Isaac Smith returns to hometown festival as reigning Best of Show winner

Isaac Smith after winning Best of Show at the 2016 Black Swamp Arts Festival.


BG Independent News

When he was growing up in Bowling Green, Isaac Smith created his share of macaroni masterpieces in the Youth Arts area of the Black Swamp Arts Festival. He also liked wandering through the crowd and visiting the art booths.

It didn’t occur to him that the day would come that he’d be one of those artists. That he would be displaying and selling his own highly detailed and realistic pen and ink drawings, and his artwork would named Best of Show.

Smith, a 2011 graduate of Bowling Green High School, returns next month to the Black Swamp Arts Festival’s juried art show to be held Sept. 9 and 10 on Main Street in downtown Bowling Green. The festival begins with music on the Main Stage Friday, Sept. 8 at 5 p.m.

Last year was Smith’s second at the festival. He had exhibited in 2015 in the Wood County Invitational Show.

In awarding him Best of Show honors, festival juror Brandon Briggs praised the artist’s “penetrating vision”

Smith, Briggs said, was able to pick up on subtle details in his subject matter that most other observers would miss. “That takes not only time and patience, but a certain amount of heart. … Most people are willing to go as far as good enough. You’re a real artist if you’re willing to go ‘good enough is not good enough. I’m going to take it farther.’”

Smith said f drawing: “I enjoy the long process, and the patience it takes.”

Even as a child he spend more time on drawing than other kids.

“At the beginning of high school, it just clicked, and I realized this is what I want to do,” Smith said during a recent interview.

He took the four year sequence at the high school culminating in the senior project. Then he attended the Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University in Michigan, graduating in 2016.

He remembers visiting Grand Rapids, Michigan, during ArtPrize and deciding he wanted to go there because here was a place that appreciated art. The art school was also a manageable size, about as many people as BG high.

In both high school and college, he was encouraged to branch out to try other forms, and each has lessons to teach, he said.

In particular at Kendall, he did some abstract paintings. That forced him to rely on the composition, and the interrelationship between elements to create a successful piece, concepts he applies to drawing.

Smith always returns to his pencils and pens. “People think of drawing as a starting point. It doesn’t have to be a starting point you can take drawing as far as you want to go.”

And he can take it wherever he goes, always carrying a sketchbook. Smith snaps photographs as possible subjects, and they sit waiting on a file on his desktop.

Smith likes drawing people. One of his early prize-winning pieces was of a street fiddler in Italy. He’s also drawn his family members. Of late though he’s turned his attention to landscapes and urban scenes. “Those scenes are more accessible to everybody,” he said.

Starting with the blank piece of paper, Smith begins drawing the lines. With an urban scene in particular, figuring out the angles and perspective “gets kind of mathematical.”

Using pencil, he said, “I’ll put the lines down and get as much detail as I can. Then I’ll go in with the technical pens do the whole drawing.”

Then, he erases until the drawing is about half the tone value as the original. He goes back to darken some areas working with several values of gray marker. To finish the work, he applies the dried up ink powder from a felt tip pen. The effect is “almost like an airbrush.”

Now it’s ready to go in his booth.

Smith will do five art fairs this summer, culminating with Black Swamp.

Smith was encouraged to venture onto the circuit by one of his teachers at Kendall. “It seemed like a nice way to make a living for now.”

He’s been doing fairs for three years. “The hardest part is having to crank out three or four pieces” between shows, he said.

He also does commission work.

Smith plans to apply to Master of Fine Arts programs. Bowling Green State University is a possibility, he said. Ultimately he’d like to teach at the college level.

For now, he’ll continue to set up his booth for all to see, maybe including kids with a funky hats made at youth arts who’ll someday be selling art of their own.