Soph Ma ’21 Evolves as an Artist Through Painting and Drawing at Andover

Smith House stands at the center of a canvas, warm yellow lights illuminating the central windows. Dark power lines cut across a blue and purple nighttime sky that fades into surrounding trees full of red and orange leaves.

Though Soph Ma ’21 only started painting in the spring term of her Lower year during her Art-505 painting class, the painting, titled “Home is Waiting,” recently won a Gold Key in the 2020 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. In addition, the piece has also received offers from two Andover teachers for purchase.

“Andover first introduced me to painting, which I will [always] be grateful for. I especially have to thank [Emily Trespas, Instructor in Art] for helping me improve so much in such a short amount of time. Under her mentorship, I quickly got comfortable with things like technique and color theory. If you look at my first painting compared to my latest one, you’ll definitely see a huge difference in terms of quality and the way it portrays my vision,” said Ma.

Trespas met Ma in the fall of 2018 in her introductory drawing course, Art-304, and has since also taught her in her advanced painting course, Art-505, and in her ceramics course, Art-302. In an email to The Phillipian, Trespas described Ma as an incredibly detail-oriented artist with a “voracious thirst for learning” and stated that “Home is Waiting” was her favorite piece of Ma’s.

“The painting invites viewers to reach out and check if the surface is flat or not! While Edward Hopper initially comes to mind in looking at Soph’s final building portrait of Smith House, it’s a bit more foreboding, akin to Rene Magritte’s ‘Empire of Light,’” wrote Trespas.

While Ma had prior experience in drawing before coming to Andover as a new Lower, she claims her time at Andover has allowed for not only an improvement in her painting skills but in her drawing style and technique as well. She explained how taking Art-304 in the fall of her Lower year acted as a “catalyst” for her ongoing exploration of drawing and painting.

“In [Art 304], I definitely got to explore more than just graphite drawings. I got to use charcoal, which was a big help last summer when I took a drawing foundations class at RISD Pre-College. I made this huge four foot-by-five foot charcoal drawing, which was a lot more advanced than the little drawing of a pear I started off doing at [Andover],” said Ma.

Clara Tu ’21, a friend of Ma’s, described her initial reaction to seeing Ma’s art when they went to the Nest together and painted wood boards for room decorations where Ma carefully designed her wood board to match her aesthetic while others chose more random, chaotic designs. Tu admires Ma’s craft and dedication to keep challenging herself as an artist.

“What I truly love about Soph and her passion for art is how unafraid she is to push her boundaries. Since coming to Andover, she has painted wood boards and made scrunchies in the [Nest], taken drawing, painting, and ceramic classes, attended the RISD’s summer program majoring in architecture. I feel like she is truly exploring the field of art without boundaries—finding her own artistic style through open curiosity and discovery,” said Tu.

According to Ma, while her drawing and painting styles differ, she describes them both as “precise and meticulous” and tends to lean towards realism. Ma explained how although she cares a lot about detail and craftsmanship, she also likes to experiment with different colors and shapes.

“Any new piece usually starts with a concept or idea that I then develop into something tangible. Once I have a vision of what I want, I use pencil to lay down the groundwork, and then I go from there. For painting, the process is a lot of back and forth between mixing colors and going in with a brush. It’s definitely a lot slower than drawing for me,” said Ma.

Moving forward, Ma wishes to incorporate art into her life as a potential part of her career. According to Ma, one particular area of intrigue for her is the overlap of art and cognitive science, the latter of which is currently her main field of interest.

“Lately, I’ve been looking into how architecture and neuroscience intersect, which would be incredibly cool to go into as a career. It’s mainly about designing buildings and spaces that people’s minds will respond the best to. For example, nursing homes can’t be too orderly or institutional—they have to be a stimulating environment. So when designing facilities, you have to take into account how people respond to the space, which is where neuroscience comes in,” said Ma.