MARICOPA — Photographer and painter Ruby Valadez said she's always been an artist.

And although she plans to study education in college next year, she said art will always play a role in her life.

"I love art and taking photos," she said. "It’s a great pastime and is relaxing. I have drawn and painted my whole life. I remember using chalk or sidewalk paint and having fun with family or friends. Or being around friends and not knowing what to do, so we would draw."

Valadez, 17, a junior at Heritage Academy, was recently named one of five students selected to receive a $2,000 National Society of High School Scholars Visual Arts scholarship.

The award recognizes students who have "demonstrated excellence in the artistic mediums of photography, painting, drawing, mixed media or digital art," a press release from award organizers said.

Valadez was one of more than 200 high school students to apply for the scholarship.

The award Valadez received was for submission of a painting titled “The Reach.”

"My medium for this was India ink," her artist statement that accompanied the submission said. "I started with the most diluted ink and continued with continuously darker layers. This is one of my favorite artworks, since I enjoy the value of its depth, and how it represents that everyone is reaching for something within their life.”

NSHSS is a premier international honors and scholarship program co-founded by Claes Nobel and James Lewis.

"It offers a lifetime of benefits, pairing the highest performing students worldwide with high school and college scholarships, events, connections, internships and career opportunities that begin in high school and carry on through college and careers," a press release from award organizers said.

Valadez has attended Heritage Academy since her freshman year and takes advanced art classes. She also enrolled in a semester-long course on digital imaging.

She was accepted into the NSHSS about a year and a half ago, after being invited to apply.

"I was very grateful that I got the chance to enroll into the visual arts scholarship program," she said. "The NSHSS is the leading international honors and scholarship program. They offer so many benefits by connecting students with scholarships, college resources, internships, careers and leadership opportunities — all the way from high school and college to your career."

Valadez began learning photography years ago. When she was old enough to have her own phone, she started taking photos with it.

"I would zoom into what I thought looked cool and snapped a photo," she said. "If my cousins and I were bored we’d make a video of us playing outside or a pretend vlog."

She has also loved drawing since childhood.

"I remember my mom telling me that she loved drawing too, and seeing all the pieces that she had done before, or even the tiny characters that I’d watch my grandpa draw," she said. "And the times of encouraging my cousins when they felt like their art wasn’t great, or when painting beside them."

Art, she said, has always been a part of her life. 

"I always know that even when there is a lot going around me I can look forward to painting or even doodling and taking photos. And I know that my art doesn’t always have to be perfect so when I feel like I have an art block I do something abstract without feeling any pressure that I’m doing something wrong," she said.

As well as her family, she said her teachers at Heritage Academy have encouraged her to explore art.

"They encourage me to have fun while making art and taking photos. I feel like all of my teachers care for their students," she said.

Valadez is a dual enrollment student at Heritage Academy, taking college courses at Central Arizona College while working on a high school diploma.

"Heritage has given me so many new experiences with my classes, core and elective. Many people are surprised when I say that I have yoga for a class or that I am taking American Sign Language," she said. "And all of my teachers are amazing at what they do, while also being caring."

Valadez has one more year of high school, then plans to attend college.

"I want to go into education and hopefully teach elementary students one day," she said.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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