Millikin Art Students Win Top Awards at Self Employment in the Arts Conference

Emily Chudzik, News Editor

Senior studio art major Stuart Ball and senior studio art major Jessica Brooks were awarded top honors at the 15th annual Self Employment in the Arts (SEA) Conference on Feb. 20-21 in Lisle, Ill. Ball was awarded Best in Show, and Brooks was awarded a Juror’s Choice Award and People’s Choice Award.

People from all over the Chicagoland area were present. Participants had to submit their artist statement and a picture of three pieces they wanted in the juried art show. One of Brooks’ portraits and two of Ball’s pieces were accepted.

“I had no intention of winning an award. There were really good artists there,” Ball said. “When I got the award, I started sweating a lot. I was really excited, and I had a smile on my face the whole night after that.”

Ball specifically emphasizes in painting and drawing and focuses mostly on abstract. He had a passion for art at a very young age.

“I always knew I was going to be an artist. My aunt is an artist, and she would always give me paints or a sketch pad for Christmas or my birthday,” Ball said.

This was Ball’s first SEA Conference. Winning the Best in Show award also came with a $300 cash prize.

“Winning Best in Show was awesome. It was definitely my biggest accomplishment in art,” Ball said. “It really boosted my confidence as an artist and pushed me to apply for grad schools and different opportunities I wasn’t looking at before. It also gave me more connections at the conference. People were interested in my work after that.”

Brooks also emphasizes in painting and drawing, but she focuses mainly on portraits.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I was constantly drawing. People would tell me [my drawings] were really good for someone my age,” Brooks said. “High school was when I realized, ‘Hey, I could really do this.’”

Brooks went to the SEA Conference last year and won a Juror’s Choice Award then. This is her first year winning the People’s Choice Award.

“I was really excited. It validates that I’m doing well. In the art world, it’s good to be recognized by others,” Brooks said.

The juried art show was just one part of the SEA Conference. There were also sessions with successful professionals in the art world.

Ball said, “It was very interesting. There was a lecture about owning your own business and the laws you need to learn.”

There were large group meetings, as well as a sort of short mentorship program. Students were paired up with a mentor who looked over their work and gave suggestions on how to progress in the future.

“Overall, it taught me that art actually can be a business and earn you income, while still being your passion and joy,” Brooks said.

Ball hopes to travel after graduation and possibly work as an apprentice for another artist. He wants to go to graduate school, but does not want to rush it. He wants to develop his work and learn from others first and maybe become a teacher.

Brooks currently works as a doula, a sort of midwife. Eventually, she wants to combine art and her current work. She hopes to have her own studio and paint portraits of her clients, profiting from that while working on getting into shows.