Admittedly, Andy Suarez was in shock when he took first place in a recent art competition.
In fact, he was speechless.
“It was like they stapled my tongue,” said Andy, 13, who is shy by nature. “I was about to say this whole little speech when my brain turned off. I said ‘This is my painting, I did it a few days ago,’ and then I dedicated it to my family. That’s all I said.”
These days, the seventh grader at Miami Lakes Middle School smiles when he talks about taking first place in the district portion of the Lions International Peace Poster Contest.
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This is the first art contest the young artist has ever won.
“To be one of the best in this district is kind of big,” Andy said.
Lions Clubs International have been sponsoring this worldwide art contest for more than 25 years, with the intention of encouraging children to express their visions of peace.
The theme of the 2014-15 contest is “Peace, Love, and Understanding.”
Andy’s winning piece in November is titled “Music Brings Peace to the World” and depicts a white dove filling the world with music.
“If I were to imagine peace, it would be a family staying together and being united,” Andy said. “The world would be a better place if there were peace and no war — none of that violence.”
Andy’s entry, which he made using colored pencils, is now in the state-level of the contest. The first-place winner of the state level will move on to compete on the international level where, if selected, he/she will win the $5,000 grand prize.
In addition, 23 merit award winners will each receive a cash award of $500.
Of course, creating art isn’t about winning for Andy.
“Art is my way of expressing myself,” he said.
Andy says he fell in love with art at age 4.
“Back then it was stick figures,” he said. “Then, when I was 6, I started making animals and objects, and now I am starting to draw people.”
These days Andy paints and draws on his spare-time. At school he’s in the midst of painting a wall outside a French classroom, and will soon start another painting outside the school’s science department.
Andy says his parents encourage his artistic side, and often motivate him to pursue his passion.
“I’m very proud of him,” Manuel Suarez said.
Suarez keeps photos of Andy’s artwork saved onto his cellphone, and beams when he speaks of his accomplishments.
“He has focused himself since he was little to develop his artwork,” Suarez said.
In addition to his family, Andy credits says his art teacher Irene Albalat for helping him grow as an artist.
“I couldn’t have done this without the help of my teacher,” Andy said.
He said Albalat even shed a few tears of joy when he won the district contest.
“He’s into art, and has raw talent,” Albalat said. “He’s a little child art prodigy.”