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What can you paint in 22 minutes?

Raquel Pokiak (left), Zoey Derksen and Rebecca Nore with their speed painting creations. School District 57 photo

Call it talent, call it expertise. It’s best tested under pressure.

The 13 students who participated in the first-ever School District 57 Spectator Speed-Painting district final can attest to that fact. Earlier this week at Duchess Park, they were presented with blank canvasses and were given 22 minutes – in front of a live audience – to turn the pictures in their minds into tangible pieces of reality.

As if that wasn’t difficult enough, the students then had to wait for the spectators to pass judgement on their work.

The inaugural event was held on the night of Wednesday, June 19. And with the paint still drying under the lights of Duchess Park’s Canyon area, Grade 12 student Raquel Pokiak was declared the winner. Pokiak, from Prince George Secondary School, used negative space against a forest-green backdrop to create the face and shoulders of a black-haired, pale-skinned woman. The result was striking, and clearly resonated with the observers.

“I loved it, but honestly – and I’m not just saying this because I’m a teacher – they all did amazing work,” said Julie Fisher, a Fine Arts Resource Teacher with School District No. 57. “Art is so subjective. It’s what you love, and it could have a completely different meaning for other people. I think they should all be super proud of what they produced.”

Raquel Pokiak during the competition. School District 57 photo

Zoey Derksen of Kelly Road Secondary was the runner-up and Duchess Park’s Rebecca Nore took third place. Derksen also painted a head and shoulders image but hers was completely different – bright colours mingled together, springing out of a circle of pink flower petals, with a hint of a Picasso influence. Nore went much more whimsical. She drew her inspiration from the original Toy Story movie and gave a near-perfect rendition of one of the green, three-eyed, oval-headed aliens plucked from a prize machine by ‘The Claw.’

Each of the district finalists advanced to the big stage from school-based competitions. Along with the entrants from PGSS, Kelly Road and Duchess Park, there were three students from the Centre for Learning Alternatives.

In Fisher’s view, art in all its forms holds an important place in the education system.

“I think anything that gives children an outlet to express themselves, in any way, absolutely has value,” she said. “Not every student is academic or athletic and this gives them a feeling of self-worth.  Also, they can go on to do great things in this field, and if we don’t ever give them the opportunity to find what they’re good at, what their talent is, then how would they know?

“I was really fortunate because I got to go to a lot of the preliminaries as well, and to talk to the students about their paintings after the preliminaries,” Fisher added. “And they would say, ‘Next time I’m going to do this to make it better.’ Or, ‘Next time I’m going to try this.’ They were constantly thinking ahead to the next event and to how they were going to change things. The group of Art teachers involved this year got together and chatted about the preliminary speed painting battles at their schools, and they were excited about the growth they were seeing in the students doing abstract work and maybe trying things that they hadn’t tried before.”

Bringing an art battle into the school district was the idea of PGSS art teacher Lance Hanes. Partners in the venture are School District No. 57, the Prince George & District Community Arts Council and Ridgeline Art.

Next year, the SD 57 district final will be affiliated with the official Art Battle Canada and will unfold in front of a panel of professionals, as well as spectators. The winner will gain a spot in the city-wide Art Battle. The Prince George Art Battle champion will move on to the Western finals, which will send one speed painter to nationals.