16-Year-Old Uses Digital Art Software to Transform Her Paper Drawings And Mentor Other Students

From pencil and paper to mouse or drawing tablet, the transition between paper drawing and digital drawing can be daunting. For sixteen-year-old Kiersten Russu, however, the move to the computer screen was seamless—thanks to the Youth Digital Arts Cyber School.

Kiersten always loved sketching and drawing her favorite characters from books and television shows on scratch paper. The creativity came easily after years of practice, especially after developing an interest in manga. But when she saw the potential behind digital artwork, she wanted to take her drawings to the next level. Unfortunately, while there were many digital art software options to choose from, tutorials for learning them were sparse and unintuitive.

Then one day, when Kiersten was in 8th grade, her mother discovered YDACS and signed her up for Digital Manga 101. The lesson-based online course not only enhanced her own drawing techniques by teaching about lines, shapes, shading, and manga history, but also demonstrated the fundamentals of using the free, open-source software Inkscape. Kiersten noticed immediate improvements to her art.

“Learning shading was big for me,” Kiersten said. “After I took the course I started adding shading to my drawings and noticed they were much more polished. I was also interested in the manga portion of the class as well, because manga is something I’ve always loved.”

Riding on the success of her time in DM101, Kiersten enrolled in Digital Photo Painting 101 to continue her course track. Even though she had never dabbled in digital art prior to YDACS, she caught on quickly when it came to pixels, hue, saturation, color manipulation, and other photo editing techniques. Using the free open-source software Gimp to enliven her family’s photographs, Kiersten quickly became the go-to photo guru of the household—her parents even asked her to enhance some scuba diving photos for them!

With DM101 and DPP101 under her belt, Kiersten tackled the bread-and-butter course of her artistic passion: Digital Drawing and Painting 101, where six different YDACS Student National Mentors and Student National Fellows share their own journeys with digital art. Additionally, the hosts of DDP101 provide a glimpse at their own unique techniques for drawing and painting.

“I found DDP101 really cool, because I could see how different people have different ways of drawing and painting,” Kiersten said. “I learned it’s really okay if your art looks completely different than someone else’s. You take some of your favorite artists and you incorporate what you like most about their art into your own art.”

The natural next step for Kiersten was to embark into the realm of 3D models by enrolling in 3D Drawing 101, where she learned how to use the free, open-source software Blender to bring her talents to the third dimension.

After sharing her incredible digital paintings, photos, and drawings on the YDACS forums, Kiersten was approached about teaching a new YDACS course which takes the 2D vector drawings of DM101—the first course in the track—and transforms them into 3D models within Blender. Eager to inspire a new generation of digital artists, Kiersten created and recorded some scripts under the guidance and facilitation of YDACS, who brainstormed the course and nurtured Kiersten’s presentation skills. While recording the lesson plan, Kiersten quickly discovered the teaching role sharpened her universal ability to explain her process and break things down to others. She never imagined she could teach other kids who might even be older than her!

Today, Kiersten is a YDACS National Mentor and continues to hone her paper drawing skillset alongside her digital art portfolio. Whenever she creates something on paper she really likes, she can now import it into her favorite software and turn it into something even better. Kiersten also participates in YDACS Cyber Jams: online gatherings where she can meet other likeminded young artists, share her most recent work, and collaborate on new projects. She is also taking online classes at Delta College and uses her digital art skills frequently in Photoshop.

“YDACS is a learning community,” YDACS Founder Craig Davis said. “A place where students are free to meet each other, mentor each other, and inspire each other.”

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