Student Spotlight: Ava Wang

Meet Ava Wang from Atlanta, Georgia. Ava's artwork "Oily River Rescue" was selected the Category IV Art Winner of the 2016-17 contest and will soon be published in the much anticipated 2016-2018 River of Words anthology of children's art and poetry.

In January of 2018, Ava participated in a student spotlight interview, in which she told us about her artistic process, the story of "Oily River Rescue," and much more.


AvaQ: What is your current age?

A: I’m seventeen

Q: How did you begin creating and what do you enjoy about creating?

A: So, I’ve been doing art ever since I was about three years old, and I started out by covering the walls of my single-floor apartment with crayon drawings. Then my mom saw that I liked art and sent me to a Chinese-style painting class, and I was born in China so this was in China. The real reason why I continued to go to art classes was because my school teacher told my mom I was extremely energetic and talkative in class, and my mom wanted me to be more calm and collected. And she found out that painting seemed to be the only thing that calmed me my mom continued to let me learn how to paint, and thus began my artistic journey.

When I moved to America when I was ten, I couldn’t find many Chinese painting teachers, so that’s when I first changed my art style, and now it’s more of a combination of realism and abstract. I love creating art because I think art is so miraculous in so many ways. It not only has the ability to make someone feel emotions like joy, sadness, anger, trust, but it can also serve as a really powerful and versatile tool to convey messages without really using words.

I think another aspect of art that I love is the fact that it’s like completely up to interpretation and that there’s no wrong answer and there’s no wrong way to express yourself through art and, yeah, this is why I feel like art has the ability to bring really different people together into a community, and I really appreciate this inclusivity. oily river rescue

Q: Tell me about “Oily River Rescue” and what inspired you. What kind of things were you thinking about when you created it?

A: Yes, so I got this inspiration when I went back to China a while ago. I visited my grandma, who lived in the countryside. And my cousin and I used to go to this river a little ways from my grandma’s house, and we used to always play in the river, catch crabs, and look at the ducks and the fish swimming around and try to catch them. And the last time I went to visit her -- it was a couple years ago -- so I went to see the river and it was such a sad scene. I saw there were trash bags everywhere, and when you actually looked at the river you couldn’t see through it at all. It was so muddy and oily, and there were, like, rainbow colored stains -- like oil stains -- floating around everywhere and I couldn’t see anything.

We walked a little further in and we realized that there was one thing missing, and that was animals. We realized that there were no animals around -- no fish, no ducks, no crabs anymore. And we learned later it was because that there was a new factory being built around that area, and they release all the toxins and the trash into the rivers, and that was a really eye opening moment for me because a lot of times when people think about oil spills, pollution, it seems kind of like a far away topic and I used to think that as well. But I realized that in reality it’s so much closer than I expect, and it can happen anywhere at any body of river, and it can destroy homes of animals, and childhood memories, which is why I thought it was such an important issue to talk about. 


Q: A Watershed Explorer is someone who explores their watershed or the environment where they live. What does being a Watershed Explorer mean to you?

A: I think as an artist or a creator, I feel like there’s a lot of power that comes from being able to create art and, like, spread a message. I think that comes with a lot of responsibility, and I think that there’s so many issues in the world that are not being recognized in the way they deserve to be, and a lot of them are environment-related. So I’m really appreciative of the fact that I am able to create and make people aware of these issues in the little ways that I can, even though these efforts may seem like it’s a small thing but it can make big differences, so that’s why I’m really passionate about exploring environmental issues and shedding light on that.


Q: How did you discover River of Words?

A: I first discovered River of Words in school — like, a lot of my art classmates were talking about it and to me that was a really interesting topic to have an art contest around. I feel like it’s really meaningful since it’s related to the environment and the issues around that, and I have seen a lot of issues regarding the environment. Then, I talked to my art teacher outside of school and she said that she was actually planning on me doing this, so I was like, “Wow, that works out perfectly”, and that’s how I first got involved with River of Words.


Q: What is some advice you would give another young person who might want to create art but doesn’t know how to get started?

A: I think to always follow your passion. I’ve been doing that for more than ten years now and haven’t regretted it even for a day.

I think it’s never too late to start. Also, like, a lot of people are just discovering that they like art now. And, like, they’re discovering that they like it, I don’t think it’s late at all. I know I started early, but there are so many people who start late, who have no issues doing that.

I think that if you love art, if you get a chance, don’t be afraid to use art to reach out the broader community as well. For example, I started a club in school and an organization outside of school called the Art Heals Foundation, and it combines art and community service. For example, we make Christmas cards for kids in children’s hospitals, and sell art and donate money to charities and other causes. It makes me feel so happy to know that I can use my passion to give back to the community.

I think that’s some advice: to start, not to be afraid, and to reach out in the ways you can.


Q: What is your advice to young people who want to get involved with, or learn more about their watershed or environment?

A: I would totally encourage them to do it, I think it’s an amazing idea. And when it comes to recognizing and addressing environmental issues, I think that the best way to learn about that is to go out and explore, experience, and see things for yourself. No matter if you’re going to a beautiful scene in nature, or a concerning one…because beautiful places are going to make you appreciate what you have, and for this beautiful place that we live in. And like, if you go to concerning places, they’re going to make you realize how serious and devastating environmental issues can be. 

So, I feel like just going out and exploring nature is the best way to learn about it.


Q: What is your experience in the classroom with your previous teacher, Shijun Munns? How did she incorporate art and environment in the classroom?

A: Yeah, she was actually the first teacher I had when I came to America, and it’s because of her that I first started creating art that had meaning behind it. I kinda started out… well, she first introduced me to a lot of environmentally related art contests. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this but it’s called, like, the Wildlife Fish Contest, which is about wildlife. I draw fish, so I was doing that for the first year I came to America, which was when I was, like, ten, so I did that for four years, and then I heard about River of Words and I started doing this.

It’s helped me a lot in learning about the environment. It seems like every time you paint something you have to gather so much information about it and, like, write an essay, an artists’ statement, and stuff like that. So that has encouraged me to explore nature, and to learn about the environment and the issues. So I feel like that really helped me to become aware of the environment and issues.