There are so many myths about arts education and what students learn at an arts academy high school.
Some folks believe that an arts academy education means drawing and painting all day without so much as a thought about academics.
Others liken it to the movie or TV series Fame – forgetting that this is, of course, fictional.
Whatever the case, these myths do nothing to forward the benefits of this seriously solid and beneficial education and what happens after graduation day.
So graduate Maxie Masters, aka Shibaroll, is here to clarify. She will share how she’s turned her passion into a full-time drawing career with the help of Arts Academy in the Woods.
When Maxie entered AAW in 2014, she wasn’t in a great spot.
She’d moved from school to school, hoping for a place where she would fit in, but finding no success. At each new school, she was harassed.
This was due in part to her one-pointed focus on and passion for drawing, which isolated her from other students. They had her quickly earmarked as a weirdo artist.
But she was additionally teased for gender and sexuality issues. And none of these schools participated in the LGBTQ+ community.
Add to that the fact that money was tight for her and her legal guardian, so she was sometimes hungry.
It was rough.
Arts Academy High School Gave Her New Hope
Maxie first heard out about Arts Academy in the Woods through “ART! Macomb.” She was immediately excited. She repeatedly begged her guardian to allow her to go to a school where she could be around other artists and that accepted art as a career path.
“What a dream come true!” she says.
On the first day at AAW, Maxie put up her guard. It was something she’d learned to do after many first days. “I was often too shy to say anything. Especially because I struggle with severe anxiety disorder, which heavily hindered my socialization skills.”
So she brought her simple laptop and Digital Wacom tablet and began doodling “My Little Ponies”. This caught the attention of a student. But in a positive way, for a change.
By the end of that first day, she had ten new and amazing friends. “I was welcomed with open arms,” she recalls. “It was the first time in my life that I felt accepted for who I was in a place where I felt safe.”
Lessons Learned at AAW
With specialties now in Multimedia and Digital Arts, “my education at AAW taught me a ton about critical art skills,” says Maxie.
The most exciting and important hours of the day for her were those when she could express herself through the arts.
“A lot of the students like me came from low-income families and are from very diverse backgrounds. The creativity that came from our hardships creates the purest and most honest art. It comes straight from the heart.”
But that didn’t mean she found academics to be drudgery. Especially because at an arts-integrated high school like AAW, these subjects are taught through the arts.
For example, semester projects in math were more easily understood through visual and hands-on experimentation. Or in public speaking, a speech could be done through puppets.
“As someone who struggles in math and public speaking, these were healthy outlets for me to express that I actually learned and comprehended the material!”
Maxie’s fear of public speaking slowly disappeared. And as she blossomed socially and artistically, AAW gave her room to teach animation to every class.
The school council also gave her opportunities to help organize events such as student artwork shows and canned food drives.
She even became part of the National Honor Society and National Art Honor Society. Something she’d never dreamed of just a few years earlier.
Gaining More and More Confidence
“I owe a lot to AAW. Before I went there, my mental health was the worst and I was shut down. But the amazing faculty and positive student body opened me up. Soon, my favorite thing to do was to volunteer at the AAW booths at festivals!”
She even started a Positivity Project to spread positivity to the student body and faculty.
As she progressed through high school, Maxie became eligible to enter competitions. “My teachers scouted, delivered and had the utmost dedication to making sure we succeeded. Through rain or snow, they’d take time out of their personal lives to help us get further with our art.”
So she entered several competitions.
One of the most important was Enterplay’s Create-A-Card Contest for Hasbro’s, “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” This was an international competition which got over 200 entries.
Only 20-26 were picked. Maxie’s was one of those and it resulted in “Little Bundle of Joy” MLP trading card Series 4. (Watch the Speedpaint version here.)
Having her art on official Hasbro merchandise before she even graduated from high school motivated her to keep entering competitions.
Shortly after, she entered into the North American International Auto show poster competition. Even though she didn’t win, she placed 2nd in the 12th Grade Division.
“Doing art every day increased the productivity and speed of my art. I progressed a lot more than I would have at any other high school because the teachers actually gave individualized feedback. I use this feedback even today.”
Life after Graduation from Arts Academy High School
After a sparkling high school career, Maxie continues on the upward trajectory post-graduation.
Although she’s currently raising the funds to go to college, she continues to pursue her dreams. And with success!
“By having knowledge of constructive criticism and a multitude of digital art programs, I was the only new artist for Bronycon in 2019. This is the biggest convention dedicated to… you guessed it, My Little Pony.”
She then became a convention artist for conferences all over the world including Everfree in the Pacific Northwest, UK Ponycon in England, and Hearth’s Warming Con in Amsterdam.
Maxie even has several companies selling her art to conventions like Traveling Pony Museum and Lunarshine while doing freelance work full time. And she’s looking forward to being an art director for the Recadated Convention in 2020.
A Bright Future for Maxie
While she’s amazed at how quickly things are happening for her, Maxie is not entirely surprised. And it all began with an arts academy high school.
“With a concentrated art curriculum like the one at Arts Academy in the Woods, you can truly progress your art if you take it seriously enough. Yeah, it’s a lot of hard work and experimentation. But with drive, you can truly do what you like in life as a career. I mean, who knew drawing ponies could get me to a full-time art career!?”
There IS a future in the arts.