One of the winners in The Imagination Project Chicago Sun-Tmes student art project.

One of the winners in The Imagination Project Chicago Sun-Tmes student art project.

Chicago-area kids look ahead to ‘brighter days’ with their prize-winning artwork

The Imagination Project, the Chicago Sun-Times’ student art contest, drew hundreds of entries. These are the winners.

SHARE Chicago-area kids look ahead to ‘brighter days’ with their prize-winning artwork
Chicago-area kids are proving to us that there’s still a lot of light, a lot of hope and that, despite what we’re all going through because of the coronavirus pandemic, brighter days are ahead.

For a student art contest we called The Imagination Project, the Chicago Sun-Times asked students from elementary school through high school in Chicago and the suburbs to submit images of their artwork based on the theme “Brighter Days.”

We got 450 submissions. Entries came from the South Side, the West Side and the North Side and across the suburbs, from Tinley Park to McHenry County, Elgin to Naperville, Plainfield to the North Shore.

The art ranged widely — some of it quite abstract, some functional, some very colorful, other works in black and white. Working with paints and stencils, crayons and computer designs, the students offered creative takes on surviving and thriving under the cloud of the pandemic.

It was so hard to choose the winners that we added an extra winner in each of the three age categories: elementary, middle and high school.

We’re showcasing the winners here, with critiques by Chicago-area artists Sam Kirk, Jeff Zimmermann and Lauren Asta, and we will highlight more of the submitted artworks in days to come.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WINNERS

Buffalo Grove third-grader Ishan K.

Buffalo Grove third-grader Ishan K.

  • Ishan K., third grade, Ivy Hall Elementary School, Buffalo Grove

Sam Kirk: “I love the incorporation of different media. I also feel hopeful in their representation of united cultures joining together. It’s what makes the world happy.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “OK, the image of the earth makes me smile and no longer be so afraid of COVID. The use of mixed materials is very creative. They really look like little people.”

Lauren Asta: “I immediatelywas put in a better mood seeing this and am so thankful for it. I want to create a stop-motion animation with these charactersdancing in a circle holding hands all around our planet earth. Love the colors and smiles, and it’s so easy to read and enjoy. Big thanks to this little artist!”

Parkside Community Academy kindergartner Olivia V.

Parkside Community Academy kindergartner Olivia V.

  • Olivia V., kindergarten, Parkside Community Academy, Chicago

Sam Kirk: “This abstract piece contains a mixture of chaos, emotions, natureand hope. Once you step away from the piece, you see the bigger picture of what makes this life great. We may not always understand what’s happening, but it still makes a great picture.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “I feel the movement in this painting! It represents change and the idea that our times are full of mystery. This painting makes me aware that there is a lot of change happening in the world right now. Energetic!”

Lauren Asta: “Expressionist art is alive and well today! I see a little Elaine de Kooning in this piece, and it makes me so happy to see. I love that color and movementcan make an audience feel something. Not every artistcan do this. This budding artist makes it look easy! I want to give this artist a giant canvas, buckets of paint, no paint brush and see what happens.”

Agassiz Elementary School fifth-grader Georgia P.

Agassiz Elementary School fifth-grader Georgia P.

  • Georgia P., fifth grade, Agassiz Elementary School, Chicago

Sam Kirk: “This one reminds me of how lonely our cities feel. I feel this piece with every fiber of my being. I miss being out in nature, but we must focus on thebrighter days ahead to get us to where we are going. I like the narrative style and the layers of highlights throughout the piece.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “I like the perspective on this work. The girl’s proximity makes my eye look way back at the gray city — hopefully a city from the past. I feel for this girl. The world has gotten her down. But also I see that she is dreaming of brighter times to come. I feel like the air to come is going to be fresh and pure.”

Lauren Asta: “I think this artist might have a futurein graphic novels! Reading art like this can immediatelycreate a storyline and draw you in. Drawing, for me as a kid, young adultand adult, has been an incredible outletfor emotions. Almost like journal entries but in image form. I can see that here, and it does indeed sometimes feel like all the light and life has been drawn out of our current world. Thankful this artist and I can draw out how we feel!”

