Drawing Grad Mikayla Portee Named 2022 KCAD Valedictorian

Posted May 5, 2022 in Drawing, Commencement

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) is proud to announce Mikayla Portee (BFA Drawing) as the valedictorian of the class of 2022. Portee will deliver a keynote address during the college’s commencement ceremony on May 7.

A young woman with curly black hair and black rimmed glasses smiles into the cameraMikayla Portee

"Earning the honor of valedictorian at KCAD takes more than just good grades; it requires unwavering commitment to creative exploration and growth, a genuine desire to engage with what's around you, and the humility to continually re-examine what you're making, why you're making it, and how your creativity connects to the wider world. Mikayla has all of these qualities, and more,” says KCAD President Tara McCrackin. “It has been a true pleasure to watch her come into her own as an artist and as a young professional, and I know I speak for our entire community when I say that I can't wait to see what her future holds.”

Portee’s college career began with a dual enrollment program through Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where she completed her general education requirements for college while finishing high school. After attending a portfolio review at the Kalamazoo Institute for the Arts, she transferred to KCAD, staying four years to complete a Drawing major and Illustration minor.

While originally an Illustration major, Portee soon shifted toward Drawing as her primary focus. “I learned a lot about technique and commercial work in Illustration,” she says, “but I realized that wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to work for a client. I was really interested in learning what I had to say with my own work and exploring that side of things.”

A woman wearing a mask stands in front of a wall of artwork

(above): MIkayla Portee poses next to her work on display in KCAD's 2022 Undergraduate Senior Exhibition; (below): "Abundance" by Mikayla Portee

A painting of a field of brightluy colored flowers and ornamental grasses

Portee’s Drawing classes at KCAD offered her just that opportunity. Under the guidance of Associate Professor and Program Chair Danielle Wyckoff, she experimented with many kinds of media as she learned to express herself. “In the Drawing program, you can explore anything you’re passionate about,” says Portee. “We started with the beginning classes and foundational skills. Then as we advanced, we were spray painting things, we were airbrushing, we were doing collage, we made flip books, and I was painting.” 

Assistant Professor Scott Dickson also helped Portee find her voice. “My faculty were constantly asking me, ‘what do you have to say, and what do you want your work to be about?’ I thought, ‘what DO I have to say?,’” Portee recalls. “I came from a pretty privileged life. My parents were loving, my family was great, I had a pretty great childhood. I didn’t feel like I had anything important to talk about compared to other artists. But then Scott Dickson gave me the best advice: ‘take all your work, everything you’ve made, even as a kid, and put it all in front of you.’ I did this and was able to see some patterns.”

Using that moment as a launchpad, Portee began to explore the themes of her current work, which often focus around a rabbit as a symbol of her vulnerability in the world. “I really resonate with some of the rabbit’s anxieties, and I also talk about how it ties to the female experience of feeling like an animal of prey out in public,” she says. She continues to work in both rendered graphite drawing, loose abstracted acrylic paintings on mylar, and a few pieces that combine both approaches.

A painting of a field of flowers and ornamental grasses
"Burrow" by Mikayla Portee

“The level of Mikayla's enthusiasm and drive to expand her creative boundaries and notion of image crafting is truly outstanding,” says Dickson. “Throughout each of the challenges I presented to her and her classmates, not once did she back down or glide along accepting ‘good enough,’ but rather pushed against her level of expectation and habits to advance her abilities and awareness of self. 

Dickson recalls being particularly impressed with a sketchbook Portee filled over the course of a figure drawing course. Throughout the semester, students were to fill a sketchbook with anything and everything they could imagine, related to the figure or not. Portee not only completed the task–she went above and beyond. 

“Her sketchbook was filled with every kind of experiment–a true thesaurus of drawing approaches. I hope she still has it,” says Dickson. “From my perspective, I think the assignment opened a new world of potential to her, for her artwork but also for herself. Mikayla has really achieved so much since our classes together; it is only obvious to me that she is receiving this honor of valedictorian.” 

A scrabbled painting of a child

works by Mikayla Portee – "Untitled" (above) and "Still" (below)

A drawing of a dead rabbit

Two days after her completing her degree in December of 2021, Portee began her role as full-time as the Retail Coordinator for KCAD’s Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (UICA), where she works with other artists and sells their work. She also continues her own art practice and plans to keep showing her work in galleries and in her own online portfolio

 “I’m proud I got my degree and proud of how much I’ve learned about myself,” Portee says. “KCAD pushes you to what you think is your edge, and then a little more, and a little more, but at the end you think, gosh, look how far you’ve come, how much you’ve learned about yourself, and how much you’ve grown.”

See more of Mikayla Portee's creativity at mikaylaportee.com.

Portee and other graduating seniors will be featured in KCAD’s 2022 Annual Student Exhibitions, running May 2-7 in the college’s main campus building at 17 Fountain St. NW as well as in a complementary online format at kcad2022.org, and she will give the student address during the 2022 KCAD commencement ceremony on May 7. The ceremony will also be streamed live at kcad.edu/commencement and on the KCAD Facebook page for those unable to attend.