The Student News Site of East Lansing High School


The Student News Site of East Lansing High School


The Student News Site of East Lansing High School


Painting through pain

AP 3-D art student creates sculptures in periods of recovery
Photo by Eleah Major
Sitting on the floor of their art class, Lee Hertel (12) covers their newest sculpture of a life-size human in black paint. Hertel is a part of the AP 3-D Art class taught by Ms. Millard.

As you enter the art wing, the pungent smell of spray paint wafting out of room 703 hits your nose. When you walk into the AP 3-D Art class, the sculpture of a life-size human body looms in the right-hand corner of the room past rows and rows of paint-stained tables. Lee Hertel (12) kneels next to the sculpture, slathering black paint over the plaster. A smudged apron is secured around their waist while they concentrate on creating their piece.

Hertel has been intrigued in the creation of art from a young age, especially due to the art classes Marble Elementary School offered. This interest grew stronger as they got older, discovering in sixth grade that they would like to continue pursuing art throughout high school. While the artworks they created in these classes often leaned more towards the 2-D spectrum, they soon grew curious about the 3-D realm. 

“3-D art was never really a strong suit for me at the beginning,” Hertel said. “I joined fiber arts in [my] freshman or sophomore year, and I got really into it. I wasn’t catching on at first but once I did I knew I would be taking sculpture.” 

As Hertel expanded their skills, their pieces reflected as such. Cardboard, clay and paint are just a few of the materials that Hertel used to explore 3-D art creation.

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“That’s when I also got really into mixed media,” Hertel said. “In all of my pieces you’re gonna see a lot of different mediums.”

Lee Hertel (12) poses with their finished piece of a mask of a human face. This piece expresses their thoughts of not feeling loved as an individual.
(Photo by Eleah Major)

Each of these mediums are carefully selected by Hertel to accurately represent the meaning behind the piece. The textures of the piece, a huge motivator in Hertel’s 3-D works, provide extra realism to the elaborate creations. 

“I used [this] kind of yarn last year [on] another piece because I noticed that the way it fringes looks like blood,” Hertel said. “I also generally associate blood with love because the one thing with love is that it isn’t easy. Love is painful.”

Hertel’s expertise in other art centric programs, like tech crew, allows them to recycle techniques and items to utilize in their 3-D sculptures. 

“I work in props for theater which is a part of where my 3-D art comes from,” Hertel said. “We brought [the base of a table] in especially because props and being [involved] in theater has helped me a lot with my 3-D pieces, so that’s another layer to [my 3-D art journey].”

Like most artists experience, Hertel sometimes faces “art block.” Art block can be defined as when an artist finds themselves stuck in a creative rut where the motivation to make art is hard to come by. Due to being involved in both 3-D and 2-D, Hertel finds they have to overcome two different types of art block. When it comes to the 2-D art process, they find that art block hits them a lot harder than when they’re creating pieces in 3-D. In three-dimensional artwork, Hertel is able to physically see the progress come to life before their eyes, while two-dimensional art often feels stagnant.

“I get really unmotivated to the point where I don’t want to create 2-D art anymore,” Hertel said. “That’s where I lean more into the 3-D art because I notice a lot with my 3-D art that both [dimensions] help improve my art in a weird way.” 

To remove this sense of struggle, Hertel focuses on one spectrum of their art skills to allow themself to get back into the groove of art creation. 

“If I’m struggling with one, I can just move to the other [dimension],” Hertel said. “I have to do one to do the other. If I’m struggling in one way, then I can build upon it in the other way and realize how to do it [better].”

Lee Hertel (12) makes continual progress on their plaster-built sculpture of a human, adding black paint to the unfinished piece. The artwork is Hertel’s largest creation ever, taking on a life-sized scale. (Photo by Eleah Major)

But the deeper reason behind the creation of every one of Hertel’s pieces is to depict something that has impacted them heavily. Their artwork is often completed in times of mental recovery, allowing them to pour their true heart and emotions into the creations. Hertel’s current piece represents them recovering from a panic attack disorder, which will eventually be a life-size sculpture of a human emerging from water covered in lily pads, drips of water and flowers. 

“I initially described [the panic attack disorder] as feeling like you were drowning,” Hertel said. “So it’s someone coming out of the water [now that they’re] no longer drowning.” 

Hertel plans on pursuing art after high school, but it currently isn’t going to be their main focus. They will be attending Western Michigan University to major in political science and minor in art. 

“One of the main reasons I picked [Western] is because it has really active art programs,” Hertel said. “[However], I don’t like commodifying my art into a job. It doesn’t make me feel good.”

Hertel’s mask piece and life-size human sculpture will be up for display this weekend at Collage. You can view their art from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 16 and from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 17. 

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About the Contributors
Belle Potter
Belle Potter, Staff Writer
Belle Potter is in the class of 2026 and is a staff writer for Portrait.  This is her first year on staff as a sophomore. Belle's favorite thing about journalism is being able to accurately share and tell the unique stories of all the students and staff she has the pleasure of speaking to here at ELHS.   When she's not in the newsroom, Belle enjoys swimming, makes jewelry, drawing, watching movies, and hanging out with her friends.
Eleah Major
Eleah Major, Photographer
Eleah Major is in the class of 2024 and is a Photographer for Portrait.  This is her first year on staff as a senior.  Eleah's favorite thing about journalism is capturing moments as they happen and giving them a permanent place in history.  When she's not in the newsroom, Eleah goes to concerts with her friends, she also like writing music; on top of that she's currently working towards being a professional photographer/photojournalist.

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