Exploring the many forms of self expession

Senior Rowan Brownell shows creativity through his involvement in film and passion for art

Remy Hirschfield-Rudy, Cub Reporter

Brushing brown hair out of his face and straightening his rectangular glasses, Rowan Brownell leans toward his sketchbook, turning to a blank page. He readies his pen before introducing it to the paper.

Brownell is a senior in the digital film program, which he has been a part of since his freshman year. Back then, Brownell could occasionally be seen as focused, sketching in his biology notebook. Often, though, his desk remained empty of sketchbooks or paper. In film class, he sat quietly listening to the film teacher, Steven Bradford.

“Rowan didn’t draw a lot in his beginning year, but when he came back, he was really sketching a lot,” Bradford said.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, something shifted. With virtually nothing to do at home, and the amount of schoolwork minimized, drawing became an obvious activity for Brownell to apply himself to, and there was a lot of opportunity for improvement with so much time on his hands. Brownell didn’t even consider himself a proper artist until sophomore year, despite being a doodler since early childhood.

“I think someone maybe called me an artist in sophomore year, and I felt like, ‘yeah, okay. That seems fair,’”  Brownell said.

Since then, Brownell’s journey as an artist has only flourished. Now it’s a constant state of being for him: He draws in class, at home and everywhere in between. He draws on whatever he can, to bring his imagination to life.

“I like drawing on tables [and] on napkins,” Brownell said.

In fact, he has started social media accounts where he posts and shares his artwork, including those napkin and table drawings. His TikTok and Instagram accounts have amassed thousands of followers. His followers frequently leave comments on his work, and some have even gotten his drawings tattooed. Some other online viewers try psychoanalyzing Brownell’s creations.

“I think people look way too deep into stuff I make,” Brownell said. “Sometimes it’s stupid, and it’s supposed to be stupid [but] someone will be like ‘wow, at surface level this seems so insignificant but if you really look behind it you can pull back all these layers…’ And I just wanted to draw a picture of a monkey. I think people should accept that.”

Beyond continuing to maintain his online presence, Brownell has ambitions for his artistic future. He’s applying to art schools around the country, and he seems determined to continue with his work as much as possible. He’s also looking forward to going to art school to explore more diverse mediums of art and creation.

“I want to do animation, which I don’t do a lot of but when I do, it’s the thing I’m most attracted to doing,” Brownell said. “Also, I’ve been taking film for four years. Those two intertwine. I think drawing and film can be the same thing sometimes, and I think animation would be awesome.”

This far in his educational career, Brownell has taken film and art classes separately, though he considers both similar forms of self expression.

I want to do animation…it’s the thing I’m most attracted to doing. I’ve been taking film for four years, [and] those two intertwine. I think drawing and film can be the same thing sometimes, [so] I think animation would be awesome.

— Rowan Brownell

“In the films he’s done, he hasn’t really used his drawing much,” Bradford said. “But much the same as a Tim Burton film, even if it’s not incorporating Tim Burton’s drawings, it’s still got a Tim Burton aesthetic. I see that in the films he’s done.”

So far, Brownell has made art just for fun or for school projects, for the joy it brings him. In the future, he thinks maybe that could become something more.

“I want to make money off my art,” Brownell said. “TikTok won’t let me monetize my stuff. I haven’t found a way to sell my comics yet and I would really like to start making money off it, considering it’s something I do every day. It takes up a lot more time than school does most of the time. It would be cool to make some money and [a comic book] is something I’ve been working on.”

Wanting to profit from his work doesn’t take precedence over the joy he receives from drawing, though. Having fun is still of primary importance for him, and it’s clearly something he will continue no matter what he earns from it. With a smile, Brownell describes his art style as messy, wacky and silly.

“I like making really, really ugly drawings,” Brownell said. “I think they’re funny. I find that infinitely more fun than portraits. Really bad caricatures that I find funny are the most fun.”

His audience finds it funny too. He keeps posting and he keeps receiving good feedback from it. In school and out of his comment section Brownell is relatively reserved and keeps to himself, drawing quietly with headphones on.

“I wish more people knew that I drew comics,” Brownell said. “I think people know that I draw but I think more people would think I’m funny if they saw what I wrote down. I think that’s the best way to get to know me.”

Brownell stirs in his chair. He straightens, tilting his head to assess his handiwork. The paper is covered in sketches big and small, both simplistic and intricately detailed. He pulls his phone from his pocket to take a photo, perhaps to post to social media later, and then turns to the next blank page.