Art plays a big role in the life of students at Horowhenua College in Levin.
Its art department is the biggest in the school of 600 students and its students have over the years scored high in their scholarship exams. Some even made the nation's top 10 and got an opportunity to have their work tour the country in a NZQA organised exhibition.
Jeanette Gilroy, a practising artist, has been teaching at Horowhenua College for 20 years and is still passionate about showing students what art can do for them.
"You do not need be good at drawing or painting to study here. I'll will show you how to do that," she said.
She said many of her top students at a low decile school do better than those attending decile 10 schools.
"We have resources no one else has and if the students need something I'll do my best to get it for them. We often punch above our weight. We have scholarship students every year."
Year 13 students do painting, photography as well as design. Last year Rachel Sue and the year before that Hannah Wedlock made the nation's top 10.
There are plenty of art supplies available to her students and top notch stuff it is all around. There are several classrooms, there is a large printer than can print in 3D and a room full of computers for students who are into digital art. The department has an large range of art books to help inspire students.
"We have a very good reputation around the country and the students are excited about that and want to keep that going."
Gilroy travels the country in school holidays taking workshops for other art teachers and many teachers from around the country have paid a visit to the Levin school to see how things are done here.
The five staff at the department are all practising artists.
Gilroy herself studied art at Auckland Elim School of Art and also trained as a primary school teacher. That is a bit unusual, she said, but she loves teaching and teaching skills are really important when teaching art.
She taught secondary school initially in Ōtaki and then at Horowhenua College. She said both her sons have done art throughout high school and both said that had benefitted greatly from the school that taught them.
"They learnt to do the fine detailing and developed good visual thinking, which help in other professions such as science."
Gilroy said she begins with Year 9 and 10 students by teaching them the basics.
"Techniques and tips and tricks. Once they master those we can do go to bigger things."
She ensures that everything enables students to excel at art and good material are a big part of that. She said she believes most schools have the wrong kind of supplies for teaching art, such as thick brushes that won't allow students to do fine lines.
One of her students, Daniel, Year 9, said he wanted to be a digital artist but knew nothing about drawing or painting.
"I did not even like art," he said. For him Horowhenua College's art department is his happy place. "There are no bullies here and I have made lots of friends."
And enthusiastic art teachers have taught him the basic skills ... and now he is on a journey of discovery about what he can do with that.
All students at the school must do painting and more than a few choose to do the scholarship exams. And while most choose painting they can also do design and photography.
"The students get good marks and enjoy beautiful facilities and good teachers," said Gilroy. "They like the vibe we have here. We are relaxed and I think the students have more opportunity here to be themselves more."
Throughout the department you can see artworks, from single pieces to huge boards, that details the progression of each idea. The students need to document their journey for the scholarship exam and produce an 8-page document explaining their idea, how it evolved and what they might be doing after it is complete.
"This encourages them to think deeply and it requires high literacy skills to complete."
This year the school has three scholarship students.
Gilroy said Year 13 student Ally Atria's work is big, bold, beautiful and girlie, while Adriane is fascinated by Cinderella and opted for a fairytale theme.
Throughout their time at Horowhenua College art students are immersed in traditional art and often take a leaf out of the book of a big name art. Shariah Clarke, for example, is clearly inspired by Vincent van Gogh, while Lisa explored Chinese art. Her artwork features a girl with wings as well as chrysanthemum flowers.
Shila said she is exploring the connection between humans, art and the divine. That includes the temptation of each other, or the wife.
"I started with Adam and Eve and how in the past the human body was seen as divine, while today it is over sexualised."
She used fruit, the snake, the human form, wings and fish in her works.
"You start with a concept, you find symbols to reflect that and as you go your work changes as the thought processes are more and more formed."
Gilroy's advice to anyone who gets stuck is to keep working and not to give up.
Nellie, who came to Horowhenua College from Nelson, said the school helps her develop her ideas.
Gilroy said she tries to help her students once she understands what their idea is and hunts around for suitable images that they can then adapt into their compositions.
"We have a great art community here at school and there is great interaction between the different groups too," Gilroy said. "Learning to think creatively when young will help anyone. Expression is about more than finding the right words."
Many of her top students go on to other things, not necessarily art school.
One of her current scholarship students is Kane Rudd whose work is about a very personal journey about his own life. He said he had done art for as long as he can remember.
"It is just for fun," he said.
He is a top student academically as well but as far as art is concerned he also does design as well as industrial design.
A scholarship students needs excellent endorsements in art and at east15 credits at excellence in one subject.
At Horowhenua College's art department they learn to look at different practices, find inspiration from both traditional and modern artists. Kane said Horowhenua College allows its students to be experimental.
"We become more versatile, we are compelled to branch out into other pathways."
Gilroy said the world needs creative thinkers and experience in art can help with that. "Kane has both design and practical skills."
While the students do not hold exhibitions open to the public their performances are part of the school's annual Cultural Awards.