Digital art lab, teacher give BHS students real-world experience.

A comic book assignment is helping to usher Burlington High School art students into the digital world.

“It’s like two different projects going on at the exact same time,” Anthony Onesto said, motioning to the students in his Illustration and Digital Art class, about half of whom sat at desks inking manga panels while the rest sat at computer monitors, their pens gliding across the screens to colorize hand-drawn illustrations that had been scanned into the computer.

Both Onesto and the 10 XP Pen monitors dispersed between the high school’s two art classrooms are new this year to BHS, whose art department previously had been equipped with digital tablets that lacked displays and instead worked by transferring what was drawn on them to a separate screen,

making hand-eye coordination difficult.

“These are so nice,” said sophomore Nora Bell, 15. “Oh my goodness, this is something so awesome because a lot of kids would never get a chance to use a tablet like this. It’s really nice because this is like what people who do it as a job use. It gives kids experience with professional tools, and I think that’s really important.”

Onesto had brought the XP Pen monitors to Edward Stone, where he previously taught, and with the help of the Burlington Education Foundation and the district’s IT department, introduced the same technology to BHS in an effort to grow what his predecessor had built.

“It’s truly an animation lab,” Onesto said. “We can do Pixar-level animation. Whether we get there in year one is another story, but right now, what I’m teaching them is that in comic books, or manga, a lot of things are done traditionally, which means they’re hand-drawn or inked by hand or they’re done on the computer, so I’m teaching them both techniques and the hybrid of drawing it on paper first, scanning it onto the scanner and inking and coloring their pages.”

The manga assignment keeps at the forefront the importance of fundamental and traditional techniques and skills while using programs such as those in Adobe Creative Suite and free, open-source software like FireAlpaca and Krita, to enhance the traditional rather than override it.

“The technology is a tool to enhance their art, not replace

their art, because we still put a lot of emphasis on traditional,” Onesto said. “A lot of kids are losing the traditional techniques, which is affecting their digital abilities, so you still have to build the foundations traditionally and then the digital is the enhancement of those.”

The finished pieces will go into student portfolios.

“Another thing that’s kind of new this year is I’m making them all create a digital portfolio, so this way, it doesn’t matter whether they’re going to college or not. This will give them options,” Onesto said.

The portfolios also give them a way to track their progress.

“I always tell (students) even if it’s a terrible piece, even if it’s the worst thing they ever did, there had to be an idea behind it, and that’s why you save it is to use that idea so when their talent and their ability catches up to their creativeness, they can redo the piece the way they imagined it,” Onesto said.

“The more they learn — it’s not just getting them ready to be animators or college-bound, but if they want to take their art to the next level, if they want to get into tattooing, if they want to get into graphic design through community college, however it goes — it could lead to opportunities for students.”

And Onesto draws on his own experiences in helping to prepare students for those opportunities when they come knocking.

Onesto has worked with independent manga writers

along with bigger names in the comic book industry. That work has included manga covers, style mimicry and helping artists to get over creative humps.

With each job came a contract, and Onesto plans to teach students about contract reading and writing so “when whoever wants to hire them for commission work or digital art or if they want signed contracts, these are the things that they look for.”

The benefits of Onesto’s experience are not lost by students.

Brock Brookhart, 17, a junior at BHS, took Illustration and Digital Art last year but decided

to take it again this year, along with an advanced placement art class.

“He revamped the class to be more suited to how I do things, so I’m retaking this class to further what I did,” Brookhart said, explaining his interest in manga art.

Onesto said the art department is a draw for students and noted that seniors who don’t have to take art are enrolling in art classes.

“A lot of seniors don’t have to take art, and not only are they taking art, but they’re taking extra classes just because they’ve been enjoying so many different things that they’ve been teaching,” Onesto said.

BHS’ 2023-24 art courses include nine 2-D classes taught by Onesto, seven 3-D classes taught by Deborah Coyle, who also is new to BHS this year, and two AP classes.

“Burlington has an art department that’s second to none in the area, and students, they’ll get experiences you don’t normally get elsewhere,” Onesto said.

Find the full list of 2023-24 course offerings by visiting and clicking on the 2023-2024 Program of Studies link.

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