Nathan Hale Elementary School second-grader Gianna D.

Nathan Hale Elementary School second-grader Gianna D.

  • Gianna D., second grade, Nathan Hale Elementary School, Chicago

Sam Kirk: “I like this piece because it shows that, even at night, there is light if you look for it. The details with the fireflies made me smile.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “This painting has some good use of color. The fact that it is bi-semetrical makes me thinkof the before and after everyone is thinking about.”

Lauren Asta: “Look at the drama in this art! I want to keep staring at this piece of art. I want that tree to grow. I want to be outside during the day and the night. I want to feel the seasons change! I am thankful this artist has reminded me of those desires!Also, are those fireflies?! My favorite in the summer time! Something to look forward to.”

A.N. Pritzker School fourth-grader Sylvia K.

A.N. Pritzker School fourth-grader Sylvia K.

Sylvia K., fourth grade, A.N. Pritzker School, Chicago

Sam Kirk: “This piece lights up my day. I love the mixed-media approach. The positive message goes straight to my heart.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “I love mixed materials, and this artwork uses them well! There’s a happy feel to this piece. I want to touch it. It is so simple it just makes you smile. And the lettering is really well done.”

Lauren Asta: “I love that this piece feels so textural! I want this artist to create a big quilt! I see a bright future in the visual/texture arts. So creative. So inventive. Night and day, ‘we got this’ — what a wonderful message and important to remember. I love how ‘we got’ looks like stars at night and ‘this’ looks like clouds in the daytime! The positivity is all around us.”

Downers Grove fifth-grader Riley P.

Downers Grove fifth-grader Riley P.

  • Riley P., fifth grade, Henry Puffer Elementary School, Downers Grove

Sam Kirk: “I love the power of the rainbow. It’s a great reminder that in order to get one you may have to deal with some rain.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “We all need to see this image right now. It tells us right away to be proactive. I can’thelp but think that we are all able to bring about change and a brighter world for everyone. The message is delivered quick and clearly.”

Lauren Asta: “Yes!! Fight away the sad and gloomies with love, light and joy! We all need this superheroin our life! And maybe, just maybe, this art can be our superhero. I love text and words in art. People love to read art, and I can just feel that these words are so personal to the artist and can make it so relatable to the audience. Shine on, little warrior artist!”

MIDDLE SCHOOL WINNERS

Chicago Heights eighth-grader Stevie M.

Chicago Heights eighth-grader Stevie M.

  • Stevie M., eighth grade, STEM Magnet Academy, Chicago Heights

Sam Kirk: “I appreciate this cool cat message and approach in giving good vibes to everyone. I love the color palette.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “I don’tknow who this lion is, but I wanna be in quarantinewith him! Tell me it’s gonna be all right, Mr. Lion!!!”

Lauren Asta: “I want a poster of this in my bedroom! It immediately lifts my spirits and makes me feel good. And it does indeed make me feel peaceful! I love the rainbow color and pop of hot pink. I am a sucker for hands. Beautiful work here, and I hope this artist keeps on spreading the groovy, positive vibes!”

Lycee Francais de Chicago eighth-grader Avery M.

Lycee Francais de Chicago eighth-grader Avery M.

  • Avery M., eighth-grade, Lycée Français de Chicago, Chicago

Sam Kirk: “Wow! Look at this cross-hatching. When I see this piece, I believe many ofus can relate to the shadow of the deer staring at what seems to be a massive, scaly issue in our way. Nevertheless, we face it head on.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “This is a really well done ink drawing. The line work is done with intention — it’s well executed. It doesn’tget too busy. Well done. The deer in the headlights is a striking image. I feel that way. Kudos.”

Lauren Asta: “Wow! So stoic. So striking! I actually didn’t see the dragon at first, and all of a sudden it just POPPED! What incrediblepencil shading technique. You can see all the dimensions of the dragon and scales. Super impressive. And the elk’s shadow shows great depth of field. I would love to see this artist do a big pencil shading drawing with a bunch of images hidden all over the place!”

Evanston seventh-grader Isabel N.

Evanston seventh-grader Isabel N.

