Overcoming Personal Adversity

Posted by: Michele Cohen

Maria Sweeney ’16 is currently selling the first issue of her comic series, , in comic shops in both New York and Philadelphia. Illustrated by Sweeney and written by her boyfriend, Eros Livieratos, the series features a cast of characters all dealing with the hardships of life in their own ways. Sweeney is currently working on the second issue of the series for her senior thesis project in May.

“I often feel like I’m in a rut,” said Sweeney, who has overcome personal adversity while at Moore. “This is a reminder not to be like that. I work pretty hard not to stay in a rut. The main character, Jane, is a reminder to me to keep on going.”

Sweeney has faced many personal challenges, but she always remains positive and wears a smile on her face. She suffers from Bruck Syndrome, a disease that causes brittle bones, joint contractions and muscle weakness. She frequently uses a cane or a wheelchair to get around. Sweeney was diagnosed with the painful genetic condition as a young child. Born in Moldova, an Eastern European country and former Soviet Republic, Sweeney was adopted as a baby and raised with a family in New Jersey. Her family also fostered her two brothers – one from Russia and another from the Ukraine.

“I grew up knowing I was adopted, which is important,” Sweeney said. “Sometimes kids don’t find out until they are older and get upset. I was really proud of it.”

Sweeney became interested in art at age 15 and is entirely self-taught. She attended Catholic school through the tenth grade before switching to an online private high school for financial reasons.  Unfortunately, art was not part of the curriculum, so Sweeney borrowed art books from the library and learned how to draw on her own.

“I started drawing digitally before learning traditional art,” Sweeney said. “I liked photography and editing photos. I got a tablet and started using it. There are lots of resources that you can find online.”

Sweeney put together a portfolio in her junior year and attended National Portfolio Day, where she was reviewed by several colleges, including Moore. She applied early to Moore after a friend told her about the college and she visited. She liked Moore’s small size, location and accessibility to everything.

“I put all of my eggs into one basket because this was where I wanted to be,” she said. “It was the right fit.”

Receiving the Samost Scholarship was the deciding factor for Sweeney. The scholarship from Iva and Joseph Samost helped her pay for her education

“I honestly wasn’t sure whether I would get the scholarship,” she said. “I was at a diner with my mom and she was talking about our financial problems. That’s when I got the call about the scholarship. I started to cry because I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t have been able to go to Moore otherwise.”

Sweeney enjoys the personal relationship that she has with the faculty and students at Moore. “The teachers are very good at bringing us up to a professional level,” she said. “Being at a small school, everyone is very supportive of your work.”

Sweeney also appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with other majors, something you can’t always do at a larger college, she said.

“I’ve done a lot of photography work here and for my friends,” she said. “That’s an outlet for me. When I get too overwhelmed with drawing, I get instant visual satisfaction by taking a photo.”

Last May, Sweeney was awarded a competitive Penny Fox Internship Fellowship. The fellowship allowed her to spend the summer living in NYC and learning the business side of illustration at Richard Solomon Artists Representative/Illustration Agency. She also gained more confidence and became comfortable with navigating a large city.

“Richard Solomon was my first choice because they represent a lot of the artists I like and have learned about in class,” Sweeney said. “I had to push really hard to insert myself into conversations and make sure I got the experience that I wanted. Without the fellowship, I wouldn’t have been able to commute to New York or pay my rent. I hope I can be represented by this agency one day.”

Once she graduates, Sweeney hopes to be employed as a freelance illustrator, but she’s focused on comics right now. “I like doing portraits and would do anything, from book and album covers to movie posters, but with comics, it’s my character and it’s our stories. I’m finally doing something I really want to do.”

Sweeney gets emotional when talking about leaving Moore in May. She said the College has given her so much support, both professionally and personally, and she’ll always be grateful that she found a home here.

“College is a time of personal growth and Moore really nurtures and encourages that,” she said. “They’ve helped me with a lot of issues. I didn’t really feel comfortable in school until I came here. I was dealing with complicated surgeries and healing. I didn’t connect well with my peers. This is the first time I’ve been in an educational setting where I’m comfortable and excited to go to class. It’s the best college experience I could ever ask for.”

Check out Maria’s portfolio

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