of the scholarship, her father cried. “He is very proud of me – not just of my scholarship but of my determination to succeed. That’s when he realized that this is not just a hobby, that this is a real career path – and one that I could be very successful in,” she says beaming.
When it rains, it pours
March of this year, Assata had her first solo exhibit, Symphonies Beauties, featuring historical female musicians. Her pieces were on full display in the 8th floor of Harold Washington Library Center. She is also one of 18 teen artists featured in YOUmedia’s teen art exhibition, Born to Create, an exhibit that ran from July to October.
So, how does it feel to open an exhibit as a teenager? “It’s so surreal. I upload most of my work on Instagram and Twitter. But it’s entirely different when people come up to me and say that they appreciate my art. That’s pretty special,” Assata answers. And she is extremely grateful to YOUmedia for giving her a platform to showcase her talent. “YOUmedia has opened so many opportunities for me to showcase what I can do. It has given me the self-confidence to continue painting. The program has also helped me find my voice – as an artist and as a person,” Assata shares.
Onward and upward
These days, Assata is busy with her art classes at The School of the Art Institute. “I paint six hours a day and I’m exploring different approaches to painting. Currently, she is drawn to self-portraits. “I think of self-portraits as a different form of introducing myself. In a way, it’s also a way to document my growth as a painter,” she explains with a self-awareness of someone wise beyond her years. Then, she continues, “As I grow and learn, I find my self-portraits also evolve.”
What’s next for Assata? “Finish my two art projects!” she laughs. After that, she plans to explore digital art, look into internship options (she already has her sights on an animation company in Portland), practice painting with acrylic because she needs practice blending, hang-out with friends, and catch up on sleep. “At least, that’s the plan,” she says lightheartedly.
We look forward to keeping up with Assata as she rides the rising star that has been set in motion. We’re especially excited to be there to support her at her new exhibit.