Just a few months ago, Weeki Wachee High School graduate Tyler Harris and Brucelys Espino Garcia of Hernando eSchool High School were both creative young people with little in the way of formal art training. Today, they stand among the top winners of U.S. Representative Daniel Webster’s (FL-11) 2021 Congressional Art Competition for Florida District 11, the Artistic Discovery Contest. Students from 12 schools across the district participated in this year’s competition, creating art to depict the theme of “America The Beautiful.”
Tyler Harris took third place overall in the competition with “Worlds Above and Below,” a colorful portrait depicting numerous varieties of wildlife created with mixed media using watercolor, markers, and prisms colored pencils. Brucelys Espino Garcia was the overall winner for Hernando County, with a dynamic photo depicting Webster in Miami. When Garcia shot this photo, she wasn’t attempting to create an award-winning artwork. In fact, she didn’t even consider herself an artist. “I can’t paint or draw. I’ve tried,” chuckled the 18-year-old Spring Hill resident. “But when I see something beautiful, I want to make a memory. I take a photo.”
This is exactly what she did when she took a trip to Miami to visit her older sister, only to discover the subjects of her next photo: a line of colorful autos parked outside a tall standing building in this vibrant city. “I love classic cars, and this got my attention,” she said. “The natural light was just perfect. It was a beautiful photo.”
After submitting the photo, captured with a phone camera, as an assignment to her Hernando eSchool art class, teacher Andy Fotopoulos immediately suggested that she enter the photo in the 2021 Congressional Art Competition. “I didn’t expect it. And when I won, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. And while Garcia’s captured image of classic automobiles was the product of a hobby, it nonetheless has ‘driven’ the course of her destiny. “When I start classes at SPC in the fall, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in,” she said. “Now, I’m thinking I’d like to study photography.”
Visions of beauty also inspired 18-year-old Tyler Harris, a lifelong artist who has accomplished many creative feats throughout her lifetime. This accomplished artist hosts an art channel on YouTube that boasts nearly 100,000 subscribers, and has won five art awards this year alone. She even accepts commissions for professionally achieved artwork, and maintains an active Instagram account at @tyger_the_zebra. “I always loved to doodle and paint. My sketchpad was like my diary, a place where I expressed my feelings,” said Harris, who demonstrates speed painting and animation on her YouTube channel. Yet in her home state of Arizona, Harris said that she had difficulty finding a formal art education program in her school system. She found this program at Weeki Wachee High School, along with a great deal of inspiration in her home state. “I’ve always loved nature and being outdoors,” she said. “There are so many beautiful natural and water resources here, and we need to preserve them.”
Indeed, environmentalism forms the core of many of Harris’ works. “So many people throw a can in the water and think nothing about it,” she said. “I want to show them the water and animals they impact.” That’s the whole idea behind ‘Worlds Above and Below,’ which depicts a canoer traversing exotic waters with emerald-hued foliage on both sides, surrounded by seabirds above and fish and manatees below. By presenting colorful portraits such as her recent award winner, Harris hopes to educate other young people in particular about ecological issues; encouraging them to do their part to save the environment. “By seeing a fun piece of art from someone their own age, they’ll learn more, be more inspired,” she said.
Harris will be inspiring many more through her next project, as she has been asked to adorn a lifeguard shack at Weeki Wachee with a mural, through her collegiate career, as she studies art design and business at PHSC, and beyond.
Open to all high school students in Florida’s 11th Congressional District, the Artistic Discovery Contest is, says a related news release, an opportunity to recognize artistic talent in the nation. Since its creation in 1982, more than 650,000 high school students have been involved in the nationwide competition.
The first-place winner will see their artwork displayed for one year in the U.S. Capitol. The exhibit in Washington will also include artwork from other contest winners nation-wide. The second-place winning artwork will hang in Congressman Webster’s Washington, D.C. office. A county-overall winner is also named from each of the 5 counties within Congressman Webster’s district and their artwork will be displayed in each corresponding district office. Harris’ work will be displayed in the congressman’s Brooksville office. “Art enriches our lives and art education promotes skills that equip children for future success,” said Congressman Webster. “The Congressional Art Competition is an exciting time as it allows students throughout my district to showcase their artistic ability, and further develop their skill set on a competitive level. Each year students are given a theme, this year was American the Beautiful. It is a great opportunity for students to think outside the box, and articulate what they love most about this Country. I enjoyed seeing the different perspectives and patriotism depicted.”