Iowa State graphic design student wins Best of Show in Iowa State Fair exhibition

Maddy BakerPhoto courtesy of Maddy Baker.
AMES, Iowa — Maddy Baker, an Iowa State University junior in graphic design, earned Best of Show honors in the adult division of the 2014 Iowa State Fair Fine Art Exhibition.

Baker’s colored-pencil self portrait was chosen from among 370 works accepted for this year’s show, which is one of the largest in Iowa.

The winning entry was a project for Baker’s spring-semester figure drawing class, taught by associate professor Brent Holland, integrated studio arts. The class was an elective both for Baker’s graphic design major and for her minor in biological/pre-medical illustration.

“The project started as a master study of a self portrait by [American magic realist painter] Gregory Gillespie,” said Baker, of West Des Moines. “Then as a response, I had to do a portrait of myself or of a friend with the same style and composition.”

Gillespie, who worked in acrylic, “would paint layers and layers and then peel some back to reveal different colors, especially in the skin tones, which created a lot of depth,” Baker said. “I learned that hair and skin aren’t just one color, so I tried to bring out every color and create the shadows and the texture that they have.”

Baker drew her self portrait by looking in a mirror, and then took a photo of herself to work from to ensure that the proportion and lighting in her drawing were accurate, she said. She disliked her first attempt so much that she tore it up and started over, leaving just four days to complete the drawing before the assignment was due.

This is just the second time Baker has entered work at the State Fair. When she was in eighth grade, she won second place in the youth division with a graphite portrait of her grandfather.

About the same time Baker submitted her self portrait to the fine art competition, she was developing a “bucket list” of things she would like to accomplish. One goal was to enter the competition every year until she won Best of Show. Now she can cross that item off the list.

Baker receives a $600 cash prize in addition to a purple ribbon and the satisfaction of having her award-winning work viewed by thousands of fair-goers. She also was able to share the experience with her grandfather, who was visiting from Arizona. And she has a collection of photos from friends who took snapshots of themselves with her portrait at the State Fair and sent them to her.

“There were so many great pastels and watercolors in the show, and I was really surprised that they chose my piece for Best of Show. I think I had nice technique and I’m excited to have my work recognized,” Baker said.

Complete results of the fine art competition are online at