Student Artists on the Rise

Despite the many things on our to-do lists as students, there should still be room for those things that fulfill us. For many students, following their passions fuels them forward and is at the top of their to-do lists.

Story by Iris Karami

Videos by Ashley Herr

“My first relationship with music was through dancing. I used to compete at talent shows for cultural and hip hop dancing and dance is something I always keep on the side,” says David Shah, a former junior consumer major at the University of Houston who took a break from school and moved to Austin to focus on his music career. During his first year in college, Shah met a rapper who lent him software to start producing music. Shah continued to develop his craft and says, “I was a producer first but I felt like the story was still untold, so I turned my writing from my journal to lyrics.”

Many student creatives bear the weight of school and family expectations, but for Shah, school was not fulfilling. “Especially being an Indian guy, school is usually the most important thing, but once I fell into music it was hard to do anything else,” Shah says. Though he took a break from school, he still wants to return to his degree in the future. “My parents are immigrants, and it’s a huge part of my story, and I feel like I have no option but to succeed. They have done everything for me to be in the best position, and I am not gonna mess that up.”  

This year Shah’s new album, “The Landing,” reached 75,000 streams on Spotify. He also went to India to film two music videos, and he released his album on Apple Music. Shah believes the hardest step for any creative is the first one. “Give yourself the space, the time and the self-love to find your passion and be accountable to your true self,” Shah says.

Jessica Marquez, freshman advertising major at the University of Texas at Austin, finds her creativity in photography. “I used to travel a lot with my parents, and my dad would take a lot of pictures with an old Nikon camera,” Marquez says. “He was really the biggest inspiration for me to start taking pictures.” Although her main craft is photography, Marquez says she wants to dabble in film, architecture and interior design.

Like every student who doubles as an artist, Marquez finds it difficult to balance school and work, but that does not stop her from taking pictures. “School for me is really important because it gives me the structure I need, because as a creative you can be sporadic,” Marquez says. Marquez values taking people’s portraits because “building connections with others is the best part of photography.”

Her most recent work with high school friend and musician Khalid, and his producer Syk Sense, was featured in the hip-hop blog DjBooth. Sense has produced music for Drake, Khalid and Bryson Tiller. “It’s pretty cool being featured,” Marquez says. “I can definitely see myself doing photography in the future, and if I can, I would make a career out of it.” Aside from her work with Khalid, she has been featured in local magazines and newspapers from her hometown of El Paso, Texas, including Mode Mag and Spotlight.

For Marquez, the most rewarding part about being a photographer is connecting with others. “I just wanna work with people in general--to generate connection between communities around Austin,” Marquez says. “There are so many vibrant groups around that deserve a platform to be seen.” On the biggest piece of advice to anyone striving to become an artist, she says, “Stick with what feels right and to what you want to communicate to the world. People nowadays wanna focus on following these trends and waves, but what do you want to leave behind in the world?”

Dawn Smith is a freshman radio-television-film major at UT, who is an aspiring plus-size model and self-made makeup artist from Houston, Texas. Smith’s journey to self-love and acceptance was not easy. “Back in the day, I didn’t have a lot of self confidence and now I am at my ‘peak’ and I know the journey is not easy,” Smith says.

Smith’s relationship with makeup comes from a genuine place. “I like makeup the most because it’s like drawing on a blank canvas, and I feel like I can do anything with makeup and make my face look like something completely different,” Smith says. Most of all, Smith lives for the confidence her brand gives to others. “I feel like I am helping people find that inner beauty, and feel better about themselves,” Smith says. “I promote self-love with my brand because I feel like it is so important.”

Smith’s Twitter account frequently includes selfies and photos of her work. Smith’s content focuses on self-love and body empowerment and capture her aspirations of being a plus-sized model.. She explains that starting a business off of a craft can be hard initially and may be intimidating because people think that clients won’t come. However, she says, if you keep consistent, the customers will come.

Being a full-time student and self-made student makeup artist has not been easy for Smith. “I feel like being a student has forced me to balance things and school sometimes makes me feel like it’s distracting me from what I love, and sometimes it does get difficult and I do get sad,” Smith says. However, Smith does not let her passions out of her sight, and encourages everyone who is trying to invest in themselves to find a support system. “At times haters will overpower supporters because negativity can stand out the most, but you have to just try and surround yourself with people who support you,” Smith says.