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Island teen flying high with drone art

By Staff | Jan 28, 2015

Mat Jankauskas’s work is gaining notoriety at the Sanibel Art & Frame shop. CRAIG GARRETT

Mat Jankauskas is flying high.

Literally and figuratively.

The Sanibel teen is gaining recognition for his so-called drone art, photo images he captures using a camera affixed to a drone. His bird’s-eye photo of the Sanibel Lighthouse in the last week quickly auctioned at a benefit for a wildlife rescue. Another print this month sold at a Sanibel art store for about $800. Other of his works at Sanibel Art & Frame are gathering curious buyers, warm remarks about the different perspective, said Paul Roshberg, the shop’s owner.

Informed by Roshberg that the drone photo on canvas had sold, Jankauskas said he felt “incredible. I was very happy about it, jumping back to my car.”

Jankauskas, of course, hasn’t invented sky art. It is gaining in popularity, especially with clever GoPro cameras that divers, handgliders, wedding and nature photographers, journalists and other adventurers are using in the last decade. Wealthy users reportedly embrace drones to snap exotic selfies, and a Maryland couple have published a drone art book of Baltimore, among other examples. Federal law limits personal drones below 400 feet, within eyesight of the operator and in daylight. There’s a worldwide surge to use personal drones to express art.

His drone platform is a six-blade flying computer that hovers over natural and manmade objects. CRAIG GARRETT

But Jankauskas was at the forefront of the visual migration upward, building and flying air machines starting at age 12. By age 16 he was shooting aerial video and still shots in Europe and in Sanibel. He’s just 19 now, but seven years of practice gives him an advantage over others. He has also further perfected the skill by shooting commercial work for realtors and others seeking something different, he said.

The real aptitude in drone art is the creativity and vision. Anyone can snap a photo, but it’s the rare picture that jumps off the canvas. His drone photo of Blind Pass at sunrise in Captiva, for instance, is strong, mostly because the perspective for centuries was enjoyed only by birds. The viewer sees the bridge in new dimensions and the emerald water, but also a storm in the distance. The contrast has power. Other work is mostly landscapes, but he envisions cityscapes and more personal art in the future.

And judging by the reaction to his work, Jankauskas has hit the sweet spot. His Sanibel Lighthouse photo, just offshore and above the catwalk, for example, drew instant attention at the Sanibel Health Club Wellness & Fitness Fair, where the work was auctioned to benefit the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, or CROW. The event collected nearly $1,300, largely due to a healthy sale of the Lighthouse print.

Still, the former Sanibel School student is unsure of his future. He is enrolled in a European arts academy to study industrial design. The teen is wedged between his art and the thrill of downloading fresh photo images, but aware that an engineering education at a prestigious school can’t hurt.

“I’m between two worlds,” he said. “Hopefully this season shows me something. I’ve sort of created my own market.”