Top Drawer

Dec. 10, 2013

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By Jenna Marina

Art Gallery

ORLANDO, Fla. ( - When UCF junior Kayla Darden packs for one of her women's soccer road trips, a sketch pad is just as essential as her cleats and shin guards.

You'll see her in the airport or on the plane or team bus with her headphones on - likely playing some Lana Del Rey - and a pen in her hand.

"The feeling I get is almost as good as playing soccer," Darden said of her art. "I have to be in a mood. I usually see a picture first. I love to focus on faces. The eyes always draw me in. Then I put on some headphones and I have music and it's quiet and I just go at it. Sometimes it (the feeling) just stops and I'm done. I think that's why so many of them aren't finished."

Darden's artistic skills are quite remarkable for someone who has never undergone any formal training outside of a high school, senior year elective art class. She said she has her mother's side of the family to thank for it.

Darden's grandmother is a painter. Her first cousin attended art school in Europe. Her mother denies any artistic skill of her own, but Darden says otherwise.

"I think it's definitely genetic," Darden said. "I just picked up a pencil one day. I got a sketch book as a gift when I was probably around 8-10 years old. Over the years, I have progressively gotten better."

The midfielder/forward said her art, much like soccer, is an escape for the daily stresses of her life as a student-athlete. She's also found some teammates to share her passion with as forward Tatiana Coleman and midfielder Megan Fish also enjoy breaking out sketch pads.

"It's fun," Darden said. "They're always posting pictures on Instagram, and I'll leave comments and then they'll do the same for me. I think we push each other to do art."

Most of her art is an duplication of a photo she sees, but occasionally she comes up with her own vision. The first drawing she did in her current sketch book was of a feather. She ended up getting it tattooed on her waist.

"No one really understands what it means, but it's my art on me," Darden said with a smile. "I just really love it."

Darden, who also plays the violin recreationally, is an interdisciplinary studies major. She has always viewed her love of art as a hobby but admitted that she wishes she would have delved deeper into it as a part of her curriculum.

She has plans to become a pharmaceutical sales representative but isn't quite ready to give up on pursuing her art more seriously. She'd like to take some classes to learn the formal techniques and submit her work at festivals or gallery showings.

She is encouraged by the praise and requests for handmade portraits she receives frequently.

"It's personal while I'm in the zone but after it's done I just want to wave it around. It's just like scoring a goal," Darden said of her work. "Sometimes I step back and say, `Whoa, I just drew that.' I get a rush. "



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