The artist's way often starts out as an innate kind of journey, an inner well of talent that springs forth, for some, the first time they pick up a crayon.
That's the way it was for Taylor Gandy, 18, a determined budding artist who said she has "been doing art since the dawn of time." She can prove an early talent with a faded rendering of a dinosaur that she drew as a first-grader living in New Jersey.
Now a 2012 graduate of Zephyrhills High, Gandy still harbors a fondness for dinosaurs and the other creatures she's created, whether it be on canvas, a piece of smooth Masonite or a computer screen in the old photo dark room she shared this past school year with another young artist in Deborah Gillars' Advanced Placement class.
"It's a tiny space, but it's been my home. This is where the magic happens," said Gandy, who has racked up her share of awards, including "Best of Show" in the Pasco Art of Recycling Contest and the Land O'Lakes Library's annual student art contest. She has created other-world landscapes and a rather dark series of paintings featuring an unwitting young girl holding a red balloon who always appears poised to meet some kind of tragic fate, whether it be a great white shark approaching from behind or a charging ram ready to buck her off a tall cliff. There are some self portraits, too, including one that earned her a first-place award in March in the Fifth Congressional Art Competition sponsored by the office of U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent. After being professionally framed, her image will hang in the Cannon Tunnel in the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
"That was exciting," said Gandy, who received round-trip airfare for herself and a guest to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony June 19 in Washington, D.C.
"I'm very proud of the fact that she's been recognized," Gillars said. "But it's not just about winning art awards. She brought her GPA up, did all those things that lead to a kid being successful. The award was just a great reinforcement that she made the right choices.
"Ever since I've known her, she's been determined. She came into my class as a freshman saying, 'I'm going to be an artist,' and she's never wavered from it."
Even when other well-meaning advisers warned her otherwise.
" 'You can't make a living that way,' " Gandy recalls them saying. "If I had a penny for every time I heard that, I'd be rich."
Gandy plans to buck the whole "starving artist" notion by following a path to the movie or video game industry that is booming with opportunity for the creative minded.
"It is one of those growing fields," Gillars said. "If you look at the industry right now for art-related things, there's a lot out there in film production and media production."
"People want to play games," Gandy said. "People like to go to the movies. People are always looking for something they've never seen before. The alien creatures you see on the screen or in a video game are being created through digital media and behind all that there's a concept artist working."
Gandy plans to further her schooling, starting this fall at the prestigious Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota. The cost of tuition is hefty: Gandy figures between tuition, living expenses and supplies, it will be a $50,000 tab per year. Even so, she is determined to attend, fueled in part by a full Pell Grant, Stafford loans and whatever money she can scrounge up over the summer working at her mom's pet grooming business.
"I know I'll have to pay a lot of money and take out loans and the interest rates are going up (on student loans)," she said. "Unfortunately, it's just a fact of life.
"I have to chase this dream. I can't really picture myself doing anything else. I want a job that's very exciting and inspiring to people; something that I will be happy doing. In the end, I think that happiness is really worth it."