Shine On: Teen artist masters realism in glitter

Self-portrait of the artist, Hope Lennox, in glitter.
Self-portrait of the artist, Hope Lennox, in glitter.

By Jeanée Ledoux

Hope Lennox, a senior at Atlanta’s Pace Academy, has a crush on Michelangelo’s David. She wears socks printed with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The 17-year-old doesn’t bother with football games, because she’d rather spend her after-school hours making art. Think she’s pretentious? Think again — Hope paints with glitter.

She creates classic portraits, but also kitsch that celebrates girl power and kittens. Whatever their mood, all of Hope’s paintings have a striking realism achieved with just metallic specks and glue. “It’s almost like Pointillism in a way, because by mixing the different grains, you’re creating all these dots that come together to make different shades,” she says.

She may spend 30 hours on a 16×20-inch piece, blending hundreds of colors to achieve subtle shifts. The biggest challenge of her medium is rendering flesh tones, she says, because glitter comes in limited neutrals. Fixing mistakes is hard too. She scrapes away dry glue using sandpaper and razors.

Hope began experimenting with glitter in ninth grade, when she discovered Martha Stewart’s collection. The extra-fine grains come in dozens of shades, suggesting a painter’s palette. Hope uses Stewart’s online tool to divide an uploaded photo into fields of color, like a paint-by-number template. She prints out the modified picture and glues it to her birch board as a guide.

Cat by Hope Lennox
Cat by Hope Lennox

Her magpie tendencies run deep. She remembers, at age 4, gluing trinkets onto picture frames for her grandmother in Florida. “Now that I think about it, it was a bunch of shiny stuff. So maybe [glitter] is rooted in my childhood, like a Freudian kind of thing,” she muses.

Childhood crafts led to her first exhibit among adults in 2011, when she was only 12. Art consultant Marianne Lambert spotted the polymer clay animals Hope was selling alongside her parents’ pesto at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market. Lambert invited the middle schooler to put a sculpture in a show she was curating at the Swan Coach House gallery. Today, Hope exhibits with her peers regularly as part of the High Museum’s Teen Team.

Despite her early immersion in what can be a severe world, Hope is lighthearted about her art. “When someone asks, ‘What’s the meaning of this?’” she says in a snooty critic’s voice, “I’ll make something up on the spot. . . . Obviously cats are not a commentary on social injustices or something. I think it’s more about taking a break from all the serious issues of life, and just seeing that art is fun.”

Marie Antoinette by Hope Lennox
Marie Antoinette by Hope Lennox

Hope’s sparkling paintings helped secure a spot at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Her move this fall will fulfill one of her artistic goals: to live in New York City. She also wants to take classes someday at Maison Lesage, a Paris embroidery studio owned by Chanel. And she dreams of building miniature sets for Wes Anderson, like the pastel charmers featured in The Grand Budapest Hotel. “I’d love to be able to make one of those for him, so if he would like to call me up, that would be really cool,” she says.

In the meantime, Hope struggles to focus on her final days of high school. She recently began hand-sewing brooches to while away the breaks between classes. Using glass beads the size of a nonpareil’s sprinkles, she stitches portraits of fashion icons such as Twiggy and Iris Apfel. “Not that I’m done with glitter,” she says, the stray flecks on her cheek flashing. “I’ll never be done with glitter.”

Hope’s custom glitter portraits are available online at hope318.etsy.com.

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