When Alexandria Jones, 15, received an email announcing that she was the District 24 winner of this year’s Congressional Art Competition, she couldn’t believe her eyes. In fact, she didn’t even know she was a contender, because her art teacher, Mack Jackson IV, had submitted her entry without her knowledge.
“I was shocked and thought it must be a joke, but then I went to school and Mr. Jackson was, like, congratulations,” Alexandria, a sophomore at Miami Northwestern Senior High, explained. “I felt very emotional because I didn’t know I was capable of something like this.”
The serendipitous nature of her win, however, is very much in keeping with Alexandria’s approach to her craft. She started drawing in fifth grade in part to compete with her older sister, whose medium is animation, but also to develop her skills. She rarely, if ever, picks up her sketchbook with a particular visual in mind, preferring instead to let whatever happens happen.
“It just comes to me,” she says of her subjects. “I just like to see my drawings come to life. I like looking at people and showing them how beautiful they are on the inside and out, but I draw mostly to express my feelings.”
Alexandria has for the past five years worked exclusively in black and white. Lately, however, her mother has been urging her to start thinking in color, which also was the challenge she was given for the assignment that ultimately became her winning painting. “My Favorite Rapper” was her very first attempt to create in color, she recalls, and “kind of difficult” at first, but her confidence grew as the process unfolded.
“The assignment was to draw a favorite celebrity and to use color. I chose the rapper, Lud Foe. Nobody really knows him, but he’s the person I listen to most,” Alexandria said. The emerging artist may soon become a familiar face to the hundreds of lawmakers, staffers and tourists who will each day pass by his image, which will hang in the U.S. Capitol for the next year alongside the winning pieces created by high school students from every congressional district. The winners also traveled to Washington, D.C., for a special event held on June 24 in their honor.
“It is both a privilege and a joy to help make dreams come true for young constituents like Alexandria,” said Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.). “For the rest of her life she will remember this experience and the string of firsts—her first experiment with different hues, her first competition win, her first airplane ride and visit to the nation’s capital—that will hopefully help her fulfill her biggest dream to be a successful artist working from her very own lair when she grows up.”
The entire experience, Alexandria agrees, has definitely opened up her heart and mind to a world of possibilities, including future competitions. Her biggest takeaway, she says, is “I can do this!”