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Brackenridge Caricature Club draws smiles at events

Brackenridge Caricature ClubA row of student artists sat outside the Mays Center at the Witte Museum behind their French easels, blank paper and markers in front of them. As guests filled the seats in front of their easels, the artists chatted with them while drawing their likenesses. As the papers ripped from the clamped rulers at the top of the students’ boards, smiles emerged when guests saw their work. 


It was a big night for the Caricature Club at Brackenridge High School. Thanks to a $5,000 Innovation Grant from the SAISD Foundation, the club had brand new equipment and a big opportunity to draw professionally at the Foundation’s Inspire Awards Gala Oct. 5.


Their sponsor, art teacher Paige Gandara-Valderas, or Ms. Paige, as her students call her, is a veteran caricature artist, having worked professionally in the field for more than 10 years.


“Caricature is my passion,” Gandara-Valderas said. “Learning caricature is what helped me progress and kept me on my feet financially during the end of my high school years but also as I went into college. I just remember how much the art form helped me and how grateful I was for having that skill. Offering this skill to students is very important to me.”


Gandara-Valderas earned her B.A. in Art Education and Visual Communications from St. Mary’s University and began teaching at Burbank High School. Remembering how the drawing skill helped her, she began an after-school caricature program at Burbank, where she taught for four years.


“My first year I started the program, I would use my own easels. I would use my own paper. I would just kind of work with what I had,” Gandara-Valderas said. “As I progressed in building the program on my own, I realized the students would have more benefit if they were able to use industry-leading tools that caricature artists use.”


When she moved to Brackenridge in Fall 2021, COVID restrictions kept many after school groups from meeting, but in Spring 2022 Gandara-Valderas was able to start a caricature program at Brackenridge as well, starting again with a small group and her own materials before she applied for a grant with the Foundation.


When the grant came through, she was able to secure for the club a class set of professional caricature artist workstations — half-box French easels, drawing boards, paper, clips, lights, markers, and colors — and, a class set of textbooks, “The Mad Art of Caricature,” by Tom Richmond. 


At the Tuesday meetings at Brackenridge, about seven or eight students gather weekly, learning from Gandara-Valderas the basics of caricature — likeness, exaggeration, and story — as well as techniques in drawing and tips for engaging in the performance art.


She encourages her new students to find their style, even if it takes time. She has helped students learn not only the craft of caricature, but also business practices, sharing with them opportunities to practice the craft outside of school, like at Wednesday’s Inspire Awards. They will also draw Tim Burton-themed caricatures at Homecoming Oct. 15 and have a booth set up at the Brackenridge Fall Festival Nov. 4.


“I try to get them to a point where they start feeling comfortable,” Gandara-Valderas said. “Having them get jobs outside opens the door and they believe ‘oh yeah, I can do this.’”


Two of her current and former students are drawing professionally. Burbank senior Jazmin Muniz draws at a mall, and Brackenridge senior Melanie Cortinas draws at the San Antonio Zoo. Both spoke at a recent meeting to help their peers gain skills and confidence in caricature.


“It progressively gets better,” Cortinas said. “The more you practice, the better it is. This program has meant having fun while growing in my artistic ability. I now work at the San Antonio Zoo, so it really contributed to the confidence I was able to gain.”


Gandara-Valderas remains involved in the professional caricature community, serving on the board of directors of the International Society of Caricature Artists (ISCA) as secretary. She uses her contacts in the community to bring in guest speakers and field trip opportunities to connect her students with mentors and career possibilities. Recently completing her Master of Arts in Art Education at the University of Texas at Austin, she published a book as her capstone project, “Caricatures At-A-Glance: A Resource for Art Educators,” aimed toward art educators in Texas wanting to teach caricature in class as an art form.

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