MERCED — Samuel Reyes' first artistic forays were tagging.
But the 18-year-old Merced High School senior has moved on, blossoming as an artist over the last two years. It's not inconceivable you'll see his work in displays of cutting-edge paintings or even a line of clothing in the years ahead.
Much of Reyes' life revolves around art; when he can't sleep at night, he sketches out visions for future projects. He particularly likes drawing faces and has branched out into landscapes as well as drawing figures.
He said he is thinking like an artist now. That might mean examining a tree to see the shades of green and brown in the leaves.
"I like creating my own faces, my own characters now that I know proportions," Reyes said. "When I go home, instead of watching TV, I sit there and think about random stuff."
Those thoughts may turn into works of art.
Julie Rivard, an art teacher at Merced High, teaches Reyes in her advanced art classes.
"I think he's rather amazing," Rivard said. "I watched a spark catch in him last year. At the (month-long) California State Summer School for the Arts, he kind of lit up and had a fire or enthusiasm for art and immediately started creating amazing things, and I could see how he has grown."
Reyes now is in the midst of an internship in computer graphics at Merced's Image Masters. When he graduates this June, he plans on attending the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.
There are so many directions an artist can take, but Reyes wants to keep his options open for future study and not commit himself prematurely in any one area.
"I don't want to have too strong of a mindset but will wait until I get there," Reyes said.
He is interested in architecture, fine art, graphics design and fashion. He said there's a strong possibility he will create his own line of clothing.
A lifelong Merced resident, Reyes said art is different for everyone.
"You know it when you see it," Reyes said. "At the Summer School for the Arts, every Monday and Wednesday there was a successful artist who was a presenter. He showed me it was possible to become an artist. It was a confidence-booster."
He said he feels confident he will be successful. In saying he always has a positive mindset, he added if you believe in what you are doing it will all come back to you.
"You can take risks," Reyes said. "I found if I go into something nervously, without confidence, I will do worse. Your confidence just builds."
Reyes acknowledges he was arrested in his sophomore year on two counts of vandalism. He was taking arts classes but took art more seriously after his run-in with the law. He said there is a distinction between tagging vandalism, which is just scribbling, and graffiti, which has more artistic overtones.
Reyes said his mother, Edilberta Cruz, is glad and smiles when she sees how well he is doing. "It was a good decision to turn to art," he said.
His classmate and friend, Hunter Phillips, said Reyes' artwork is novel and unique.
"I've never seen anything like it before," Phillips said. "He's very dedicated to his art, and I can see he practices a lot. He's very determined."
Phillips, a junior, likes animation and is thinking about a career as a cartoonist. He said Reyes mixes two different art forms and makes it his own.
Reyes said he has dedicated himself to a personal style. His art may spring from something a friend asks him or something that passes through his mind at a given moment.
Art teacher Matt Bogard said Reyes has become one of the best and brightest students at Merced High.
"He's doing work probably on the college level," Bogard said. He has clever ideas, is thoughtful and articulate about artistic subjects.
Reyes spent about a month's time completing a portrait of President Obama which is sitting on a classroom window. In many of his paintings, he will start with a few lines, let it sit awhile and then add to it until it's finished.
"It's mostly not overnight," Reyes said. "But sometimes the best ones come out of nowhere. I've developed a business mindset and sometimes you've got to make deadlines and there is pressure."
Reyes has sold two pieces of his art and has given away a few others to close friends. His art work has been on display at student exhibitions at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, Merced Civic Center and the Merced Mall.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.