By Mike LaBella
---- — She’s been sketching and drawing since she was a little girl.
First it was little Pokemon dragons and other “mythical’’ things. Then she enrolled in art classes and her creative side blossomed.
You could say she’s a “Pint-Sized Picasso’’ — that’s the title she earned as the winner of a recent “Today’’ show edition of “Quest for the Best.”
Ariane Avandi, 12, a seventh-grader at Hill View Montessori Charter Public School in Haverhill, was invited late last month to the set of the popular TV show in New York City. There, her drawings and paintings, along with artwork of two other finalists, were judged on live television by well known painter Rob Surrette. Co-host Natalie Morales and guest co-host Mel-B introduced the contestants on the show’s outdoor set in Rockefeller Center.
Ariane was nervous on the inside, but appeared calm on camera as she explained her artwork to the artist.
It was a water-color image of a swimmer that she’d painted in the spring as a gift.
“I painted that for my coach as a going-away present,” Ariane said. “It was really just for her.”
Ariane said her former swimming coach was eager to return the painting so Ariane could enter it in the contest. Ariane brought other paintings with her. One was an oil painting of a phoenix and the other a pencil drawing of a dragon’s eye.
“I really like mythical creatures and I saw an image in a book about dragons and decided to draw it,” Ariane said.
“I looked at different images of phoenix birds on Google and sort of morphed them together in oil,” she said.
Ariane’s mother, Christine Durette, said her daughter has enjoyed sketching and drawing since she was a little girl and, for the last year or so, has been taking art lessons at the DeClerck Gallery in Plaistow.
“She’s taken other classes in the past, including at the Essex Art Center in Lawrence,” Durette said.
Ariane, a member of the YMCA of the North Shore Sharks Swim Team, entered the “Quest for the Best Pint-Sized Picasso” contest online, early in August. She was soon notified that she would be a finalist and would be on the “Today’’ show on live television.
“We didn’t want to think about her possibly winning,” Durette said.
The days leading up to their trip to New York City and the show were filled with excitement, but also worry.
“I could barely sleep thinking about it,” Ariane said. “I was nervous that I’d mess up talking.”
But she didn’t.
Ariane and her mom made the best of their two days in New York City, visiting Central Park and Times Square.
“It was very exciting,” Ariane said. “I’d never been to New York, and it was really exciting to be on national television. A lot of my friends saw me and said I did a great job.
“We met at the hotel lobby and they brought us to the NBC studio in the ‘Today’ show room in Rockefeller Plaza,” Ariane said. “We went in a room and got ready, then they brought us outside to a stage.”
Surrette judged the works of the three young contestants beginning with a girl from Alabama, then a boy from San Diego.
Ariane looked at their art, and it worried her.
“The other kids were really good,” she said.
Then Surrette announced the winner.
“He said my paintings and drawings took him to another place,” she said. “It made me feel very happy that somebody like him really liked my work.”
She said that as her prize for winning the contest, the show is sending her “a bunch” of art supplies.
“I need paints and other supplies,” Ariane said. “I have some, but not that much.”