ESSENCE: From stick figures to striking conceptions

An artist’s take on balancing excellence and experience
Toryn and a painted self-portrait.(Adriano Espinosa/The Battalion)
Toryn and a painted self-portrait.(Adriano Espinosa/The Battalion)
Photo by Adriano Espinosa

Age often feels like a barrier to enter new disciplines. We see chess proteges, talented musicians and gifted athletes start practicing younger and younger to attain mastery quicker. However, it is the will to excellence that drives specialization in any field, a factor unbound by age. 

Visualization senior Toryn Autry jumped ship from a pre-med track two years ago into the world of art as a 19-year-old to hone her skills from the ground up. 

“Growing up, I never really took any art classes,” Autry said. “I grew up in a really small town with a graduating class of about 100 students, one main restaurant in town and two taco places. This is to say that most of the people there didn’t branch out into the creative fields — it was mostly agribusiness, marketing and finance.”

Autry now spends time at the Texas A&M studio or her home studio making commissioned pet portraits and other oil paintings. When she joined the visualization program, she was one of the only students that didn’t have extensive experience making art. 

“I transferred to visualization the fall of sophomore year and I have never looked back,” Autry said. “I had to start learning from the basics. Before this I had drawn stick figures. So most of what you see in my portfolio … has been picked up at A&M in the last two years.” 

Autry is one of the winners from ArtFest 2023, a campus-wide art exhibition and competition featuring works of student artists from all fields of study in the Reynold’s Gallery. This year, she plans to submit three oil paintings, each distinct from the other in style and theme, which will be exhibited from Feb. 26 to April 24. 

Toryn explains her newest piece.(Adriano Espinosa/The Battalion) (Photo by Adriano Espinosa)

“I had always known that I loved creative work, but I don’t know if I would have had the courage to switch majors if I had never gotten some time to dedicate myself to creating and practicing,” Autry said. “Then, the pandemic gave me a lot of free time, and I somehow convinced my parents to buy me a mini iPad. I taught myself to make animations while reminding myself to stay confident.”

Autry said she loved delving into animation, sketching and sculpting, but it wasn’t until she began painting that she found her artistic calling. 

“Most artists will tell you they have a favorite media,” Autry said. “In the beginning … painting was just an elective and I took it because my friend said that it would be a fun class. I don’t know why but painting came naturally to me. I place a lot of the credit on my professor, Felice House, who not only helped me appreciate painting but also recommended me a New York art fellowship.”

Over the summer, Autry attended a month-long summer art residency program at the New York Academy of Arts where she got exposure to one of the largest artist communities in the country.

“The program was unlike anything I’ve done before,” Autry said. “We would work six hours a day for five days a week rotating through various art forms. Monday would be sculpting, Tuesday would be drawing, Wednesday was a contemporary art course … and so on. We got to visit the local museums with experienced art critics, participate in meet-and-greets with fellow artists and really soak in the diverse lifestyles and bright colors New York has to offer.”

Toryn explains the painting (left) from her New York residency.(Adriano Espinosa/The Battalion) (Photo by Adriano Espinosa)

Autry said she would love to go back to the city. She created her largest painting to date, measuring 5 feet by 3 feet, for the end-of-term exhibition, which will also be featured in the ArtFest 2024 collection.

“The coordinators told us to go big or go home, and my friend and I took that literally,” Autry said. “We spent a Friday night in a dark room posing with different lighting, trying to get a reference image for the final piece. My self-portrait, which I call ‘Luminance,’ was created from one of those reference images. I want this piece to be more than me being in a dark room with a lamp. It is my journey of self-discovery and finding my creative drive after having tried so many different paths.”

Autry said she not only got a leap in practice and learning at New York but also found how fulfilling it was to be part of a larger community of artists that deal with similar ups and downs in their work. 

“Art is about making you see things that maybe aren’t there,” Autry said. “Even though, sometimes, the art world can be picky and clique-y, there is room for everyone’s style of creativity. That’s one of the things I love about the visualization side of campus. It is a very judgment-free zone, because we all understand that you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do in order to get good reference photos. So if someone is posing on the sidewalk or sitting there and drawing, no one will judge that.”

Toryn Autry smiles in front of her self portrait.(Adriano Espinosa/The Battalion) (Photo by Adriano Espinosa)
Leave a Comment
Donate to The Battalion

Your donation will support the student journalists of Texas A&M University - College Station. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Battalion

Comments (0)

All The Battalion Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *