11-year-old painter Autumn de Forest spills what it's like to be an art prodigy

Autumn de Forest is 11 years old. She first picked up a paintbrush when she was five. And now? Now her work is sold around the country. She has popped up at major art shows as a featured artist, and you might have seen her recently on T.V. Folks in the biz are callig her a prodigy, but we’ve gotta say, when we chatted her up before her latest big show in New Jersey, she seemed like an average tween with big dreams and major talent.

People are calling you a “prodigy”! What is that like? Do you feel like you have a lot to live up to?

I don't consider myself a "prodigy." I just see myself as a girl who loves to paint and who has been blessed with an opportunity to share my imagination and creative voice with many people. I do feel I have a lot to live up to though, only because I want to be the best artist and person that I can be.

What artwork and artists inspire you? What’s your favorite piece of art that someone else has created, and why?
I have so many favorite artists. From Picasso, Jasper Johns, Basquiat, O'Keeffe, to de Kooning, Andy Warhol, Matisse and Grant Wood. The list could go on. They all have different styles and vibes that I've enjoyed studying at different times in my life. I love learning about their painting techniques, then twisting or morphing it into an image that is about my time and interests.

For example, take Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe. when my grandmother gave me a Barbie of Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itch, it just clicked in me to paint her in the Warhol style. I just love his bold bright colors, and how he would take just everyday, ordinary things and turn them into art, like he did with the Campbell's Soup cans. I feel as though the past masters are my art teachers.

Right now I'm working with Roy Lichtenstein on many of my new originals. He is very inspiring to me.

How would you describe your artwork? Which piece is your favorite?
I see my art as an ever-changing expression of my life experiences, feelings, dreams and just spontaneous imagination. My ideas can come from the news, books I read, things I learn in school, or anything I might see in my day. From there, I think about how I want to express that idea, and what mediums, tools and colors I want to use. I don't want to get into a rut of just one style. I'm not a one style kind of girl. I think there's so much I can learn by mastering many different kind of techniques, and its also a great way to keep from getting bored with the same look.

I think my favorite painting right now is the piece I created for the Sandy Relief Fund, because when it sells, all of the money will go to the victims of Hurricane Sandy. If that money can make a difference in the life of even just one child in any way, a child that lost so much on that terrible hurricane day, then it makes me feel like what I do can help make this world a better place. I can't imagine how horrifying that experience must have been. My heart hurt so much when I heard about all the damage and loss to so many.

When it comes to creating your art, what do you think is the most important thing?
I must say the inspiration behind the piece is the most important to me because its, the soul, the life and the reason for the creation. It's the cake. The rest is frosting and the experience of eating it.

How did you get started painting, and how did you launch this amazing career? What was your big break?
When I was in my late fives, my father was in our garage staining some wood, and I asked him if I could have a piece of wood to stain as well. He set me up with my own 11x14 sized piece of wood and a little bowl of stain, and when I was finished my mom and dad thought it looked a lot like a Rothko painting. Then they started supplying me with small canvases, acrylic paint and a space in my dad’s music studio next to our house to paint. I immediately felt a passion and a freedom of expression that hooked me right away. I knew early on that this was how I was going to communicate my deepest feelings in life, like another language, that this was my way to make this world a better place to live.

After about three smaller paintings, my parents started supplying me with larger and larger canvases. They were so much bigger then I was that my dad had to build a wooden bridge for me so I could get to the middle of the canvas!

I just loved working with the larger size. It gave me more freedom with large gestures. In no time, I took over my dad’s music studio and sent him packing in the house!

For about a year I ran out to my new art studio whenever I could to paint, and the finished paintings were then hung on the walls in our house. After a while, I asked my dad if we could show them to other people. I felt this deep need to share my ideas to someone other then my family, so he looked into Nevada's Art in the Park. We purchased a large white tent, rented a space and hauled all of my paintings in a rented van to Boulder City for my first Art in the Park adventure. Although I would never have sold any of those paintings, I just wanted the opportunity to share with people how and why I do what I do. It was life changing for me. I realized through that experience that showing and sharing my art was the other half of my process. It spoke to the part of me that is also a teacher.

I participated in two of Boulder City's Fine Art in the Park that summer and in the first one, I won an honorable mention ribbon, and in the seconded I won BEST OF SHOW! I couldn't believe it! I was the first child to ever, in the history of both of those festivals with over 300 adult artists from many different states, have been awarded a Best in Show and Honorable Mention. After that experience, my spirit was on fire, and I knew there was a purpose for me to do what I do.

