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In the Nick of Time: Mia Tomasino ’23 paints Kid of the Year portrait

Mia Tomasino ’23 painted Time’s first-ever Kid of the Year, Gitanjali Rao (left).

For 92 years, Time Magazine has named a Person of the Year. But in 2020, in a partnership with Nickelodeon, it named the first-ever Kid of the Year. Out of a field of 5,000 American kids ages 8-16, five finalists were selected to be featured in a television special. And when producers went looking for artists to contribute to the show, they discovered TCNJ sophomore Mia Tomasino.

Her self-portrait, which had spent the year traveling in the New Jersey Teen Arts Festival, fit the producers’ vision of featuring each kid nominee with a painting on the show’s set, so they reached out via LinkedIn and Instagram.

While the piece that earned the attention of the production team was a colored pencil portrait, the work assigned to Tomasino for the program was a more abstract-style acrylic portrait on canvas.

“I was never a painter,” says Tomasino. “I have always focused on realistic colored pencil portraits and precision. Painting is so much looser and more expressive, so it was intimidating to me.”

But her TCNJ education had prepared her to step out of her comfort zone. In classes like 2D Art, 3D Art, and Video 1, Tomasino was encouraged to experiment with her work, giving her the confidence to embrace the opportunity to try something new. 

Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and host of Nickelodeon’s first-ever Kid of the Year show, on set with Tomasino’s paintings.

Tomasino didn’t have access to an art studio because of the pandemic, so she completed her share of the Time paintings in her backyard in Piscataway, New Jersey. A production crew filmed some of the process, and when the show aired on Nickelodeon in December, not only were her portraits featured on set behind host Trevor Noah, but the program featured a clip of her painting them.

“It was amazing to be able to get that exposure from being on television, but it was also really interesting to see the whole process, from the team’s idea to me helping bring that idea to life,” she says.

Tomasino painted a portrait of Gitanjali Rao, the nominee who ultimately won the title of Kid of the Year. And she even got a small taste of VIP treatment along the way.

“During the process, the producers had members of their team stationed in New Jersey on hand whenever I needed them,” she says. “They delivered paints, canvases, and brushes the same day that I requested them, which was so crazy!” 

Tomasino’s passion for art doesn’t stop at creating it, though. She wants to help others appreciate it, so she is majoring in art education and plans to earn a master’s degree so she can one day become a professor.

“As a teacher, I plan to use artwork to emphasize how much beauty there is in diversity and the world around us,” she says.


— Kelley Freund