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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Young artist pursues dream

Thursday, September 12, 2002

James Shepherd has left his mark on Salem High School.

He used a pencil.

The young artist designed the covers of the Salem yearbook the past two years, and his illustrations and cartoons graced the pages of the school newspaper, Generation Greyhound, during his high school years. His cartoon senior portrait panels of the past two years were a hit with fellow students whose likenesses were captured through Shepherd's humorous viewpoint.

He has also painted wall and window murals in the area, most recently the eight plate glass windows of Karen's Kitchen in Horseshoe Bend where he recorded patriotic scenes and images of the Sept. 11 terror attack on New York City. An American flag morphs into a jet squadron as each stripe of the flag becomes the contrail of a jet in one panel.

Other students wanted Shep-herd's class notes -- not to help them study for upcoming test but for the sketches in the margins, caricatures of the teachers and other students. And anyone whose gaze wanders upward in the journalism workroom will find Shepherd's self portrait grinning back from a ceiling tile.

But now Shepherd wants to make his mark on a bigger canvas. He packed up his sketchbooks and pencils last weekend and left for Denver, Colo., where he is enrolled in the Rocky Mountain School of Art and Design. Shepherd expects to remain four years at the school to earn his bachelor of fine arts degree.

His goal at this point is broad; he knows only that he wants to become a professional artist. He is interested in making movies as well as drawing comic books, but he is leaving his options open. He said he plans to take illustration and see where that leads.

He had originally planned to attend the Minneapolis School of Art and Design, but during Christmas break last year he ran into another former Salem student, Mark Hernandez, at Town and Country Supermarket. Hernandez attends Rocky Mountain and urged Shepherd to apply to the Denver school. So he sent in his portfolio.

Shepherd said he has a half-brother living in Denver, as well as Hernandez. He said the friendly faces will help as he makes the transition from rural Fulton County to life in a major city.

Shepherd doesn't remember a time when he wasn't drawing. "As long as I could pick up a pencil -- pretty much all my life," he said.

Although he took art in school and painting classes in Horseshoe Bend, his art training has been limited. But in the absence of formal training he has taught himself by copying the work of artists he admires.

"I guess that's how I learned to draw -- by copying the characters in comics," he said. His favorite is Gary Larson, whose Far Side comics continue to be published in calendars and other products years after the cartoonist's retirement. Shepherd said he also admires the work of Michael Ramirez, the Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times whose syndicated cartoons appear in newspapers around the country.

Shepherd prefers to work in pencil, but also enjoys pen and ink. He is anxious to begin painting classes, and he said he can't wait for the opportunity to visit the art galleries and museums in Denver.

The art world may seem awfully big for a country boy from Arkansas with a pencil behind his ear. But with his talent and unique vision, the artist whose visage beams down from the ceiling at Salem High School may leave a permanent mark on the art world and provide inspiration for other aspiring young artists.

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