Barry McNamara  |   Published March 03, 2022

Merging Art and Japanese

Monmouth’s Nichols draws on love of anime to place third nationally in contest.

PRIZE-WINNING WORK: This 4-by-6 inch postcard-sized work by Jennie Nichols '23 took third pla... PRIZE-WINNING WORK: This 4-by-6 inch postcard-sized work by Jennie Nichols '23 took third place in a national contest sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of Japanese.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College art major Jennie Nichols ’23 earned third place in a national Nengajo (New Year’s Card) design and drawing competition sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of Japanese.

Her prize-winning work is a 4-by-6 inch postcard, designed in a digital version of the traditional Manga (Japanese comics) screen tone black and white printed style.

JENNIE NICHOLS: Art major first attended Monmouth as an elementary school student during College ... JENNIE NICHOLS: Art major first attended Monmouth as an elementary school student during College For Kids.The roots of Nichols attending Monmouth and being so proficient at recreating the style of Japanese anime go back to her days as an elementary school student.

About a boy

As a fifth grade student, Nichols started following anime because a boy she liked was interested in it.

“My 10-year-old thoughts were that would be a good way to get him to like me,” said Nichols.

Eventually, she moved on from the boy, but her interest in anime and Japanese comics intensified.

“A friend got me interested in Manga,” she said. “We had a teacher in junior high who banned it, but we’d gather around a locker, trading comic books. We were all art kids, and we started having fun drawing it.”

On assignment

Flash forward to last fall, the first semester of her junior year, which was also her first semester after transferring from Carl Sandburg College. Her Japanese professor, Wenhong Teel, told Nichols and the rest of the class about the competition, and she even dangled an enticing carrot – doing the research for the competition and executing the work would count as the students’ cultural project for the semester.

“It’s an excellent opportunity to not only learn the language, but also to learn more about cultural concepts to help them complete this project. Activities like this for students help them learn the language and raise their interest.” Wenhong Teel

“It’s an excellent opportunity to not only learn the language, but also to learn more about cultural concepts to help them complete this project,” said Teel. “Activities like this for students help them learn the language and raise their interest.”

The teachers’ association created the drawing contest to raise cultural awareness. There are five levels of the competition, which spans from elementary to college students. More than 750 students submitted entries, and Teel said it was the first time Monmouth students – which also included art majors James Woeltje ’25 of Sheridan, Illinois, and Natalie Takahashi ’22 of Lisle, Illinois – participated.

“It was beneficial to both their study of the Japanese language and to their major,” said Teel.

The theme of this year’s contest was “Tiger,” which is the zodiac sign for the Lunar New Year in 2022.

Various elements were required of the entries, and Nichols incorporated them into her work – depicting a soba noodle dish, using a common pattern on a kimono and working in the sakura cherry blossom and the temple arch, a common place to go to pray for the new year or to make a wish.

The written language, which Teel called “almost like calligraphy,” was also an element.

College For Kids

Nichols said the scholarship help she received as a transfer student from Sandburg “made the world of difference” in her decision to attend Monmouth, but she also had a great experience with the school when she attended its summer enrichment program, College For Kids, as an elementary and middle school student.

“Now that I’m here, I’m really glad that I chose (Monmouth). I’m on the right path for where I want to go after this.” Jennie Nichols

“I loved the brick buildings,” she said.

Nichols did not attend college right away after high school, but after completing her two years at Sandburg, it was a natural that she at least consider the school she’d attended long ago.

“I felt like I was wanted,” she said of the scholarship help she received at Monmouth and meeting its art faculty. “Now that I’m here, I’m really glad that I chose it. I’m on the right path for where I want to go after this,” which is obtaining a master’s degree and eventually becoming a college professor.

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