  • Isabel N., seventh grade, Chute Middle School, Evanston

Sam Kirk: “ ‘Brighter days’ is a favored Chicago anthem, and I imagineplaying this house music trackwhile following these steps to more super bright days. I enjoy the comic style.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “Literally make my days brighter!! This one wins with its message for sure. Our lives are under fluorescents. We’re in the shadows of the interiors of our homes. Be proactive! I like it.”

Lauren Asta: “This artist has a such a creative inventive future! It is SO hard to do instructional drawings. You have to get the messageacross in a quick, precise, clear, catchy way, and this artist has achieved that wonderfully. Thetext is readable. The drawingsand design are so advanced. And the messageis so important! I will forever remember these tips and tricks to ‘how to have a brighter day’ when I need it next!”

Annie Keller Regional Gifted Center sixth-grader Alexandra B.

Annie Keller Regional Gifted Center sixth-grader Alexandra B.

Alexandra B., sixth grade, Annie Keller Regional Gifted Center, Chicago

Sam Kirk: “This is a beautiful piece showing how important it is to help each other during this time. I like the different gradients of color inshowing who is seen and who isn’t. It looks like it should grace the cover of a zine.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “The image really works through the rendering of the two figures and the color choices. I get an urban feel from this, and it makes me relate. Well done!”

Lauren Asta: “I feel like this could be on a cover of a classic blues album. Or a book cover. The use of faded line work and imagery connected to and juxtaposed with full-color imagery denotes so much! It’s not easy for an artist to evoke instant emotion. This artist has not only done that but has told a story with very little imagery. Body language and muted tones say so much.”

Lombard sixth-grader Alyssa C.

Lombard sixth-grader Alyssa C.

  • Alyssa C., sixth grade, Glenn Westlake Middle School, Lombard

Sam Kirk: “I love the inclusive message in this piece.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “This illustration should be printed on cards and mailed all over. The artist considered ‘diversity’ in the images they chose, and I applaud them. These figures facing the dawn really appeal to you. I want to join hands. Simple and effective.”

Lauren Asta: “I love the layout of this piece. It looks like it could easily be on the cover of a magazine! We are indeed all in this together! Bravo to this artist!”

Long Grove seventh-grader Nandini M.

Long Grove seventh-grader Nandini M.

+ Nandini M., seventh grade, Woodlawn Middle School, Long Grove

Jeff Zimmermann: “The use of vivid colors in this painting works well! We could all use some time outdoors smelling the flowers. Although nowhere like this really exists, we can visit such a place thanks to this painting. The work makes you happy right away.”

Lauren Asta: “Take me to this field! I want to follow this character wherever she is going! Times can be scary and confusing right now. This piece of art, though — nothing confusingabout it. The colors make me feel happy and calm. The depthof field and horizonline are well done and make me hope this field indeed goes on forever! It’s so romantic, too. I can imagine this scene in a dreamy movie sequence. Love that this piece of art makes me feel that.”

HIGH SCHOOL WINNERS

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School 11th-grader Brenda D.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School 11th-grader Brenda D.

  • Brenda D., 11th grade, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School, Chicago

Sam Kirk: “The vibrant colors capture my attention instantaneously. The fragmented pieces and emotion are a great representation of what many are feeling right now.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “The girl is pretty well rendered! Good blends of colors, especially on the face and hand. And her expression says it all.”

Lauren Asta: “What a powerful piece! Body language and hiddendetails are so importantin here. I am feeling some surrealist vibes, for sure! I wonder if this artist enjoysSalvador Dali! Love the color palette. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. It’s bright and colorful, but I feel somber emotions. I want to keep staring at this piece and connect the dots of hints and imagery given. Which, to me, if you can captivate an audienceand make them think, you’ve done an incredible job already.”

Curie Metro High School 12th-grader Lesli G.

Curie Metro High School 12th-grader Lesli G.

  • Lesli G., 12th grade, Curie Metro High School, Chicago

Sam Kirk: “I like this piece because it reminds me of how precious time is. The roses are drawn beautifully. Kudos for the great calligraphy.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “Nice use of sharp lines in that image. The tattoo-like feel that it creates brings home the idea that what’s going on is serious.”

