This post is part of a series in which we interview successful makers on how they built their business. Today we are interviewing professional artist, Brooke Smart.
Brooke Smart is an illustrator based in Sandy, Utah, where she spends her days gathering ideas for stories and her nights telling those stories with her pen and paintbrush, inspired by her daughter, the wildest and most creative three-year-old in the world. She earned a BFA in Illustration from Brigham Young University in 2007. Brooke recently won an honorable mention in the 2016 SCBWI Portfolio Showcase in NYC. She is currently working on her first picture book.
Brooke is teaching a session during our live online workshop, Developing Your Unique Illustration Style. Class starts later this week!
Did you always know this would become your career?
I have always been interested in art, so working in a creative field really always felt like the only option for me, but it has taken me years to point my career specifically towards illustration.
What did you do before you were a full-time artist?
Before I was a full time artist, I was a student. I didn’t exactly know which direction my art would take me, but I worked hard to get the education I thought would help me get there. I worked many odd jobs to pay for college and interned with artist, Jeffrey Hein who taught me so much about the business of being an artist, as well as a myriad of other things.
How did to you start your art career?
I went to school at Brigham Young University be an illustrator, but after I graduated I turned my attention towards fine art. I sold work through a gallery and also did portrait commissions. I then began getting quite a bit of graphic design work, specifically surface pattern work and for a couple of years I went that direction, designing a lot of patterned paper, cards, tape, stickers, fabric, etc. I then had some big things happen in my personal life that caused me to take a break from everything and consider, really for the first time, what kind of work would actually make me happy. It dawned on me that becoming an illustrator, the field I studied in school, combined everything that I loved from my fine art and graphic design jobs into one. The last two and a half years have been devoted to that new direction: illustration.
What kind of art do you create?
I work primarily in watercolor, creating work that is inspired by folk art, pattern design, and work that balances flat shapes with simple, descriptive line. I do all kinds of illustration. I love doing editorial/magazine work, book, and occasionally more personal commissions like wedding announcements and watercolor portraits.
Which three words would you use to describe your artistic style?
Quiet, whimsical, narrative
How long did it take you to find your style?
It has taken years to develop my style. It’s not something that just appears out of thin air. Style is developed through hours upon hours of drawing, and slowly turns into something all your own. I feel like it’s only really been the last year that my style has finally come together.
Can you talk a little bit about the process?
Everything I do begins with tiny thumbnail sketches. They’re really just scribbles. I know that they will most of the time only be seen by me. I don’t worry about detail, only composition. I generally do a bunch of these thumbnails until something seems to be working. Then, instead of redrawing that sketch larger, I take my original thumbnail, scan it in, enlarge it and print it out. This may sound old school, but I feel like so much of the subtleties that make your thumbnails work can be lost by redrawing them larger. So, I take my enlarged thumbnail and transfer it to the surface I’ll be using for my final. This is the stage where I begin refining my drawing, and I continue refining after I’ve finished transferring the image. From there, I create a color scheme for the piece, sometimes even doing a color study or two until I get it right. And then I paint it, generally exclusively in watercolor, sometimes adding gouache in parts.
What inspires your creativity the most?
I’m the mother of a four year old little girl. She’s my entire life, and so a lot of what I do is inspired by her, or by ideas I get when I’m with her. Having a child and becoming a mother has really changed the way I think, and has brought so many childlike creative ideas back into my head. So much of the magic that we see around us as children is lost when we grow up. I love having daily reminders of these magical moments. I love seeing the world anew through her eyes.
Please describe an average day in your life.
Every day is so different, but every day starts with my daughter. We are up early and at least one of us is ready to get going. If it’s a preschool day, I drop her off and then come home to work for a few hours in my studio. If it’s not a preschool day, we try and do something fun, maybe the park or something out of the house. I teach illustration and design twice a week in the afternoons at BYU, but on the off days, my daughter and I will usually spend some time in the afternoons painting together or playing. After she is in bed, I sit down in my studio again and either paint or prep for teaching. I’m usually up quite late working. And then the next day, we start it all again. It’s difficult to find balance between being an attentive, devoted mother while also being a hardworking, successful illustrator, but I’m doing my best. It’s a busy life, but a happy one.
What advice do you have for other artists trying to find their style?
Don’t be discouraged. If you don’t feel like you have a style, just keep drawing, keep creating, and try and stay true to who you are. Don’t draw the way you think people want you to draw. There’s nothing better than having a unique voice. And that will only come by pushing yourself and practicing.
– What do you hope the not-too-distant future holds for your art career; Do you have any exciting, upcoming plans that you would like to share with us?
I just signed on with Teresa Kietlinski at Bookmark Literary. She’ll represent me for all things books. I’m excited to take my career in that direction more. I’d love to illustrate picture books and middle grade novels. I am currently working on my first picture book.
Brooke is teaching a session during our live online workshop, Develop Your Unique Illustration Style. This program will give you an inside look at how Brooke launched your career, and help you develop your own unique illustration style. The live workshop starts this Wednesday! Everyone who signs up will get lifetime access to the content. See the full schedule and sign up here.