Southeastern Oklahoma State University student Lauren Manon Gibson would normally be singing in New York this time of year, but thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was left to make the most of her time in Durant.


That proved to be fortunate for local art lovers as Gibson’s mural painting, titled "Park West," claimed top prize in a contest held June 5 to celebrate the opening of the Magnolia Mile Art Alley in downtown Durant.


Admittedly, painting had been on the back burner for the 19-year-old until being stuck at home much of the time in recent months while the pandemic continued.


"It’s been kind of weird to study for whole year at college on singing and then have no opportunity to perform like usual, but I’ve spent way too much money at Hobby Lobby last few months, so it’s a nice change," she laughed.


"I’ve done paintings the last few months for four or five different people, including a few for gifts. I’ve got a full board of ideas that I would like to paint. Also, some for the Make-A-Wish Foundation because I do a lot of animation characters. They even got in touch with me after seeing some of my paintings online on Facebook and Instagram."


Gibson has been drawing pictures since she was around 5 years old, but never actually painted until her junior year at Antlers High School.


"My art teacher in high school made us do a painting of ourselves," she added. "It was the first time I had ever painted. I fell in love with it then. It all kind of melts together with my music and paintings. You never stop learning. It’s the same with music. You just continue to grow and get better."


Singing has continued to be Gibson’s passion, including studying vocal performance at Southeastern while training to be an operatic singer.


It was the singing that has taken her to New York City the past couple of summers in a program called "Destination Broadway." Those trips became the basis of the award-winning painting.


"I named it `Park West’ after Park West in New York City," she explained. "I would always go and explore when I wasn’t working and usually go early in the morning. It’s a nice, calm place in a serene part of New York, so I wanted to portray it. On the left side, you see Central Park and buildings on the other side.


"Destination Broadway is a cool program," she said. "They have auditions internationally for those that make it in to perfect their singing. We usually have a performance at end for producers and casting agents."


After the COVID-19 virus put a halt to just about everything, including the New York program, Gibson went back to her other passion in art and decided to enter the Magnolia Mile competition for what proved to be her biggest mural to date.


Initially, she made a drawing of a miniature version of the mural to determine what supplies she needed. She received her canvas and worked on the painting for four weeks using a variety of different colors and shapes.


"I wanted it to have a lot of depth," Gibson said. "I used a lot of different brushes and colors so it would have a lot of variety. It probably took around 82 hours in total to finish it and seal it. I just wanted to make a picture that people could be a part of and share, see it online and take a picture with it, as well.


"It was really was a surprise to win the competition. All the art there was awesome. My favorite thing was to see how different the paintings were. ‘Magnolia’ was my favorite piece."


Gibson will get back to singing next month as "Destination Broadway" has been rescheduled in Orlando, Florida, from the final week of July through August 13. She will use part of her $1,000 Magnolia Mile prize money for expenses.


She also already has plans and is saving money for an opera-training trip to Italy next year once the pandemic hopefully fades.


"I’ve been cranking out paintings and commissions for people that I have been selling on my own to make some money," she said. "I’m really looking forward to going to Italy next year as well as Orlando next month. I’ve already put away the prize money for that. I’m just excited to be a part of that program and Orlando will be a really good venue. We are hoping to have a chance to perform at Disney World, if it’s back open.


"I’m going to continue sealing my `Park West’ painting and keep it in good condition. Then hopefully be able to auction it off after it’s up for a year to raise more money for the Italy trip, because it’s pretty expensive."