With her sketchbook, pencils and markers tucked under her pillow, Marie Amell ’21 waited for silence to fall on her childhood home, and for her parents to fall asleep, before clicking on her flashlight and beginning her art projects within the cave created by her sheets. Today her studio has expanded, as she works within the walls of SUNY Potsdam’s Brainerd Hall while pursuing a degree in studio art.
Amell started drawing when she was just three years old and her natural ability, coupled with hard work, set her on a path of success—receiving unwavering support from her mother along the way. “My mom had a lot of students over her 20 years as an art and English teacher, and she noticed that my skill level was pretty advanced for a kid,” Amell recalled. “She got me a lot of art books, and art supplies. That was fantastic! I didn't grow up with cable, so I would always study these books, and try to recreate the characters.”
Born in Canada, Amell moved to Indiana when she was very young, and then relocated to Potsdam when she was nine years old. She attended Potsdam High School, and when it was time to choose a college, her search brought her right back home. “There were several factors that made me choose SUNY Potsdam. I grew up in the area, so I knew there were a lot of people who really valued education up here. I really liked the campus, and the people here, so there were a lot of incentives,” she said. “I had anxiety, and I still have anxiety, so I wanted a place that was close to home. Another thing is that universities are very expensive, some charging 70K a year for tuition, and I had many friends who were graduating with a ton of debt. I wanted to make a decision where I genuinely liked the college and wasn’t putting myself in a huge amount of debt.”
“ I have really enjoyed my time at Potsdam. I have met some of my closest friends here. I love the variety of classes. you can take ice climbing, you can take ballet, you can take sculpture—there's so much here. There's a planetarium underneath one of the buildings, we have a boa constrictor in the biology department, and many live performances. There's a lot going on, so it's pretty cool.” -Marie Amell '21
Amell excelled as an art student during her four years at SUNY Potsdam. One of her pieces, a charcoal drawing of four figures representing mother earth, fire, wind, and water, titled “Elements of Nature,” was recently featured in the 120 Degree Intercollegiate Art Regional in Troy, N.Y. As an honors student, she was also accepted into the Presidential Scholars Program at SUNY Potsdam, designed for exceptional students to launch independent projects in their field of study, which gave Amell the opportunity to explore her interests in storytelling and animation.
“It’s definitely a learning process, researching how to animate, creating backgrounds, creating character designs, creating movement—it's very time consuming but I'm really enjoying it,” Amell said. “It's about this forest fairy who is born in spring and then the wind carries her throughout the Adirondacks, and through the seasons. She experiences summer, fall and winter, and eventually she passes away in winter as she ages,” Amell said.
To supplement her film production, Amell hired Jered White ’21, a student at The Crane School of Music, who is creating an original song to accompany her animation. At the end of the semester, she will share her work during a 20-minute presentation for faculty and staff, discussing the process of creating the film and her efforts to learn about animation.
From painting, ceramics, and graphic design, to photography and art history, Amell has dabbled in numerous art forms under the mentorship of her art professors like Laura Fair-Schulz, Roxanne Locy, and Chair of the Department of Art Dr. Caroline Downing. “There are a lot of fantastic teachers and the classes have been really cool. The professors are my favorite thing about SUNY Potsdam,” she said. “I've taken some art history courses, like ‘Impressionism.’ It's just amazing how much the art history teachers know, how they remember so much detail about the paintings and artists, it’s really, really valuable.”
When she graduates in May, Amell will be moving to the Midwest to pursue a career as an artist. She plans to focus on creating fine art, animated stories, and graphic novels. “It’s scary going down the road as an artist because it's definitely a saturated field right now, so I really have to find out how I can make this work, how I can financially support myself,” she said. “I have several backup plans to work a part-time job as a graphic designer, or another part-time job, while focusing on my career.”
Amell also has her sights set on becoming an art teacher later in life. “Down the road maybe in my 40s, 50s, or 60s I'll go into art teaching, I still think that would be a blast,” she said. “But for now, I want to be a storyteller and try to make that happen—why not, you only have one life!”
Article and photos by Jason Hunter, video by Cory Williams