St. Joseph student’s artwork wins Phipps’ challenge
With each stroke of her watercolor brush, artist Isabel Horgan aims to connect her artwork with people.
Her depiction of the relationship between the shrub rose and English lavender in a watercolor recently won first place in the “Companion Plants” Fairchild Challenge project at Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Garden in Oakland. Horgan is a junior at St. Joseph High School in Natrona Heights.
“The most important thing I try to capture in my artwork is not technical skill or a pretty composition, but a story, an emotion, an idea,” says Horgan, the daughter of John and Jodi Horgan of Kittanning. “I want people to connect with my artwork and see beyond each brushstroke.”
Horgan’s art will be among 13 botanical art pieces from the category “Companion Plants” on display from March 31 through June 4 in the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps.
“Isabel’s entry was chosen by professionals in Pittsburgh for first place because of its great description of the companion plant relationship and exquisite use of watercolor,” says Emily Nye, Phipps’ coordinator of high school programs. “Her artwork was detailed where necessary, but also artistic and creative.”
Nye says Horgan and other high school students in the competition had to research and illustrate a companion plant relationship.
Horgan says art runs in the family. Her father is an oil painter and wood carver, and her mother is a jewelry artist. Her older brother plans to study art in college, and her younger sister is a writer and documentarian.
“I don’t remember becoming interested in art, because I don’t remember my life without art,” Horgan says. “Whether it is through dance, or painting, or photography, I feel as though I have always been passionate about creating. I think the passion that I have for art stems much from the immersion of my family’s separate but often colliding artistic paths and ambitions.
“The theme that I like to represent within my artwork is beauty and decay, and much of my inspiration comes from nature and my surroundings,” Horgan says. “I chose to show the relationship between roses and lavender, in which lavender deters aphids away from the roses.”
She says she could visualize the color palette of roses and lavender in a watercolor.
“I tried to use the water to create depth of field within the lavender as it went out of focus,” Horgan says. “I spent around 30 hours on my watercolor as I use extremely small watercolor brushes to capture detail.”
Horgan used her father’s Winsor and Newton watercolor set that he gave her after she became interested in watercolors during ninth grade in her school’s art class.
“I love this watercolor set because the colors are so vibrant,” Horgan says. “I also love that the set was once my father’s because I have always looked up to him as an artist.”
Horgan says she painted from dark to light colors using shades of red lightened by water. She painted in washes to create each rose and bud.
“I then used a combination of red, a leafy green, and a red-brown to paint the stems that branched from the roses to the leaves, painting them the same leafy green,” Horgan says. “I used a navy blue mixed with red to create the purple for the lavender, and I used a light green for the bottom of the stems and leaves of the lavender.”
Other high schools represented in Phipps exhibit will include North Allegheny, Penn-Trafford, West Mifflin, Woodland Hills, Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Shaler and A.W. Beattie Career Center.
Another display starting June 9 will showcase 14 art pieces from the Beneficial Bugs category of the challenge.
“This also provides a nice opportunity to recognize strong entries that may have not placed in a challenge,” says Nye of the displays.
Horgan also has been recognized for her artistic photography. She will receive three Silver Key awards for her photography entries in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Pittsburgh region competition. Her photography was recently on display at La Roche College.
“My interest in photography began a little over a year ago when I was gifted my first DSLR camera,” Horgan says. “In the time since, I went from knowing very little about camera functions to being able to understand light and composition much more than I would have ever imagined. I think my appreciation for photography is heightened since I discovered this passion after many years of painting, drawing, and dancing. I love taking portraits in natural light, often around the farm that I live on, immersed in nature.”
Debbie Black is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.