A hobby can be a blissful escape or, in some cases, a blossoming career. For Brookdale English professor Richard “Tim” Burke, creativity is a passion – a passion that he often recognizes in the students who walk through the doors of English 122: Research and Writing.
After years of mentoring and guiding students toward careers as writers, painters, photographers and more, this year Burke decided to create the first ever “student arts showcase” in the Brookdale Writing Center. The ad hoc exhibition will showcase the work of one Brookdale student each semester along the walls and labs of the center.
To open the gallery, Burke chose student artist and aspiring graphic novelist Taylor Russell, whom he taught last semester in one of his many sections of English 122.
The soft-spoken student, who was studying Japanese at the time, casually mentioned in class that she had a passion for art. Burke, a long-time artist himself, asked Russell to show a couple of pieces to the class and knew immediately that he had found his first featured artist for the Larrison Hall showcase.
“She pulled up an amazing illustration of a person, and I knew she would be perfect for a student exhibit. She’s a charming young lady with a lot of skill and talent,” Burke said.
Since first picking up drawing at the age of six, Russell has built on a wide range of influences and inspirations to develop her own unique style, heavily influenced by Japanese artists, animators and graphic novelists.
After graduating as a studio art major from Red Bank Regional High School and enrolling at Brookdale, Russell saif her family cautioned her about the challenges of pursuing a life in the arts.
“They told me that it would be hard for me to try and find a career in art,” said Russell. “So I decided just to take basic classes and figure out what I want to do.”
At Brookdale Russell chose to study Japanese, where she developed a deeper appreciation for graphic novels, cartoons and other artwork inspired by Japanese culture and comic artists. She was also able to meet and study with classmates who shared her interests and passions.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve become a lot more comfortable with who I am. When I first started here I was kind of the typical awkward high school graduate, but I have made a lot more friends and everyone has been super friendly and helpful,” said Russell. “[My arts classmates] all have their own style of art, and you can learn things from them and teach them different things as well.”
Working with like-minded students and faculty helped Russell rekindle her passion for the arts, and gave her the courage for formally pursue a career as a graphic novelist, she said.
“With Japanese, I had almost considered becoming a translator or interpreter … but then I started drawing more and I kind of went back to that,” she said. “It’s what I have been doing my entire life. And it’s definitely something I want to make a life out of.”
Today Russell runs a YouTube channel dedicated to her artwork and, in late January, unveiled a new exhibition of her work in the Brookdale Writing Center. After graduating in May she plans to pursue her education at the Kubert School of Graphic Novels and Cartooning in northern New Jersey. She hopes to find work in Japan one day, either as a teacher or as a professional artist, she said.
“I think it’s really amazing, because I have never had my own personal gallery show before,” said Russell, inspecting the more than one dozen pieces now hanging in the Writing Center. “It’s pretty cool.”
Check out more examples of Taylor Russell’s artwork here. View the full show by visiting the Brookdale Writing Center in Larrison Hall.
– article by Mikaela Mazzeo, college relations intern