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'This is my calling'

Sydney Bolstad, 18, shows off her current favorite art piece outside of her home on Tuesday. Bolstad will graduate from Bemidji High School on May 25, and is preparing to go off to college at Minot State University, ND, where she plans to major in art education. (Annalise Braught | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 3
One piece of artwork hanging in Sydney Bolstad‘s home is her version of Yggdrasil, a mythical tree that plays a central role in Norse cosmology, where it connects the Nine Worlds. (Annalise Braught | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
Sydney Bolstad shows her tattoo, which developed from a picture her mother, Shanna, drew using Kanji symbols for the word “Bear.” That’s what Shanna has called Sydney since she was a baby. (Dennis Doeden | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

BEMIDJI—Sydney Bolstad has been making art from the time she could first hold a pencil. Now, the 18-year-old is graduating with honors from Bemidji High School, preparing to go off to college and hoping to forge a career as an art teacher. And she's still making art.

It all started years ago when Sydney was a toddler. She would sit beside her mother, Shanna, an accomplished artist herself, and try to mimic her drawings.

"They weren't very good at the beginning," Sydney said, "but I think it was inside me. No one ever discouraged me from it, and then my mom used to draw a lot more, so I kind of got it from her."

She got it, indeed. Sydney has won her high school's art contest, become active in the BHS Art Club and sold some of her work, which she describes as "in between realistic and a little cartoony."

One piece that hangs in the Bolstad home is Sydney's version of Yggdrasil, a mythical tree that plays a central role in Norse cosmology, where it connects the Nine Worlds. In the tree are two deer, an eagle, a squirrel and snakes. It's a colorful, detailed piece, and she created it in a day and a half.

"It felt like it took forever," she said. "I mostly work with figure drawing and people, so this was something new for me. I like how it turned out."

Shanna says her daughter isn't always satisfied with her work.

"When she was really little she started copying the stuff that I would draw," Shanna said. "She would find pictures and images and she would just draw them and draw them and draw them until she got them right. She always has been a perfectionist."

That trait has led Sydney to honor graduate status as the May 25 BHS commencement approaches. It also earned her an art scholarship to Minot State University in North Dakota, where she plans to major in art education.

"I think that ... it started as a hobby," Shanna said, "and she's like, 'You know, I'm going to do this for my job. This is my calling.'"

Another calling could be tattoo art. Sydney got her own tattoo on her last birthday. It's from a picture her mother drew, using Kanji symbols for the word "Bear." That's what Shanna has called Sydney "since she first held me in her arms."

Sydney's friends kept asking her to draw on them and encouraged her to look at becoming a tattoo artist. "That would be something I'd really enjoy," she said, "and I could do that on the side while being a teacher, too."

Positive feedback on her art has helped Sydney gain confidence, not only as an artist.

"She used to be so introverted and just kept to herself," Shanna said. "Then she started going to the art club after school, and now she's painting murals and designing tattoos for her friends. It's really helped her a lot as far as coming out of herself a little bit more."

Sydney's classmates have voted her "most artistic" in the senior superlatives section of the BHS yearbook. "It's kind of embarrassing," she said. "A lot of people compliment me on my art and they ask to look through my sketchbook. So that's kind of cool."