Photography by Jessica Lennon.

While most of us try to avoid eye contact with the stereotypical “oddballs” on public transportation, 15-year-old Sarah Thigpen keeps her eyes wide open for inspiration.

The Casa Linda student rides the DART every day to school at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She knows the regulars, and contrary to popular opinion, they’re not oddballs. They’re chefs, nurses, students and construction workers. They’re also the subjects of her “Best of Show” piece at the transit agency’s annual student art contest. 

 Thigpen’s work features commuters inside a DART train riding away from the Dallas skyline at night. They sit under a sign that reads, “The Next Stop is My Future.”

“I like realistic stuff and drawing real people and what they actually look like,” Thigpen says. “Then I add extras to make it more like an art piece than just a drawing.”

Thigpen’s winning piece was selected in February over entries from nearly 900 students. DART officials publicly announced the winners in April. 

Over the next year, her design will be featured on DART buses traveling across the agency’s 13-city service area. Dallas Contemporary also awarded her a $1,000 prize, which she’ll use to buy a car.

“I filled out the submission form and then completely forgot about it,” Thigpen says. “When I won, I was a little bit confused. I was like, ‘What did I win?’ I didn’t think too much about wining, but I was proud of it because it took a long time. I’m glad my work paid off.”

The colored pencil, gel pen and ink drawing took Thigpen about 20 hours to complete over several weeks. The majority was done at the hospital, where her 13-year-old sister was recovering from cardiac arrest. On a rolling desk in the corner of a hospital room, Thigpen added several layers of color, shaded faces and put the finishing touches on her work. 

It was the first time a Booker T. student had won in six years. 

“Teachers and people around school I never talk to come up to me and say congratulations,” she says.

Besides drawing, the freshman is learning painting, ceramics, photography and electronic media at Booker T. Thigpen is seeing improvement in her work, which she admits was poor just a few years ago. Before attending the performing and visual arts school, she took art classes twice a week for a year to build her portfolio.

She was accepted to Booker T. Then she won her first art contest with DART. The next stop is her future.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.