Texas Fish Art Contest

Sugar Land's Grace Cao was named first in her age group for this piece during a statewide art contest. (Contributed photo)

For 11-year-old Grace Cao of Sugar Land, experimenting with patterns and colors has always come naturally.

The cultivation of her artistic passion recently earned her both statewide and national recognition.

Cao, a fifth grader at Fort Bend ISD’s Commonwealth Elementary School, won first place in the grades 4-6 age group of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center’s 2021 Fish Art Contest, which earned her a $200 scholarship. First-place winners in four age groups advanced to the national level and competed against winners from other states, and Cao’s piece won second-place in the national competition.

“When I was in kindergarten, I really enjoyed drawing cartoons and experimenting with colors,” said Cao, who noted that was when she first picked up art. “I feel relaxed whenever I draw.”

Ryuki Hotta of Missouri City and Richmond student Mishka Patel each earned honorable mentions in the contest’s K-3 age group, while Teresa So of Sugar Land received honorable mention in the grades 10-12 age group.

The annual fish art contest is part of an international conservation education program designed to foster youth interest in fish, fisheries and fishing, according to a news release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It encourages K-12 students to submit original artwork of any officially designated state fish and an essay or poem about the participant’s fish entry, its habitat or efforts to conserve it.

Judges selected the top three works of art from each of four age groups out of more than 750 total submissions, all 12 of which will be featured at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center and in the 2022 Texas Fish Art Calendar.

“The State-Fish Art Contest does a tremendous job of exposing students across Texas to the wonders of fish and fisheries resources through the nexus of art,” Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center Director Tom Lang said. “We always look forward to this time of year when we are once again amazed by the outstanding work and artistic interpretations of these young Texans.”

Cao said her painting of the Guadalupe bass, which is Texas’ state fish, was her first entry into an art contest. She also said her piece, which depicts the sun shining down under the water as the bass pursues a crawfish – one of its primary foods – had plenty of inspiration.

Her dad went and bought a live crawfish for her to observe as she crafted the piece, Cao said, which she wound up naming after her favorite cartoon.

“As soon as my parents told me the news, I was so surprised and excited,” she said. “I didn’t really expect to finish so high.”

At the core, she said painting is all about doing what comes naturally. She also plans to continue pursuing art as she grows older.

“It gives me a sense of freedom to make a drawing,” she said. “I don’t really feel that with something else.”

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