BALTIMORE — When Chavela Bell (also known as VelaRae) isn’t painting, she is active at her Bay Ridge Christian Church where she teaches Sunday School, singing and leading youth group programs.
Perhaps, though, it’s Bell’s art that may make her a household name.
“I have always enjoyed creating art as far back as I can remember. I can pinpoint my official discovery of my artistic talents to the time when my artwork was featured at the St. Johns College Mitchell Gallery in Annapolis,” Bell said. “It was at that point in my freshman year of high school, that I realized that what I simply enjoyed as a pastime was of much greater talent and value. Seeing my own artwork framed and displayed sparked a desire in me to paint more and explore a career in art.”
Now, Bell wants to attend college for further training to an already unique body of work. She says she is literally trying to paint her way to college, even establishing a Go Fund Me page seeking tuition and other assistance.
And, if one picture is worth a thousand words, Bell’s art has told millions of stories.
She is already the recipient of the Distinguished Merit Scholarship for the School of Art Institute of Chicago where she plans to enter this fall.
Being the youngest of 11 siblings, Bell says she has worked diligently to make her voice known through expressions of art.
In 2015, she received the Sheriff’s Citation and recognition as Maryland Masters Award presented by Governor Larry Hogan for her artwork.
In consecutive years, she has earned the high school “En plein air” competition held by the Maryland Fine Arts Association and her oil pastels and self-portraits have been featured in St. Johns College gallery and the Walters Museum in Baltimore.
Bell has been lauded for her ability to capture emotions, expressions and beauty in exploding color and her talent has provided her access to paint murals for the Annapolis Children’s Museum and Eastport Elementary School and to design sets and logos for her drama department at Glenn Burnie High School.
While she expects to receive a $6,000 AACC Merit Scholarship and an additional $6,000 through federal student loan programs, it still leaves Bell a balance of about $25,000 that she is trying to raise for tuition and room and board.
“I am a self-taught artist, for the most part. My older sister, an art major, was the first to teach me about art history and encouraged me to explore drawing and painting, when I was in 7th grade,” Bell said.
“I admired her work and tried to emulate what she was doing. By time I reached high school, I was bored with the beginning classes and found myself experimenting with new mediums because I finished all my work so quickly,” she said, noting that it was then that she found oil paints and began using them and experimenting.
“I looked for help. I applied to the Gifted & Talented Program in 11th grade and was accepted. I also attended Anne Arundel Community College for art classes,” she said.
“Finally, I was given instruction and encouragement to continue pursuing my passion.”
The art of Chuck Close has been kind of model for Bell, particularly seeing how he uses many colors to make a face and still show fine detail and personality in his work, she said.
“I would sit for hours watching videos of him creating huge, massive, masterpieces. He helped me see the many minute details and how color is in everything,” she said, while also noting that she gets inspiration from Monet, particularly his brushstrokes.
“My favorite pieces to date are my self-portraits because they come from a place within and hold a special meaning for me,” she said of her own work. “My portraits are less about the medium and more about expressing the emotions I was feeling at the time. For instance, the piece ‘Daisy Eyes’ was during a period of growth in my life where I was insecure and uncertain about my talent. It now serves as a reminder to me to always press through insecurities.”
For more information about Bell and her works or to contribute to her college fund, visit https://www.gofundme.com/chavela-painting-her-way-to-college.