KCAD Student Lexi Wierenga Wins Nationwide Creative Outlook Cover Contest

Posted January 18, 2024 in Student, Fashion Studies

Lexi Wierenga’s artwork usually stays in a small corner of her apartment. But that’s all set to change for the Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University student following a first-place finish in the 2023 Creative Outlook Magazine Cover Contest.

Wierenga’s self-portrait painting, “Blindsided,” was chosen by Creative Outlook’s art panel out of a pool of more than 160 entries from high school and college art students across the country. The piece is now featured on the cover of the magazine’s recently released 2023 issue, which also includes a profile on Wierenga.

A woman wearing a black turtleneck looks into the cameraLexi Wierenga

While the KCAD Fashion Studies major has her sights set on a career in the fashion industry, she's harbored a love and talent for painting from a young age. Wierenga has always seen her art as a personal passion, and lately she’s feeling inspired to make it a more meaningful part of her life—a desire that recognition on a national stage has fueled even more.

“Winning felt like a big high five,” she said. “It gives me confidence to pursue painting more in the future.”

A hyperealistic painting of a woman's face, half of which is shrouded in shadow"Blinsided" by Lexi Wierenga, winner of the 2023 Creative Outlook Cover Contest (image courtesy of the artist)

Wierenga’s artistic skill was evident as early as preschool. She was constantly painting and rarely without a sketchbook, something her parents and teachers were quick to nurture.

“I would make these extravagant paintings and was always creating in general,” she said. “I continued doing that all through childhood because my parents and so many teachers saw how much I loved it and encouraged me to keep exploring and making.”

By high school Wierenga was painting and screen-printing on jeans and selling them to her classmates. When it came time for the Byron Center native to chart a course for after graduation, KCAD was at the top of her list. As it turns out, applying would inadvertently be the catalyst for her Creative Outlook win.

Wierenga was prepping for her KCAD portfolio review when she realized she didn’t have a piece that showcased her technical skill. So, she decided to make what would eventually become “Blindsided.”

“During that time, I was making a lot of self-portraiture, so I thought ‘why not just do a fun, colorful self-portrait,’” she recalled. “I typically work large-scale, and I painted this at 3 feet by 5 feet almost nonstop over the course of a few days.”

A woman wearing jeans, a black sweater, and glasses stands with her hands on her hips in a room filled with oil paintings Lexi Wierenga in her home studio

It wasn’t Wierenga’s initial intent for half of the vividly rendered figure in “Blindside” to be cloaked in shadow, but that ultimately became the piece’s defining characteristic.

“Every artist has this phase of painting themselves, and mine stopped right in the middle of making this piece,” she said. “I liked it that way, so I decided to lean into it, and the name comes from that realization coming out of the blue.”

“Blindsided” is one of five paintings Wierenga submitted to Creative Outlook. Another, “Dive,” will be included in her profile in the magazine and reflects a deft balance between realism and abstraction that is far from easy to achieve.  

Wierenga attributes the growing maturity of her painting in part to the influence and mentorship of Laurel Dugan, a fellow painter and 2023 graduate of KCAD’s Master of Fine Arts program. Seeing Dugan’s thesis work in an on-campus exhibition last spring was something of a revelation for the younger creative.

An oil painting of a figure diving into a pool"Dive" by Lexi Wierenga, featured in the 2023 issue of Creative Outlook (image courtesy of the artist)

“Laurel’s work has made a huge impression on me, and it’s given me a ton of inspiration,” Wierenga said. “She utilizes a lot of underpainting with these beautiful almost neon orange and red colors. I went right home after seeing her exhibition wanting to be more expressionistic with my paintings, and I sat down and created ‘Dive’ in less than an hour.”

As for what’s next, Wierenga says she’s loved her experience in the KCAD Fashion Studies program thus far and is excited about building a career in an industry that she sees as “the perfect middle ground between fine art and design.”

And her Creative Outlook win and widening creative network have shown her that there is a higher place for art in her future.

“Fashion is what I want to dedicate my work life to, but this is a push to keep making art and painting,” Wierenga said. “I have a goal to be a gallery artist and exhibit my work, and I want to keep nurturing this love of painting throughout my whole life.”

See Lexi Wierenga's creativity adorning the cover of the 2023 issue of Creative Outlook

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