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Artist known for creativity, generosity

The artist scratches away the black India ink from a giant board, creating a woman in a slinky evening gown. Another student in the art class _ a fan of the artist _ absently carves his thumbnail into the edge of the scratchboard.

"Stop messing up the dude's board!" a third student shouts.

This work is sacred, after all. It is another creation by David Elliott, a senior at Leto High School whose eyes and hands and creative drive yield lifelike drawings of faces and human figures.

As Elliott works on his scratchboard drawing, he is surrounded by a small group of hovering classmates, who observe his work with a combination of vocal awe and whispered jealousy.

"It's hard to concentrate in here," Elliott says quietly, glancing at the noisy students who watch, question and critique his every artistic move.

So Elliott does much of his work in the quiet of his west Tampa home, where he often spends days or weeks working on a single project. Time slips away as Elliott loses minutes, hours, entire days to his creations.

"When I'm drawing, I don't even know how long it takes," he says. "I can be drawing in the afternoon and all of a sudden, it's dark."

It is worth the time. Elliott's artwork has earned him a fan base in his school. Perhaps his biggest fan is his teacher, Peter Aalberg, who thinks Elliott is one of the finest portrait artists he has seen.

"He's really as good as they get," Aalberg said. "He's better than I am."

He only wishes his student would develop a keener sense of capitalism. Elliott is generous, some would say to a fault; he could charge money for his drawings but chooses to give most of them away to friends.

Elliott plans to go to the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota next year, where he wants to study either drawing or photography. His teacher hopes the school will teach him how to make money from his skill.

"If you can self-promote, you can be very successful," Aalberg says.

Aalberg recently gave Elliott his first commission: He hired his student to draw a picture of his wife and daughter for a Christmas present. It is difficult to distinguish between the sketch and a black-and-white photograph.

But Elliott can't imagine marketing himself. He feels it would somehow cheapen the artistry of his work.

"I just don't feel right charging people for it," he says.

In the class, Elliott is perpetually surrounded by other students. But for a few moments, he seems to forget about the people crowding around his desk. He is lost in his work, eyes focused, his lanky body rounded over the scratchboard.

He scrapes away India ink, making broad strokes and fine-pointed dots. Slowly, the woman's dress takes shape, with all the elegant folds and shadows of an evening gown and all the contours of a woman's body.

Will the artwork go on display in a showcase? Will he sell it? Will he hang it up in his home as an emblem of all his hard work?

"I'll probably give it away," he says.