ELDERSBURG - By the time Vince Alcarese started kindergarten at Eldersburg Elementary School, he had been drawing pictures from stories for a year.
When he did start school, his teacher immediately recognized his artistic talent.
"Nancy Chapin came to me one day with his drawings," recalled art teacher Betty Carlson. "I said, 'No way a kindergartner could have done these,' because you know they simply don't have the motor skills. But it was Vince's work."
Excited over the prospect of having such a talented student, Carlson couldn't wait for Vince to start first grade.
"He's really exceptionally good," the art teacher said. "He has an innate ability. I've never had a student with that ability at such a young age."
Now 10 and in the fifth grade, Vince is continuing to draw a variety of characters from popular TV shows and comic strips.
He started drawing at age 4 when his mother, Sandy Alcarese, began reading him stories. Afterward, they drew pictures from stories they liked, Vince said.
"I actually was trying to teach him to read, and I was just trying to motivate him," his mother said. "I noticed how fast he'd copy what I drew."
Vince said he started out drawing little He-Man figures, G.I. Joe and other special characters.
"He likes TV and movies and fairy tales and draws things from those," Alcarese said. "He goes through phases -- whatever is popular."
Of course, now it's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, along with dragons and Super Mario Brothers, among others.
Unlike many his age who read for the story, Vince reads for the pictures. He said he likes the work of children's book illustrators Michael Hague and Greg Hildebrandt.
"I collect comic books, too. I have about a hundred," Vince said. "I'd like to do comic strips myself or be an illustrator."
He described how he and his best friend, Steve Polites, play games with imaginary aliens and other characters that give him ideas for short stories.
The stories are, naturally, illustrated with action pictures which tell as much of the story as do Vince's words.
At school, his friends also have noticed his talent and will ask for pictures. Just last week, he traded two pictures for three valuable baseball cards, including a Mickey Mantle and a Willie Mays. Alcarese said she still isn't sure who got the better deal.
Since Carlson instructed him in art, Vince has entered many contests with the teacher's encouragement. He has accumulated quite a collection of blue ribbons and certificates.
The youth has taken first place in the Carroll County Arts Council Festival every year for the past four years. In 1988, he entered The Carroll County Sun's "Meaning of Thanksgiving" contest and won first place and a check for $25.
"Not only is this a good drawing which shows a lot of artistic promise, but it shows a young child being thankful for what he has," the judges wrote.
The 1989-1990 school year was Vince's best yet. Carlson entered his poster in the School Bus Safety poster contest and it won a first-place certificate and a trophy from James Doolan, supervisor of transportation.
She entered another of his posters in the Students Against Drunk Driving contest sponsored by Liberty High School. Vince's entry won first place for the elementary school level.
The art teacher then asked Vince to draw the cover illustration for the school yearbook.
The pen-and-ink sketch he created shows "pictures of things I like about the school," Vince said. His favorites included a boy -- representing himself -- playing saxophone, a basketball player, a boy kicking a soccer ball and a girl writing in a journal.
Vince also has a letter from R. Edward Shilling, Carroll's superintendent of schools, thanking him for a drawing that hung in his office last spring.
Before the school year ended, Vince was awarded a certificate from County Commissioner Jeff Griffith for creative excellence.
In fact, Vince's drawing of a lion's head hung in the County Office Building for two months.
Alcarese likes to think her son has inherited his talent from her father, John Mettle Sr. of Woodlawn in Baltimore County.
"He paints and draws, but he just does it for a hobby for himself," Alcarese said.
Vince and his granddad often draw together.
Mettle and Vince have another thing in common -- both are color blind.
Both have learned to compensate.
Vince reads the color on crayons and other media he uses.
"But I like pencil because it's quick," Vince said. Few of his drawings use color.
On the advice of Carlson and others, Alcarese and her husband, Lou, haven't pushed Vince into any special programs or training.
However, over the summer, Vince did take a creative arts class for children through the Carroll Community College Kid's College program.
Later this year, he, his brother Anthony, 7, and their parents will journey to Disney World, where Vince is signed up for a creative arts class.
"He's hoping to be discovered there," Alcarese said with a laugh.
"You're hoping," Vince retorted.
Besides his pen and pencil drawings, Vince likes to sculpt with clay. At the beach, he likes to make sand castles, he said.
The Alcareses say they will start checking into special art programs for Vince in the next year or two.
"The Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore has programs for younger kids," his father noted.
This will be Carlson's last year of having Vince as a student, but she doesn't expect this to be the last she hears of him.
"I believe you could characterize him as an art prodigy," she said. "At some point I'm sure he'll be renowned."