West Salem High School senior Sophie Venner’s bubbly personality stands in sharp contrast to her thoughtful and often emotive pieces of work.

Venner is the West Salem Art Department’s October student of the month. Her work will be placed on display in the Marie W. Heider Center lobby, 405 E. Hamlin St., for the remainder of October.

Venner describes her art as an emotional expression that falls somewhere between the realistic and the abstract, using a recent piece depicting the forest floor as an example.

From a distance, it’s obvious what it is, but as the observer looks close, it becomes apparent that the leaves are layered paper.

“Shes doing a lot with the human figure, and she’s doing a lot with letting her brushwork show and not really blend,” her art teacher, Quenten Brown, said. “She is not denying the fact that these things are made out of paint.”

As her work has matured in the last four years her subject matter has become deeper, more subtle and nuanced, he added.

For Venner, art is an opportunity to relax.

“Art for me is a kind of stress reliever,” she said. “If I have something bothering me I can sit down and paint for 45 minutes.”

For her, emotions are as much a tool as a paintbrush. Her work, like her emotions, can often change as it develops, which is why she prefers to work with oil paints.

“I like oil paint a lot,” she said. ”I like how you can leave it for the night, and you can come back to it.”

Evidence of this can be found in two of her favorite subjects, lips and eyes, two human features that are responsible for displaying a wide variety of emotions.

One of the many pieces she’s painted the one dubbed “The Blue Lips.”

“That was my first big successful piece,” she said.

Sometimes Venner will get a vision in her mind that she needs to sketch out.

“Sometimes out of 10, I might get five that I like,” she said.

Brown said seeing his students become independent artists is one of the most gratifying parts of his job.

“We’re trying to promote that studio behavior,” he said. “In this case, Sophie has really kind of nailed that.”

Venner’s interest in art began early on. As a child, she would sit with her father and paint. Art is a tradition in her family.

“My dad got me into art,” she said.“My grandpa was an architect, my dad and I did art together.”

She still draws inspiration from her father’s old sketchbooks.

In high school, Venner filled her schedule carefully ensuring each prerequisite was accounted for to ensure there would be nothing stopping her from pursuing her passion.

Venner’s latest series of paintings, which will be done on glass, won’t likely finished in time for this month’s exhibit.

She said working on glass offered her a unique challenge she was excited to pursue.

Venner is considering attending school at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse or the University of Minnesota-Mankato where she plans to study mental health therapy.

She said, eventually, she’d like to work with teens and children.

“I’ve always loved children,” she said.

Despite a drastic change of direction, Venner isn’t giving up on art.

“It keeps me calm,” she said. “I’m not going to give it up.”

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Tobias Mann is a reporter with the River Valley Media Group. He can be reached at tobias.mann@lee.net or at 608-791-8216.

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