Reflected in her art

Published 12:09 am Thursday, February 9, 2023

West Forsyth Senior Tenley Douglass is building an abundant award-winning portfolio

“One little spark of inspiration
Is at the heart of all creation.
Right at the start of everything that’s new
One little spark lights up for you.”
– from the song “One Little Spark”, which is featured in the attraction “Journey into Imagination” at Epcot, Walt Disney World

Sometimes, Tenley Douglass gains inspiration from a prompt by her art teacher and cross country and track and field coach at West Forsyth, Nathan Newsome.
Sometimes, the inspiration can come from down time or when she isn’t already working on another project and she takes notice of an object that might interest her in that particular moment.
Other times, she can be out on a training run and notice the finer points of the different shades of color on the horizon, or the color the shading of a group of trees can make on the ground beneath her feet.
Sometimes, it can just be from being around her family, or from personal pain from her past.
Wherever and whenever the inspiration strikes, it tends to lead to an abundance of compelling artwork that was recently recognized by the Scholastic Art Awards.
Douglass, a senior, won four gold keys, five silver keys and three honorable mentions at this year’s Scholastic Art Awards.
“Just for comparison, the other high schools in the county, including the Career Center, won three gold keys and six silver keys combined,” Newsome said. “Tenley won as many gold and silver keys this year than all the other schools combined. And she’s not the kind of kid who would brag about that. She’s a humble and very talented artist and student, and also a great runner.”
That’s right.
Not only does Douglass excel with her artwork, but she is also going to UNC Greensboro on an athletic scholarship to run cross country and track and field.
She is a straight-A student and is the president of the West Forsyth chapter of the National Art Honor Society.
Her passion for her art can be traced back to when she was younger — literally — when she would watch Disney films with her family and then trace some of the characters.
“Mickey Mouse was my favorite,” Douglass said. “Because he was the original and I had the most fun tracing him and then drawing him. I was just fascinated with animation. When I was in middle school, we had to do an art project called ‘All about me’ and I drew Mickey Mouse and was so proud of how much it looked like the original character. For my first portrait of myself here at West, I drew my portrait with Mickey ears around it and won a silver key from Scholastic my sophomore year.”
Her enthusiasm for Disney doesn’t stop with just drawing the characters. She also did a painting of Cinderella’s castle that was featured in an educational magazine in November.
Douglass plans to pursue the animation course of study at UNCG with the ultimate hope of — you guessed it — working for Disney one day.
She’s also adept with sidewalk chalk and has a Tik Tok account where she draws regularly and accepts requests from others on what to draw.
She participated in a chalk walk project in Greensboro last summer and her depiction of Dory and Hank from the movie “Finding Dory” won the People’s Choice award for her age group.
But her work isn’t limited to mice, fish with short-term memory issues, princes and princesses and castles.
She has learned the finer points of realism since she enrolled at West Forsyth as a sophomore, moving to the Clemmons area from Connecticut.
“Coach Newsome has really pushed me out of my comfort zone since I started in his class last year as a junior,” Douglass said. “My freshman and sophomore years in high school, I was scared to broach the topic of realism because it was so much different from the animated characters I had been drawing. That was intimidating for me because I wasn’t used to doing that kind of work. But he has really pushed me and encouraged me and showed me step by step what to do and how to be successful with this genre of art. It has really opened my eyes and in doing so, I’ve become a lot more open and comfortable.”
One of Douglass’ Gold Key award winning works this year was a self portrait depicting her early years growing up in Quechee, Vermont.
The color portrait shows Douglass standing on a shoreline with a pigeon protruding from her chest and dropping a feather behind her. It also features two hot air balloons in the distance.
“Coach Newsome keeps telling me to make sure I’m saying something in my work, and this one says a lot about me and my early struggles as a child,” Douglass said.
When she was in second grade, she was diagnosed with pectus carinatum, or “pigeon chest” a condition that makes the ribs and breastbones grow outward and make the chest jut out.
“I had to wear a brace on the outside of my clothes,” Douglass said. “Not only was I being bullied for having this growth sticking out of my chest, but I was also bullied for the brace being over my clothes. Eventually, wearing the brace pushed my chest inwards to the point that it had the reverse effect. It actually caused my ribcage to protrude on my heart and lungs, and doctors warned me not to participate in any cardio-intensive sports and activities. It still looks odd. I’m still self-conscience about wearing bathing suits. As I got older and gained more self-confidence, I was proud of myself because I realized going through that was what made me different and beautiful. In this piece, I’m leaving the insecurity behind, and I was more understanding of myself. The feather behind me signifies me leaving that part of my life behind me, though it will always be a part of me. And the two hot air balloons represent my two younger siblings, who watched me throughout that process and saw how I managed things and grew to overcome them.”
Douglass has also gained inspiration from family members.
“I did a series of projects on everyone in my family, starting with my younger brother, Gunnar, last year when he was in eighth grade,” Douglass said. “That one won the people’s choice award and grand prize at the Artisan’s Competition that was organized by local banks. Not only did I receive prize money for it, but the school’s art department did as well. It was the first time I think something I had done really clicked and I thought, ‘maybe I am pretty good at this?’ A lot of people there kept coming up to me and asking if I was going to school for art because I was so talented. I was trying to capture this moment in time of him as the oldest sibling and how I saw him at this stage of his life. We had fun doing the photo shoot on this one as we were in a closet with the lights out and a flashlight so I could capture all cool shadows and emotions.”
Douglass did a similar black and white piece on her father, Jesse.
“He was just over the moon when I did his portrait,” she said. “I’ve always looked up to him and admired his work ethic and I wanted to depict how focused and driven he is. What I captured with his hand and finger on his face really helped to drive home the story I was trying to tell in the piece. He had fun seeing how it all came together.”
Another Gold Key winner was a black and white self-portrait she titled, “Drowning.”
Douglass said that her inspiration for it came from the beginning of her senior year when college decisions were looming, and a lot was on her shoulders as she began the process of making decisions about her future. She was entertaining offers from several schools to run for them.
“When I went to UNCG for my official visit for track and cross country, I got to stay in the dorm and go on a run with some of the team members. And when I was with them, I realized I had found my people and knew that it was where I belonged. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. But the water droplets on my face are there, and in the upper left is a drawing of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, that UNCG has a statue of on campus. And in the upper right, you can make out a profile of Mickey Mouse because I’m going there for animation.”
Douglass plans to return to the track in the spring after missing the winter indoor season because of injury.
She runs the mile, 800, 4×800 relay and sometimes the 400 and 4×400.
“The 800 is my favorite event because you have to run really far and really fast,” she said. “It’s a fun way to push myself. And I love the relays because you have three other people depending on you in those. But I spent the winter doing aqua jogging and swimming laps to get myself ready to outdoor and last week I ran a mile on a treadmill for the first time in a long time with minimal pain, so that’s a positive. I’m doing everything in my power to get back out there as soon as I can.”

Meanwhile, she’ll keep chasing that spark — whenever and wherever it surfaces.
“I see things and think about things now and wonder, ‘what medium would that look good in? What color palette would I do that in, or think, hey, that would make a really neat watercolor,’ Douglass said. “That’s a skill I’ve really learned to develop over time as I’ve continued to get more and more comfortable with things. But something always seems to appear from somewhere that inspires me.”