Lauren Asta: “Incredible line work and shading! I love the balance, text and imagery shown. Lost time is something we can all relate to and can be interpreted so many ways. Which is key for a successful piece of art.Sometimes, a detailed, technically tight, simple drawing (like this) is one of the most difficult things to accomplish. If you brought this to a tattoo artist, I am sure they would be equally as impressed!”

Lane Tech 11th-grader Schantelle A.

Lane Tech 11th-grader Schantelle A.

  • Schantelle A., 11th grade, Lane Tech College Prep High School, Chicago

Sam Kirk: “I like the illustrative style and color choices. The circular shape provides a peek into the life of one, but many of us can relate.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “There is some pretty good drawing going on here. These figures and the images that are drawn are done so with confidence. This young artist does a lot of sketching, and it shows. The choice of colors to show night and day are right on. I always enjoy an artwork that makes me look around and be rewarded for my effort. The calendar on the wall is an example.”

Lauren Asta: “I absolutely adore this one. Technique-wise, it’s balanced and really impressive! I love the plants and books ‘breaking out’ of the circle in the daytime scene and the use of transparency and cell phone light in the nighttime scene. The format design is super-insightful, playful, inventive and evokes emotion immediately. Could easily work in a newspaper or magazine as a current, easily read, one-celcartoon. And I am positiveI have had this exact text with so many friends!”

Reavis High School 11th-grader Aubry C.

Reavis High School 11th-grader Aubry C.

  • Aubry C., 11th grade, Reavis High School, Burbank

Sam Kirk: “This piece reminds us to stay hopeful. The anime style is fun.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “This artist has created some good highlights and shading. These colors work together well. I’m gonna take this entryas a political image. The figurehas her eyes closed, yet there are flowers right in front of her. And smelling those flowers is a huge letdown if you have a mask on. But we can use our imagination.”

Lauren Asta: “Love the color palettehere! Takes me to a specific place immediately. I truly believe that picking a color paletteis as equally important to the composition and content of the art (and as difficult, too!) The blending and shading is awesome. Especially in the hair and flower petals. The content is very emotional, too. Extremely relevant for current times. Important for us to keep the faith and have hope and to see the beauty in the world . . . even if we do have to wear masks.”

North-Grand High School 12th-grader Nayeli L.

North-Grand High School 12th-grader Nayeli L.

  • Nayeli L., 12th grade, North-Grand High School, Chicago

Sam Kirk: “I love a good skyline of my city and the representation of first-responders here and around the world. It’s a great reminder of those who are putting their lives on the line every day. We’re all in this together.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “I wanna watch some old movies when I see this! I can’t help thinking of ‘50s horror movies. I feel the artist was being tongue-in-cheek here — trying to be serious but adding some gallows humor. I think we all feel like we’re in the twilightzone, so this image really hits home.”

Lauren Asta: “I love the skyline! Prime colors and the green definitely work here, too. I’d maybe switch the white in the earth for the light blue in the skyline to represent water, and the text would pop much more on white background! But content-wise, YES! We absolutely couldn’t do it without the nurses, doctors and first-responders shown here. Big cheers for representing that here.”

Westinghouse College Prep 12th-grader Isaac M.

Westinghouse College Prep 12th-grader Isaac M.

  • Isaac M., 12th grade, Westinghouse College Prep, Chicago

Sam Kirk: “I like the mixture of styles in this piece. The uplifting messages of: Whatever is lurking around the corner or in the shadows, we must carry on in creating the positive world we want to see. The sun still shines, and we still have our abilities to make things brighter.”

Jeff Zimmermann: “It’s always fun when an artist will change up the shape of the canvas. The green figure makes me aware that I should not be outside. It looks fun, but beware.”

Lauren Asta: “As a muralist, I immediatelycould see elements of street art here! I wonder — and hope — this artist has had an interest in public art. The designof the layout is unique and full of character. The text style is distinctive and inventive. The drawings are almost dreamlike, and I find them a thought provokingjuxtaposition to the text. Love the bright color palette, creative imagination! I want to see this artist explore the art of typography!”

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