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From Current Events To Canvas: This Teenage Prodigy Is Painting For Change

Culture

She may be a teenager, but Autumn de Forest has already accomplished more than most hope to do in a lifetime.


The 15-year old artistic prodigy has not only sold millions of dollars in artwork, but she is also the youngest artist ever appointed to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities and the Turnaround Arts program. De Forest has also been featured on almost every morning and daytime television show imaginable, lectured for top universities and corporations, and even had a personal meeting with Pope Francis, in which she gifted him a piece of her art.

“I am always studying art, whether it's looking for ideas, going to museums, or traveling," says de Forest. “Whatever I can get my hands on, I try to learn from. I realized [early on] I wanted to create all different kinds of [artistic] styles. I didn't want to marry one."

The Freshman at Odyssey Charter High School in Las Vegas is as imaginative as she is sophisticated. Quick-witted and thoughtful, de Forest is truly learning-obsessed, which is reflected in her multifaceted array of work that channels styles that range from impressionism to pop art. De Forest is also inherently socially conscious and has worked with a variety of social organizations including The Red Cross and Habitat For Humanity, to name a few.

“Before I ever sold a painting, I knew I wanted to help people with my artwork," says de Forest, whose work has benefited such causes as the Haiti relief fund, the Japanese Tsunami, Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Bombing. “I didn't think it was right to just create paintings and sell them. I wanted to sell them for people who needed help."

Autumn de Forest

With a talent that has been compared to the likes of Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, it is easy to see that de Forest has a taste level beyond her years. “I started painting in my late 5s and 6s," says de Forest with a laugh. “I saw my father sanding some wood and asked him if I could mess around. I picked up the paintbrush and started creating. I was just having fun and expressing myself and my dad said [my first piece] looked like a [Mark] Rothko. I didn't know who that was."

It wasn't long after that, that de Forest's mother came home one day with a number of canvases and high quality paints in the hopes of further inspiring her daughter's creativity. And inspire she did.

Autumn de Forest "Grasp"

“I wanted to learn more about the art world so I went to the bookstore and found some books on different artists [and saw pieces] like Dali's Persistence of Memory," says de Forest. "I was mesmerized by art. I didn't even know that you could paint like that. I realized that painting was my career and it's what I wanted to do."

The work that de Forest began creating was inspired indeed. With an inclusive approach to creation that incorporates simplicity and bold colors, impressionistic imagery, and awe-inspiring abstracts, each Autumn de Forest piece emits a feeling of worldliness and depth of thought. To see the evolution of de Forest's work over the last decade, visit her digital gallery, which chronicles it by each year of her life.

“Creating the piece is the easy part," says de Forest, of her artistic inspiration. “A lot of my paintings come from ideas that I think would look good on canvas. I will look at an artist for inspiration and then mix it with a problem of today to create a piece that not only appeals to the artwork but also to people in need. I want to make it more powerful than a pretty picture."

As she continued imagining more artwork, de Forest says she was asked about the inspiration behind it by friends and family, and thus began exploring more the “why" of her process. From there she realized that she was not only drawn to creation, but also telling stories. “I had a new passion talking about my artwork, giving it a meaning not just to me," she says. “After that day, each painting had a story."

Another passion that emerged was giving back. De Forest tells SWAAY that she has always felt a deep desire to help others, and that she began to incorporate that into her work by studying the news, specifically those devastating world events that affect so many. She began creating pieces that interpreted and ultimately, fiscally benefited the victims of unexpected tragedy.

de Forest with Pope Francis in Rome

“When I was six years old I saw on the news that there was an earthquake in Haiti," says de Forest. “They took a camera and panned over the destruction and I realized that I have to do a piece for all of those people who have lost so much; their loved ones, and everything they had."

For de Forest it is important not just to give donations but to actually imbue her work with the emotions of what others are going through. She is currently working on a series about the war in Aleppo inspired by this haunting image of a young boy in an emergency truck. “I'm currently working on a series concerning problems in the world," says de Forest. “I try to think 'if I were in this person's situation, how would I feel? Then I think how to tell that story through color and the strokes of my paint brush."

De Forest also makes it a point to visit underfunded and underperforming schools across the country to “work with kids, paint with them, empower and inspire them." Additionally, she has begun creating her own nonprofit, which she hopes will benefit young artists in underprivileged schools, helping them create college savings accounts.

To be sure, one of the biggest coups of her young career was being honored with the Giuseppe Sciacca Award for Arts and Culture, which de Forest traveled to Rome to accept. During her time in Italy, de Forest was given the opportunity to present a "powerful yet simple" piece she titled “Resurrection" to Pope Francis. “He inspires me just being a person," she says. "He is so warm, loving, tolerant and accepting. He took the time to talk with me, bless me and the piece as well. It was probably my favorite memory of all time."

When it comes to her own creative process, de Forest says it's a surreal, almost stream-of-conscious experience. “I definitely get lost in it, especially if I have a new series that I'm working on," says de Forest. “I try to create all my pieces in different styles. I can do an abstract one month inspired by Picasso and my next idea could be inspired by Liechtenstein."

De Forest, who hopes to attend UCLA and study abnormal psychology when she's old enough of course, said the relationship between the brain and emotions has been currently inspiring some of her newest pieces. When asked if she has time for normal teenage activities, de Forest says she loves hanging out with friends and going to the mall. Of course, unlike her friends, she is also actively creating museum-quality artwork, and working to change the world through philanthropy. No big deal.

“I definitely would love to continue exhibiting and creating different artwork," says de Forest, regarding her future career. “As a female artist creating pieces that are sharing important messages in the world, it would be remarkable to continue this work."

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Career

Momtors: The New Wave of Mentors Helping New Moms Transition Back Into Careers

New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.


Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.

Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:

"I didn't think you'd come back."

"You must feel so guilty."

"You missed a lot while you were out."

To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.

There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.

Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.

Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.

It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.

Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship

How to be a good Momtor?

Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.

Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.

Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.

Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.