A Beautiful Mind
By Haley Yates
Kennedy White watched as dozens of kids lined up, excited to get his autograph in their copy of the first children’s book he had illustrated. As they approached, Kennedy thought to himself, “this opportunity may never come again.”
He had the idea to have the kids sign their names for him too. Each scribbled a signature on the inside cover of his book. Some would draw triangles in place of their names or write their names backwards. In return, Kennedy would sign their copy.
Kennedy, a senior AP Art student, took to art as a creative outlet at a very young age. Interest developed into talent, and opportunities emerged in graphic design and illustration as he began to collaborate with companies and small businesses.
Kennedy drew inspiration from a variety of sources while developing his own style. Originally he was focused on producing and creating music. Early in his life, his family’s interest in music and his mother’s involvement in painting made a deep impression on him.
“I always thought it was interesting,” Kennedy said. “I wanted to do something related to that, so eventually I started drawing.”
Father Kenneth White said he saw Kennedy develop creatively when he started art classes in school. His teachers would rave to his parents about his sharp eye and suggested he sign up for summer art camp programs.
“We didn’t expect him to take a liking to visual art,” Kenneth said. “He gained a knack for artistic creation through the form of creating websites, logos, CD covers and things like that. He figured out he was good at it, and his creativity developed through music into design.”
In elementary school, Kennedy won first place in a Dr. Seuss drawing competition and a year pass to the zoo in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also got to shake hands with the governor.
“I didn’t really know how big that was,” he said. “I just thought ‘oh, I’m shaking some man’s hand,’ and I didn’t realize it was the actual governor.”
Kennedy said winning the competition made him realize he could do something with his art. As his brothers got involved with producing music, he decided to try graphic design to create websites, covers and logos for them.
“I started doing that and I really liked it,” he said. “I wanted to see how much more I could do with it.”
In middle school, Kennedy began to experiment with digital art. He would sketch basic designs, then transfer them to the computer.
“Basically, I do whatever feels most comfortable to me,” Kennedy said. “I feel most comfortable doing 2D design and simple color schemes with intricate designs.”
Kennedy also does freelance work, creating designs, logos and websites for companies all over the U.S. His first big graphic design project was designing a website for a fraternity.
“It’s amazing,” Kennedy said. “You get to see your own creation spread throughout the world, and it’s recognition.”
In 2013, Apple Tree Publishing created a Facebook post looking for new illustrators for their children’s books. Kennedy emailed expressing interest. Apple Tree replied asking for his portfolio, and he received a story with instructions and deadlines.
“[After the first book] it was just back-to-back,” Kennedy said. “As soon as I would get done with one book, they would send me another saying ‘let us know if you’re interested.’”
Kennedy had just turned 18 when Apple Tree asked him to fly to Washington D.C. for a book signing. The company originally thought Kennedy was a local artist and a professional illustrator.
“We were very excited about him going to D.C.,” Kenneth said. “He didn’t need any prompting to take on this project. It was something he earned, and it’s important he experiences the fruit of his labor.”
His parents downloaded the Uber app for him to get around the city and sent him off. Kennedy left for D.C. with a little apprehension.
“I really didn’t know what to expect [in DC],” Kennedy said. “I didn’t want to get scared, so what helped me was just telling myself I’m gonna get on the airplane and just go.”
Kennedy stayed in D.C. for two days and made sure he arrived at Apple Tree early to prepare himself. The kids at the signing had the opportunity to choose between eight books to take home, and they all picked his.
“The kids, to me, seem like they know so much,” Kennedy said. “They’re smarter than they think.”
Kennedy said as he works more with companies, there can be issues deciphering what his clients are looking for.
“I’ve learned from freelancing, in order to kind of figure out what exactly they’re looking for, communication plays an important role,” he said.
While some of his assignments have specific requirements, others give him more freedom. When he illustrated the book “I Just Want To Play,” Kennedy said he was overwhelmed by the changes he had to make.
“It’s tough having schoolwork at the same time, as well as producing [music] and freelance work,” he said. “It just taught me to try to get art done the first time, so there would be no need for revisions.”
As Kennedy struggles to balance school and art, he says planning ahead really helps.
“Sometimes where I go wrong is I focus too much on graphic design and start slacking in school,” Kennedy said. “I’m learning how to balance it out.”
Kennedy said it’s easier for him when companies give him few boundaries.
“Without boundaries, I could go on and on with ideas, but with them I have to use what I’m given and make the most out of that,” he said. “It’s more of a challenge.”
In October, Kennedy and two of his friends, Aamir Desai and Evans Young, created a club for music producers and musical artists called Creative Minds. The group of singers, rappers, producers and poets meet every Thursday with math teacher Katherine Gougler to collaborate.
“It’s a way to focus our creative energy into a productive group where we are growing and learning in the music industry and the art industry,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy, Aamir and Evans teach others how to produce music and use the programs that produce sounds. There are also microphones set up for the singers and rappers.
“So many people don’t have any place to go, so we made a group for everybody to network,” Evans said. “It’s really all about collaboration. It’s dope.”
The group released a tape in December that showed the progress of the artists since they started.
“We separated people into groups by type of rap music, since not all rap music is the same,” Evans said. “They all collabed in their little huddles, and then we came together and mixed it all around.”
The album got a lot of publicity despite the group’s lack of advertising. It sparked creative ambition in the other group members.
“I was most proud of the work I did with this album cover for Creative Minds,” Kennedy said. “I put a lot into it.”
Evans said that Kennedy is the most creative person he has ever met.
“It’s weird seeing someone I know doing what they love and actually getting paid to do it,” he said. “It inspires me.”
Kennedy is currently working on a short bio to go with his books. He said he is looking to the future and hopes to open a creative art business.
“I produce beats as well,” he said. “I’m also looking into audio technology, and possibly opening up my own recording studio, as well as a graphic design studio.”
Kenneth said he sees several options for his son’s future as an artist.
“It’s clear that creative expression is his focus,” he said. “I think he’ll be significant in the music industry. I see him in a studio using his creative ability to make promotional expressions. He’s got several doors open to him, but he doesn’t have to decide now. He still has time to figure out where his voice is.”
As he continues to develop artistically, Kennedy looks for inspiration in other artists’ work. He spends his free time listening to music and creating art.
“It’s been an interesting experience for us all,” Kenneth said. “Kennedy’s creativity is at a level where everything else will take care of itself with the talent he has.”
Graphic designs by Kennedy White