Sarah Elliott was painting a chess board in perspective on a ceiling panel at Juneau-Douglas High School recently.
Elliott had sketched in an angel seated near the chess board because she has been thinking about pre-Renaissance religious art.
"I've been looking at a lot of religious art recently," she said.
As a graduating senior who has taken many art classes, she'll join other students in leaving a reminder of her talent on the ceiling of Tom Manning's art room.
"It's been fun to teach her because she certainly has her own approach to her art," Manning said. "Even as a young kid, her approach was unique."
As Elliott, 18, worked on the detached ceiling panel, which was flat on a table, she talked about her art and her future. The two are likely to be intertwined. Elliott won a scholarship to study at the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a major museum.
Elliott took a class there last summer in advanced projects in two, three and four dimensions. Students were asked to make their own art based on an idea they perceived in pieces in the museum.
Elliott derived her piece from an ancient Greek funeral monument that had eroded and cracked, and from a room of furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and decorated with other art.
Her theme was ephemera and how art changes over time. Her tools were water, hot glue and brown paper.
It wasn't Elliott's first foray into art that is more of an installation or event than a representation. Her show at the Empire gallery downtown in November featured two installations.
"I made a giant weaving of all my belongings. It was called 'Weave,' " she said.
"It started out being very personal. I think the general idea was to look at all the things I own in an objective kind of way. To put them in a kind of space where the only value they have is the volume they have."
The installation allowed her to question "how much of my life is my stuff, how much am I really attached to it," Elliott said.
"Weave" had a different meaning for the public, she said.
"You can tell a lot about a person from the things they own," Elliott said. "It was everything I owned, from my dirty laundry to textbooks from the eighth grade. It was shocking that I was presenting these odd curios to the entire world."
Her other installation in that show was a series of 108 photocopies of her face, along with candles and veils.
"It was kind of like a little shrine," she said. "It was very spiritual for me, I guess."
Elliott said that rather than create symbols, she tries to create something that as a whole instills an emotion or has a presence that can't be articulated.
Elliott has been interested in art her whole life but took it more seriously when she first enrolled in art classes at JDHS as a sophomore. She began to sketch frequently and was encouraged by her progress. She's taken several painting classes with Manning.
"I think the best thing Mr. Manning does in his painting classes is he pretty much lets you do your own thing and he's there if you want to talk about it," she said.
"I was able to experiment so much. I wasn't having to be really structured."
Elliott's philosophy is that once she shows her art it doesn't really belong to her anymore.
"Half the piece is the other person's own dialogue with it," she said.