NAME: Sofia Baah
Sofia Baah's story is best told through her artwork. The Burlington teen creates portraits, close-ups of eyes and mouths, Disney characters, and still lifes that fill 19 sketchbooks and albums. Her Instagram account, art_above_all, has nearly 9,700 followers.
Scrolling through her gallery, a viewer sees works in various mediums including colored pencil, charcoal, ink, watercolor, graphite — even coffee. Portraits include several celebrities. Miley Cyrus sticks out her tongue and oozes attitude, all bleached, tousled, pierced and impudent. Then there's Pretty Little Liars actress Shay Mitchell with a garnet half smile and alluring brown eyes that follow you across the room.
"Omg this is great!" posted admirer sydnez.art in reaction to the Mitchell portrait. Sofia draws inspiration and ideas from other Instagram artists — making sure to credit them — and welcomes feedback.
People in the real world gush, too. Peers at Burlington High School, where she's a sophomore taking Honors Art III, see her in the halls and say, "Hey! You're the art_above_all girl!" Her art teacher, Chris Sharp, has also taken notice. "The true talent," he says, "is the talent to be determined and to persevere. And that's what Sofia has."
She's also known around Burlington's Davis Studio, where she started as a camper when she was 7. Alane McNamara, Davis' registration and web design coordinator, recounts this reaction to Sofia's work: "Oh my gosh. How old is she?" Many are surprised to learn that she's just 16.
To get a feel for how Sofia's artistic career began, one need only look at the four pictures displayed on the door of her mother's office. Created when Sofia was 3, 4, 5 and 6, respectively, each depicts a person, drawn with increasing detail. Her mom, Anne Paradiso, likes them because they show Sofia's progression. "It was exponential," she says.
Paradiso recognized her daughter's talent and made sure she had quality art supplies. Sofia's dad, Charles Baah, brought home a drawing table, but Sofia prefers the small desk in her room — the one intended for homework. When she's in the mood to create, she'll find a photo to work from, put on music or a movie, and draw.
And she recently finished her first commission, a portrait.
"She just has a very intuitive understanding of the concepts of art," says Davis Studio manager and instructor Lydia Littwin. "And she just grasps things very quickly and can re-create and come up with her own imagery easily — just gracefully."
When people ask how she does it, Sofia says, "I draw what I see." But in class, when other kids see the teacher at the front of the room, Sofia sees the shadow along his nose. She sees the soft, triangular indentation under his cheekbones. She describes how her hand will absentmindedly start to rub her knee as if she's drawing. "I realize I'm, like, shading in, like, the side of [a] nose."
Her work — like her drawing of two Disney princesses kissing — also shows a mature ability to push limits, Littwin says. "She's taking her skill set and saying not just, 'Look, I can do a portrait,' but 'Look, I can do a portrait, and I can make a social tool out of it.'"
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