A local artist pursues her dreams09/17/2015 10:00AM ● By Richard Gaw
Rachel Gillespie credits her teachers at Avon Grove High School with making a big difference in her life, especially the art teachers who have helped her get closer to her dream of becoming an animator. Gillespie is pictured here with several of her art teachers: Mr. Janavel, Jennifer Martorello, Ms. Watson, and Mercedes Deleguardia.
By Steven Hoffman
Rachel Gillespie can remember the time when she knew that she wanted to be an artist.
She was five years old and her family was on vacation in Florida. They visited Universal Studios and they were being led on a tour of the animation studio by some of the animators who worked on Disney's “Lilo & Stitch.”
From the very moment that she saw the animators' work, Rachel knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
“Ever since then, I knew that I wanted to be an animator,” Rachel explained during an interview in August. “That made me realize what I wanted to be.”
It's not unusual for a five-year-old to decide on a career in a moment of fascination and amazement. What is unusual is for that child to grow up, progress through twelve or more years of academic work, reach young adulthood, and still want to pursue that same career that he or she wanted at the age of five -- without ever wavering on the dream.
“I have been making art since I was very young, and nothing will ever cause me to lose my passion for it,” Rachel declares on a Facebook page she has set up to showcase her artwork.
Rachel graduated from Avon Grove High School in June and is now in her freshman year at the Ringling College of Art and Design, a prestigious art school in Sarasota, Florida. The college isn't that far from Universal Studios where Rachel discovered her lifelong passion. It's also not that far from Disney Animation Studios, where she hopes to one day work professionally.
She remains steadfast about becoming an animator. As a freshman in college, she appreciates that she was able to identify a career path early in life.
“The earlier that you decide on a career, step by step you can work toward the goal,” she explained.
Rachel already has an impressive portfolio as she enters college. While still in high school, she did the character illustrations for “The Eighth Day,” a book written by local author Dianne Salerni.
“I worked on that project on and off after school,” Rachel said, explaining that she put in about three hours of work for each drawing before transferring them into Photoshop. She earned a little bit of money for the work, but she said that she also felt like she was giving something back by helping to contribute to the book.
Salerni, a former teacher in the Avon Grove School District, explained how she came to enlist Rachel for several different projects related to her writing.
“I started out looking to commission artwork for my author website,” Salerni explained. “My daughter, Gabrielle, suggested I contact her friend, Rachel Gillespie, who had just started her own art business.”
Salerni said that she was impressed by the work that Rachel did for the website.
“Originally, I commissioned only three character sketches from Rachel,” Salerni said, “but they were so delightful that I ended up hiring her to do about a dozen more—not just for my website, but for promotional materials, like an eight-day-a-week calendar.”
Rachel describes herself as a “proud graduate” of Avon Grove High School, and it's clear that she enjoyed the experiences that she had while at the school.
“I really loved the high school's art department,” she explained. “All of my art teachers were just great—they are a very supportive group of people who make personal connections with the students, and then push them to do their best. I know that I wouldn't be where I am without them. They helped me out so much.”
Rachel enjoyed a wide variety of activities, ranging from drawing to video editing to singing or playing the piano, and took every kind of art class that she could take.
“I love dabbling in everything,” she explained of her artwork. “It's a good experience to try something new and I like challenges.”
She also was an enthusiastic participant in the Avon Grove Artist Society, an extracurricular club for students devoted to the creation of visual art. Led by several art teachers in the school, the Avon Grove Artist Society provided students with the opportunity to have after-school studio days where they could work on their portfolios. The students made an annual portfolio presentation, participated in painting at Homecoming events, worked on mural projects, and showcased their work in a district-wide art show exhibition. Rachel worked with another student on a representation of Vincent van Gogh's “Starry Night” that is displayed in the high school.
She also designed multiple T-shirt logos for clubs at Avon Grove High School, including ACTO (All Cultures Together Overcome) and the Holiday Holla, which she designed T-shirts for in 2013 and 2014.
Rachel said that she feels well-prepared for college as a result of what she learned while at Avon Grove. She also believes that her college will prepare her for the next step in her journey. The Ringling College of Art and Design has a very high rate—about 97 percent—of placing students in jobs after graduation.
“It's a really top-notch school,” Rachel said, explaining that she is hoping to get an internship with Disney so that she can embark on a career as an animator.
On that fateful trip to Florida when she was five, Rachel not only discovered a potential career, she fell in love with Disney movies and the lessons on life that they so creatively and delightfully deliver to millions of people. “Lilo & Stitch” is a particular favorite, but Rachel said that she loves many of the Disney films.
One of her favorite quotes is by Walt Disney himself: “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
Rachel's dream is to be an animator on Disney films so that she can work on a movie like “Lilo & Stitch” that will be meaningful to millions of children.
The amazing work that members of Disney's animation team did made a difference in Rachel's life, and in the lives of millions of other people. She would one day like to work on a movie and have her work entertain and engage children.
“I want to do that for future generations,” she explained.