She's young, but can she ever draw!
Updated: Sep 1
Taylor Fillenwarth taps into social media to share the portraits she creates
Taylor Fillenwarth is only a high school senior, but her ability to draw portraits has already caught the attention of those who encounter her creations — including celebrities who have noticed her work on social media.
Her drawings have allowed her to meet musicians like Dallon Weekes, a former member of Panic! At the Disco, and her favorite singer, Brendon Urie, when she traveled to New York City to see the musical Kinky Boots, in which he starred.
Despite her talent, she isn’t nearly as excited about her art as those around her. People suggest that she study art education, or pursue drawing professionally, but she has no interest in that.
Fillenwarth, 17, is not ashamed to scrap a portrait if she doesn’t like it, regardless of the hours invested. When she doesn’t believe it’s her best, she heads to the basement, flips the power switch to the family’s paper shredder, and casually drops the drawing in, where metal teeth serrate it into narrow ribbons.
“It’s my way of saying I’m done with this one,” Fillenwarth shrugged. “It drives my mother crazy when I do that.”
Fillenwarth is known as “the art girl” at Frontier High School in Hamburg. She has taken nine different art classes during her high school career. Now, when she begins to sketch, fellow classmates pause to watch. Despite her talents, she considers drawing a hobby.
“She’s been drawing as long as I can remember,” said her mother, Becky Fillenwarth. “Doodling and coloring were always things she loved.”
“I started to take it more seriously and do portraits in middle school, around sixth grade,” Fillenwarth said. “The day after Robin Williams passed away, I drew him and brought it downstairs. My mom said that it was really good. Looking back, it wasn’t, but that was the start.”
Like many teens, Fillenwarth is immersed in pop culture. She can name contemporary bands and popular actors, and these often inspire her. Williams’ suicide in 2014 motivated her to sketch the actor’s face.
She has since drawn a bevy of other actors, including Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, as well as musicians such as Billy Joel, Chris Cornell, Ariana Grande, and members of Panic! at the Disco.
Fillenwarth is matter-of-fact about her talent.
“I’ve always had people tell me I’m good,” she said. “I didn’t listen. I thought it was something to do to pass the time.”
Professional artists noted her ability.
“She’s a fantastic portrait artist,” said David Carlson, an art and photography teacher at Frontier High School. “Her observation skills and her ability to translate that information is beyond most students her age.”
In his 21-year teaching career, Carlson estimates he has instructed more than 4,000 students.
“In that time, I’ve maybe taught five kids with her talent,” he said.
Keys to Creation
Before she begins a drawing, Fillenwarth studies a high-resolution photo of the face. If it’s someone famous whose image has been posted online, she will load the features on her phone and zoom in.
“I’ll crop it so it’s just the neck and head,” she explained. “Sometimes I’ll add the shoulders if I like the shadows or the way the fabric is laying. I’ll leave the neck and take out clothing. I always start with eyes because that’s my favorite part. Once I get the eye detail and the shape is done, I zoom out and do the nose, the mouth, the Cupid’s bow.”
Proper proportion, she believes, is key to drawing an effective portrait.
“I’ve talked to good artists who tell me they struggle with proportion. You have to pay attention to where the angles are. From the tip of the eye, you go down, and that’s where the nose should start. It kind of goes diagonal from the nostril down to the edge of the mouth. It’s all about placement. Once that is done, I move onto the hair, which is another one of my favorite parts. Shadows help. I see in shapes. When I look at someone’s hair, I see petal shapes.”
“I love the way she draws hair,” said Christina Pierino, a fellow classmate who plans to study arts education in college. “I’ve watched her draw a section at a time, or shapes, then she’ll erase a little to get good highlights.”
Fillenwarth’s first celebrity interaction came in August 2016, when she posted a portrait of singer Z Berg on social media.
“You can tag celebrities,” Fillenwarth explained. “A-list celebrities are less likely to see them, but lesser known celebrities, like bands I listen to, are more likely to respond.”
Within ten minutes of Fillenwarth’s posting, Z Berg responded with three hearts.
“I was freaking out,” she reflected. “I’m always super excited when someone responds.”
Since then, she has received feedback from other musicians, along with the Impractical Jokers, whose show airs on truTV.
While she may understand space on a page, Fillenwarth confesses it provides little help in her day-to-day life.
“It doesn’t translate to other aspects,” she said. “I’m the clumsiest person ever. It’s mental, not physical.”
Drawing has another benefit for Fillenwarth: it is a way to control her fingers.
“I have this tremor in my hand,” she explained. “When I’m gripping a pen, the shaking stops. So drawing can be a good distraction.”
When she puts down the pen, the tremor begins anew. Doctors have examined her, but haven’t found any real cause. Fillenwarth refuses to make too much of it.
“It’s just a Taylor thing,” she shrugged.
To see more of Taylor’s art on Instagram, click below:
© 2019 by Jeff Schober