published Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Seventh-grader's painting wins countywide art competition

  • photo
    Brandon Spencer, 12, shows one of his favorite drawings, “Alien.” He won an art contest at Hamilton Place, where his work is on display.
    Photo by Jenna Walker.
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A painting by Brandon Spencer, 12, was selected as the winner in the middle-school division of a countywide art competition coordinated by the Hamilton County Department of Education and Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga. His artwork will be on display at Hamilton Place mall through Jan. 30.


  • Age: 12.
  • School: Seventh-grader at Dalewood Middle.
  • Favorite painting: "Self-Portrait" by Vincent van Gogh.
  • Favorite TV shows: "Naruto" and "Dragon Ball Z."
  • Favorite movie: "Don't Be a Menace."
  • Dream job: Graphic artist for a video game.


Do you know a child age 13 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at or call him at 423-757-6205.

When Brandon Spencer sits down to draw something, his first attempt usually ends up in the trash can. So does his second.

By the third try, however, the 12-year-old artist said he generally feels like his hands and mind are literally on the same page, and he is ready to graduate from pencil to ink.

Art is as much about persistence as inspiration, Brandon said.

"To me, if I mess up, I can try again, and if I mess up again, I'll add something to it -- something of my own -- and do it again," he said. "My dad and mom told me to never give up."

Brandon first became interested in drawing at age 7 while watching his father, Ryann Keith Trejo, drawing a pen-and-ink self-portrait.

At the time, Brandon said, he felt strangely fascinated by the detail of a brick wall in the background. When he tried to draw them himself, he said, he received his first lesson in the difficulty of translating what he saw in his head to the page.

"I tried to do it over and over and over again until I got it right," he said. "It just kept motivating me over and over again."

Despite that learning curve, Brandon eventually conquered the brick wall and now carries around a sketchbook every day in case inspiration strikes, which it often does, generally while he's playing video games or watching TV.

In September, Brandon tried his hand in a new medium: painting.

His first work on canvas, an untitled piece capturing traffic humming through downtown at night, won the first-place prize this year among seventh-graders at the Arts in the Park art contest among students in regional middle and high school.

Brandon and his brother, Ryan, had been showing artistic tendencies for years, but his mother, Charla Spencer, said it wasn't until Brandon brought home the award that she realized how serious he had become.

"That's when I started to notice all the things he does," she said. "There are a lot of things out there in this world that they can do that are negative. This is something positive."

Although Arts in the Park was Brandon's first foray into painting, it was the second time he was recognized for his artwork. As a third-grader in 2007, his drawing of a basketball player dunking was selected for display in the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport as part of Education, Arts and Culture's Art in Nontraditional Spaces program.

Friday, Brandon took home his third award when he won first place among middle-schoolers in a countywide art competition sponsored by Hamilton Place mall and coordinated by the Hamilton County Department of Education and Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga. The contest's theme was a celebration of Chattanooga's natural beauty.

Brandon said he is often drawn to action and movement, whether in real life or in cartoons. His contest entry was an impressionistic acrylic scene of traffic moving south on the Market Street Bridge toward Lookout Mountain. The piece will be on display at the mall through Jan. 31.

Michel Belknap, Brandon's art teacher at Dalewood Middle School, said he is working on his third painting, a piece melding an urban landscape with a work by American realist painter Edward Hopper. She described the work-in-progress as "unreal" and Brandon as "a fish in water with paint."

As a preteen, Brandon's ability to draw already meets that of some graduate students, said Belknap, who has a master of fine arts degree and also teaches college-level art courses.

"This painting he's doing now, he's really, really gifted," she said. "He's speaking in his own voice, and his personality is showing through.

"He's already well advanced beyond his years. It blows your mind."

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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