Youth be told
Reno teens use art to cope– and find their voices
16-year-old Savanna Guidas is a junior at Reno High who specializes in photorealistic colored-pencil portraits and drawings, which she meticulously recreates from reference images. This year, Guidas’ work earned 17 Gold Key awards at the yearly Scholastic Art & Writing awards, and she received a Silver Key in the national competition. She discovered her love for art and fine detail, however, through coping with a diagnosis she’s had since she was a child.
“I definitely use my art to help calm me down and calm my anxiety down,” said Guidas, who was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and attention deficit disorder in the second grade. “I do try to center my art around anxiety and depression and the struggles I kind of face every day, and try to include others in that so that they’re not alone—that, if you struggle with these things, it’s OK.”
Her pieces like “Letting the Light In,” or “Blending In” were inspired by her struggles with learning to be patient with herself, or occasionally wanting to just disappear. Friends and classmates have also commissioned her to draw portraits of deceased family members or pets, a service Guidas said gives her confidence in her abilities and helps her make new friends with her art.
However, her initial foray into art wasn’t well-received by her teachers. Guidas also has a learning disorder that affects her ability to process audio and visual information quickly. Her habit of drawing in class as a way to cope with feeling overwhelmed led her teachers to believe she was simply a bad student.
“They don’t understand that and think I’m not paying attention,” Guidas said. “Actually, drawing really helps me pay attention because I remember more. And we’ve actually found studies that show that drawing helps people that like—especially visual learners, it helps them. Like, doodling or taking notes actually helps them learn more.”
Guidas and her mother, Janna, hired a paid advocate to lobby the school to accept Guidas’ diagnoses and research on the subject, and to understand that art isn’t just a distraction for Guidas, it’s the framework for how she learns.
“I think [teachers], kind of, don’t cope with students because they’re so focused on what the students struggle with instead of seeing the students’ strengths,” Guidas said. “I think that if they were to build off the students' strengths instead of always trying to fix their weaknesses, I think they’d accomplish a lot more and inspire students instead of shutting them down all the time.”
Ricardo Rubalcaba Paredes
Ricardo Rubalcaba Paredes is a 17-year-old senior at North Valleys High School. He is first-generation Mexican-American—his parents moved to Reno from Mexico the year before he was born—and he is bilingual, speaking both Spanish and English. His introduction to art began when he was 2 years old.
“I used to be really, well the Spanish word is travieso, but the English translation is ’naughty,’” Rubalcaba Paredes said. “I was a really troublesome kid, and in order to, I guess, calm me, my parents sat me down and they would give me just a pack of colored pencils.”
His childhood distraction became a passion, and he graduated from colored pencils to paints as his skills improved. His subject matter, in turn, matured as Rubalcaba Paredes grew older, and came to terms with the political and social realities of life in 21st century America.
“I’ve always been very intrigued by the human experience, the human condition,” Rubalcaba Paredes said. “A lot of the pieces I produced, even when I was little, surrounded different cultures and peoples' experiences. As I become more politically conscientious, America has taken on this whole new political ambiance. I realized I could use my art to kind of provoke something, perhaps a conversation in our community.”
Rubalcaba Paredes’ work often includes depictions of marginalized people, both children and adults, in muted, distracted colors—often wearing solemn (if not mournful) expressions in response to their plight. His images of bondage, incarceration or separation are inspired by his own experiences, he said, with difficulties he’s faced as the child of immigrants, or the physical and sexual abuse he and his sisters suffered at the hands of a family member.
“In our society, those topics are very taboo, and people, when they approach those topics, they are approached through a lens that’s very aggressive,” Rubalcaba Paredes said of his work. “My intention is to just relate the narrative about them and hopefully provide a different perspective.”
Rubalcaba Paredes is set to graduate from North Valleys this year and plans to continue his arts education at the School of Art Institute in Chicago starting this August. He plans to pursue art full-time as a future career, hoping one day to open his own freelance studio and provide workshops and materials to underprivileged kids. His own minimal formal arts education in Reno’s public school system, he said, showed him how students who are interested in art aren’t always given the resources to pursue their craft.
“Our art programs definitely don’t receive the amount of attention that they deserve,” Rubalcaba Paredes said. “I would like to be that resource … because I know how it feels and what it means to not feel like you’re on the same playing field as everybody else.”
Rubalcaba Paredes said he uses art to comment on both the political and social realities around him, and also to make sense of his own emotional journey. Art, he said, in regards to one of his pieces specifically (“Something To Live Up To”) provides a lens for self-reflection and societal engagement that is undervalued by the education system.
“Individuals are expected to meet all these different criteria, and, in doing so, they really lose touch with themselves,” Rubalcaba Paredes said. “As a result, it’s very difficult for them to just come back to who they are. That’s a piece that just means a lot to me simply because I feel like I’m currently going through that, and I’m currently going through the process of regaining myself.”