Southlake teen pulls down awards for her art while preparing to major in molecular biology in college
By Joy Donovan
Photography by Olaf Growald
The long-haired brunette perched in a park amid trees and flowers works on her sketch pad.
For 17-year-old senior Laney McAden, whose school year is filled with AP classes, college applications and graduation parties, art has long been her way to relax. “I am one of those people who overload themselves,” she says on a recent sunny afternoon. “Art has always been a really nice way for me to decompress. It requires thinking, but it’s thinking that’s readily implemented. It’s very therapeutic.”
It must work well. Laney, a lifelong Southlake resident and a student at Grapevine Faith Christian School, easily carries a load that could require decompression. She ranks No. 1 in her class and awaits possible acceptances from universities known for high-achieving students.
AP calculus, AP English language and composition, and art help fill her class schedule, but Laney says her favorite subject is AP biology. It’s understandable, given she wants to major in molecular and cellular biology.
Researching genetics and hereditary diseases “would be the coolest thing ever,” she says. “I want to do good in the world.”
Meanwhile, she sketches. And those graphite, black-and-white sketches have become award winners. Last year, she placed second in the annual Youth Art contest for Art in the Square, the Southlake Women’s Club-hosted arts festival held in Southlake Town Square. She’s working on a piece and is considering entering the youth competition for this year’s show, April 28-30.
Laney’s parents first noticed her interests widening while she was in middle school at Grapevine Faith. Always a voracious reader, Laney started bringing home artwork. Lisa and Tommy McAden realized their third child had artistic talent, and give her art teacher a lot of credit.
“Her teacher recognized it,” Lisa says. “I think the teacher pulled out her talent and love of art. At Grapevine Faith, that’s where she started shining.”
Vicki Guess, Laney’s middle school art teacher for three years, says her student was remarkable from the start.
“It was obvious from the first assignment that she was quite talented,” Guess says. “I loved seeing her hard work, her attention to assignment details and her creativity shine in her artwork, and it was fun seeing her win many honors during that time.”
Those honors just keep coming for Laney. She has placed in state, regional and national competitions for both painting and her blackand-white sketches.
The youth art competition is keen. In the festival’s 23-year history, the juried Youth Art in the Square contest has had as many as 300 applicants, with as many as 100 chosen to participate in the show.
From that field, three artworks place and a few others receive honorable mention. The competition is open to high school students in Northeast Tarrant County, and this year’s first-place winner will be awarded a scholarship from the club.
“It’s amazing how some of these teenagers can perform,” says club member Sherri Whitt. “The art is unbelievable, truly unbelievable. You look at their artwork and you would not think they’re teenagers.”
As a Southlake resident, Laney grew up going to Art in the Square with friends. She entered the contest last year after her high school art teacher, Amy Reavis, suggested it. Laney attended the outdoor festival with her family, and they walked to the Youth Art tent not knowing whether she had placed in the top three.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” she says with a smile, remembering seeing a second-place ribbon attached to her drawing. “That’s mine!”
Now prom, graduation and a summer job occupy her thoughts. Her college applications included an essay on artist Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny.
No matter the university, no matter the career, Laney thinks art is at her core.
“I do think art will always be a part of who I am, because art is a large part of my perspective,” she says. “Without art, I’d lose an important aspect of how I view and interpret everything in my life.”
Joy Donovan is a North Texas journalist and contributor to 360West.