Rangeley teen's intensely personal artwork brings her to art school and a Times Square billboard

·3 min read

Sep. 7—FARMINGTON — Sophie Chu-O'Neil of Rangeley tends to put her life stories into her art work.

And it's those personal touches that have led Chu-O'Neil to art school, as well as an eight-week internship this summer at Branded Cities in New York City.

Her mother, Stephanie, who has always encouraged her, signed the 18-year-old up for a contest the summer after graduation from Hebron Academy in Hebron.

"I sat down and painted and to this day it is my favorite," Sophie Chu-O'Neil said.

She painted a breakfast scene that included toast, blueberries, a cup of coffee and a newspaper on a soft white fluffy blanket.

"I couldn't think of anything that would make me happier than a good meal on a good morning," she said. "I never painted anything I really fell in love with. I thought 'wow,' if I could do it every day and love it that would be a dream. I think when you really love a piece it is hard to recreate it. Just like any good thing in life, it doesn't happen right away again. You have to wait."

That piece was really special.

"The writing on the newspaper is like chicken scratch writing to the people I loved," she said. "I did it illegible so only I would know what it said. Even the four recipients don't know."

She initially turned down attending the Maine College of Art and Design in Portland but changed her mind after taking a fall semester at a local college studying psychology.

She had found herself trying to find time to do her art. She decided to try art school. She has just started her sophomore year at the Portland college.

Jewelry-making, painting, fashion textiles, illustration, graphic design, digital art — she loves them all. She is most interested in graphic design and illustration, she said.

"I would love to do food illustration and kids' books illustration, she said.

She is in the process of picking her major and leaning toward graphic design or illustration.

What she likes most about the Portland art school is it wants students to build a career with art, not just freelance art, she said.

This summer she participated in an eight-week internship at Branded Cities in New York City where she took photos for clients and edited videos to show them their work.

Toward the end of the internship, she was allowed to do her own artwork to show what she learned.

She even was selected to display her artwork in Times Square.

"I had never done animation before," she said. "I never used Adobe After Affects; that tool and Adobe Photoshop were the main tools I used to make a July piece that would be shown in Times Square."

She had done "Failing February," an abstract piece during the school year.

"The piece was really busy and that is how I felt, busy that month," she said. "I felt I was behind. It is really chaotic. It was visibly overwhelming. It was a good overwhelming. I had a great February but there was definitely a lot going on."

She made a partner piece during her internship.

"In this new sequel the colors are brighter. There is more open space. It is less chaotic, still just as busy in my life and this piece," she said. "It was like a rejuvenating July."

"I loved my internship so much," she said. "I never did a nine to five."

In late July, her creations were put on a billboard and lit up above the street in Time Square.

Her mother, grandmother and her mother's friend were there for it.

The sun was shining. The sky was blue and went well with her art.

Everything and everyone she has ever loved was in her piece, including silhouettes of her late grandfather and family.

"Everything that makes me and everything that makes me proud of me," she said.

NOTE: "Failing February" represents a busy February in Sophie Chu-O'Neil's life.

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