If You Give A Kid A Paintbrush She May Paint The House: Applewood Student Turns From Canvas to Larger-Scale Art

Student With Autism Paints Vivid ‘Starry Night’ Replica On Porch Of Family Home


Not many parents would allow their child to paint a reproduction of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night on the front of their house. But, for mother Susan Hall, saying yes to her daughter Michelle’s request wasn’t a difficult choice.

After studying Vincent van Gogh’s work and reproducing The Starry Night as a school assignment at Applewood Academy, Michelle wanted to paint the famous scene on the front of the family home. “I didn’t deliberate much,” says Hall. “I mean, yes it was a strange request, and yes this would be on the house, but if you give a kid a paint brush, they may just do a great job with it. And she did.”

While this type of artistic achievement is commendable for any student, Michelle has overcome significant challenges to see her artwork come to fruition. Michelle, who just turned 18, is autistic and extremely sensitive to environmental stimulation. She previously worked with staff at Applewood Academy to create her artwork in a computer painting program using the mouse as her tool. Two of her highly detailed art pieces were accepted into the juried Downtown Belleville Student Art Show. Michelle received a second-place award for her intricate piece Inner Beauty Inner Turmoil.

“Michelle has for years developed her own style of composing art by using the computer mouse to generate elaborate pictures,” says her mother. “Being self-taught meant instructing her in the arts wasn’t going to be the most natural way for her. This year, however, the school offered her a chance to take a grade nine credit in art and she flourished.”

Applewood Academy Coordinator Cara Pinchuk continues to be impressed by Michelle’s skills. “Michelle has a tremendous talent that is demonstrated through her artistic abilities,” she says. “Michelle’s skill is evidenced in her pictographs, watercolours, pastel use, charcoal and sketching. She has produced many spectacular pieces that involve landscape and human portrayal. Michelle also enjoys many crafts and consistently seeks out new projects that range from sculpting metal scenes to duct tape purses.”

Pinchuk looks forward to seeing Michelle’s talents continue to evolve. “Michelle has completed the assigned art credit and in doing so is encouraged to further advance her skills in all artistic areas,” she says. “Applewood has seen a miraculous improvement in all aspects of Michelle’s program and we look forward to seeing her continue to grow with us.”

Following her successful painting of The Starry Night, Michelle turned to the large canvas of the front of the garage. “Van Gogh got rave reviews, people actually driving by and honking or slowing down, so what can you say but, ‘Go for it!’” says Hall.

Neighbours then requested that Michelle paint the back portion of the garage, which is visible from their backyard. “They had a specific idea in mind that would complement their landscape, and that was to paint the Garden of Eden,” says Hall. And Michelle was happy to comply. “If you give a kid a paint brush, they may ask if they can paint the house,” says Hall. “Our kids are like that. We allow them to do things that complement their budding ideas about life and by doing so we join them where they are at.”

Hall says that allowing Michelle her artistic freedom has given her the opportunity to excel in an area that is important to her. “Discovering the world of art through different mediums and following criteria that was not internally generated allowed her self-confidence to be built,” she notes. “What was once confined to the paint program has now been committed to paper and the hand that was sure and steady with the mouse has learned that it can operate outside of those parameters.”

Read more about Michelle’s journey at Applewood.

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