Kansas City, March 5, 2020: Tomaryon Davis is learning how to create a work of art from the struggles and successes of his own life, but he also knows that work is very much in progress.
Like hundreds of his fellow members of the Class of 2020 in Kansas City Public Schools, Tom approached this spring anticipating prom, commencement and graduation parties. The COVID-19 pandemic caused school buildings to close and upset life for everyone. Instead of seeing this as a loss, Tom decided to put the skills he’s learned at SEHS and Manual Career Tech to work and start creating.
“Oh man, this distance learning has been tough in the sense of not getting to interact in person with my friends and teachers, but it’s also been a really productive time for me,” he said. “I’ve been drawing a lot with my free time. I’ll just pull out my pad and start sketching whatever comes to mind. I’m getting my mind motivated and pushing through. Everything you see and experience is material for art. I’m not afraid of using it all.”
Tom’s life illustrates the fact that the material for art can come from anything, including video games. His passion for illustration, graphic design and digital media was sparked in childhood when his mother bought a video game for him. Tom was entranced by the visuals and the way the game creators used that medium to tell compelling stories.
“The passion for art started with my mother. She showed me a video game and I was bound into it,” Tom said. “One day, I told her that I wanted to create a game. She talked about how I could make that happen. She said, ‘Follow your passion.’”
With his unrefined fuel for creativity, Tom made a fateful decision to sign up for Mr. Smith’s mass media class at SEHS. Smith prefers hands-on lessons, and the projects he assigned gave Tom a glimpse into the array of tools and techniques available for people who make their living being creative.
When Smith, who had a long and award-winning career in advertising before becoming a teacher, took over the graphic design and digital media program at Manual Career Tech, Tom eagerly signed up. He was thrilled to discover a cohort of students from across KCPS who shared his passion for creativity but who expressed that in ways he had never considered. Tom generates a powerful energy when he talks about his classmate’s works of art.
“That morning group, it’s a whole different type of student. They are so creative, and that inspires my own work,” he said.
Tom’s morning class at Manual Career Tech developed an extraordinary and largely intuitive method of working on projects together in order to leverage each student’s individual creative strengths, according to Mr. Smith.
“I would give an assignment and they would just huddle together and start talking about how to tackle it. I didn’t tell them to do that. They just did it on their own,” he said. “I hadn’t really seen that kind of proactive collaboration before.”
Tom has nothing but praise for Mr. Smith and the program at Manual Career Tech.
“I wanted to have the experience of learning more about media technology and how to use my art skills in a technical way,” he said. “I’ve had the chance to do so many different types of projects in Mr. Smith’s class: video art, programming, using Adobe Premiere, Photoshop and Illustrator. He’s equipped us to use tools that will give us a great start for our career paths.”
When asked about his favorite experiences in Smith’s class, Tom describes two different field trips.
“One of the best experiences that I had was when we went to a garden by Loose Park to take pictures of flowers and people. It was a nice, sunny day and we all had such a good feeling,” he said. “Another day, it was kind of raining, and we went to the fountains in the Plaza to look at the statues. It was my first time seeing the fountains up close and I realized how beautiful they are. It’s kind of strange, when you think about it. I live in the City of Fountains and I had never really looked at the fountains. That was inspiring.”
Rain or shine, negative or positive, exciting or dull: everything is material for Tom’s art. And he’s not afraid to share his work with the world.
“The power of art for me is really enjoying the process. If you’re struggling, draw something out, push it through,” he said. “As long as you can be creative, that’s the beauty of art.”
Tom is preparing to create the future that he described for his mother when he was a child. He hoped to attend the Kansas City Art Institute, and actually earned a significant scholarship to do so. Unfortunately, the scholarship wasn’t enough to cover all his costs. Instead, he will be taking classes at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley.
Tom’s goal is to earn his four-year degree in a digital media discipline, go into video game development and become a game director. He ultimately wants to create his own company in Kansas City that will help young people like him to pursue their creativity and tell their stories.
“We are the next generation that will improve our community through creativity. This technology gives us more opportunities to do that. We have the ability to communicate and collaborate in amazing new ways,” he said. “I want people to be inspired that your children are pushing things further. It’s mind blowing.”