That same summer, The Malibu Art in the Park in California asked me to be their featured artists in the upcoming show, so once again we packed up the tent and art in the van, and we were off for another adventure!

From there, I signed with an art agent and started doing auctions, and before I knew it, The Discovery Channel called and wanted me to be a part of a documentary, My Child is Smarter Then Me, and then the Today Show called and flew my family and me to New York City where I was interviewed by Matt Lauer. That has truly been one of my greatest highlights so far! Since then, I've had other media opportunity's that have helped to get my message out there in the world.

In the past year, I've had the wonderful opportunity to do solo gallery shows, the first one being at Ocean Gallery in Stone Harbor, NJ, last 4th of July weekend, and again this 4th of July weekend. I feel so grateful to Josh and Kim, the owners of Ocean Gallery, for believing in my art and giving me this opportunity. The people here in New Jersey have been so kind to me that I've just fallen in love with this part of the country. I think I could live here!

How are you just like every other 11-year-old girl out there? And what quirky things (um, aside from the whole prodigy thing) make you different?
I'm no different from any other 11-year-old. The only difference is I'm just starting my career a little earlier then most, that’s all. I love playing with my American Girl doll, I love to play hide and seek, I'm passionate about singing, dance and ballet. I'm crazy about my dog Ginger, a white Standard Poodle who is a Frisbee expert.

Other then the professional side of my art, I don't have any idea how I'm different then any other kid my age.

When you’re not painting, what are you up to?
When I'm not painting, and if it's during the school year, I do school work, read...I love to read, study art books, hang out with friends and go to ballet classes. I'm always thinking of new ways to create. Whether it’s with fashion, interior design or acting out different characters that I come up with. I'm crazy about comedy. I love to laugh and make others laugh with me. Maybe someday I could do a standup comedy gallery auction routine!

I think it's important to create every day.

We’re featuring you in our “goal getter” section. What are some of your future goals?
My future goals at this point in my life are to save money for college, and get a degree in Art/Art History, and Psychology. I'm fascinated with human psychology, and I think it will help me to express my art in even a deeper way.

In my heart, I would love to see my art being used to make this world a better place. Whether its by having it auctioned off, or sold with the money going to help those in crisis, or toward helping kids get in touch with their imagination and artistic side. I wish I could do something to keep art in the public schools, but I think that one might just be bigger then me at this point.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I love critters. Furry critters, big and small critters, just all kind of creatures. I love learning about them, holding, and taking care of them. Because I travel so much, I wanted a pet that I didn't have to board when I go away. I lost my beloved Bearded Dragon lizard that way, so I thought I'd try corn snakes, and I absolutely fell in love with them! So now I have really cool corn snakes as pets.

Another thing I love are classic films. Silent Charley Chaplin films, the Marx Brothers, old black and white films, I Love Lucy, the list just goes on. I'm wild about Sherlock Holmes. I've read the stories and watch all of the Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone over and over again. But I have to say, Benedict Cumberbatch...oh man, he stole my heart when I saw his version of Sherlock!

I guess the other little thing most people don't know about me is I have a crush on Ewan McGregor, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Renner and my very favorite Sherlock ever, Benedict Cumberbatch! PLEASE don't tell my dad!

How do you handle being the spotlight? Do you get nervous when you have an event, and if so, how do you deal with those nerves?
You know it's the craziest thing, I've never gotten at all nervous before a show, appearance or interview. The idea of having the opportunity to go out and speak about what is in my heart is just so exciting to me that I forget about reasons to be nerves. I have learned along the way though, that doing breathing exercises before I speak, does help me keep my focus on my message.

What advice can you give other young artists hoping to be discovered?
The only way I can think of to answer that question is not to focus on fame, fortune or on how good you are or aren't, but on how much you love doing it. Explore your passion in many different ways and if you don't have one, experiment with different styles of art until you discover what your passion is, then let it become your best friend, develop it like a second language, or an inner voice. Learn about what special gifts you've been given, then as you develop your skills, never forget to give back to the world using your gift. I believe that is how you get to keep it, by giving it away. If each one of us could learn just one skill or craft in our lifetime that could be used to make this world a better place to live in, then maybe we all really could have hope for a better future.

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by Camille Moore and Brittany Taylor | 2/1/2016