Interview with Brooke Smart
What do you consider yourself?
I’m an illustrator, for the most part, but I still dabble in my roots of fine art on occasion.
Who helped you become who you are?
Man, the list is endless. My dad was an artist and owned a graphic design company, so my childhood memories are filled with images of him drawing at our kitchen table at night. I always wanted to be like him and that’s probably where my artistic interests were born. Both of my parents appreciated art and they were always supportive of me working on and growing that talent. I grew up enrolled in art class after art class, at community centers, the BYU MOA, Petersen Art Center in Salt Lake, and the class that changed everything with Sydney Bowman. I was getting a bit disheartened about the art I was creating in high school, but once we found Sydney, she reignited my love of drawing and painting and creating. From there, I decided to attend BYU in the illustration department. My professors there are still dear to my heart. Bethanne Anderson, Bob Barrett and Richard Hull opened my eyes to the world of illustration and gave me a strong academic base to build my career upon. I went the fine art route for awhile, selling my paintings through a gallery in Park City, but after the birth of my daughter, Remy, seven years ago, and my subsequent divorce a year after that, my career path turned back towards illustration. Actually, my first major personal project at that time was a series of 100 paintings I did of Remy and I and our life together, just the two of us. That series, titled Bringing Up Baby has opened up so many doors to the world that I work in now. Along with Remy, my new husband and kids, Eliza and Finn, my family, and my wonderful artist friends, my agent, Teresa Kietlinski is a notable addition to this list. She has helped me navigate the publishing realm and is someone I rely on so much.
Do you feel like you’ve arrived at what you set out to do?
Ha, have we ever really arrived? As my goals are realized, I feel like there are, at the same time, more and more goals made. I’m definitely on the path that I’ve been working towards, which is amazing. When I feel overwhelmed with my workload, which happens pretty frequently, I have to take a step back and realize how far I have come, and am so grateful to be doing what I love every day. What a blessing.
What more would you like to “become?”
I guess it’s more about what I’d like my work to become. I’m working on some dreamy picture books right now and am excited about the direction my work in them is going. I’m always working on improving my compositions by attempting to make them more childlike, with intentional, confident strokes. I want my work to become stronger, filled with meaningful characters and surprising compositions. I want to continually push my knowledge and skill of my medium farther. So much of what I want is hard to put into words. I want to continue doing what I’m doing, but get better at doing it. Ha. But I also love the surprises that this job constantly gives me.
What’s your dream job?
I think maybe I am doing my dream job right now. Or at least doing a portion of it. I’ve always loved to read, and have a specific obsession with children’s books. To be one of the illustrators that shapes another person’s life with books that I’ve had a hand in creating is a dream come true. And I actually thrive in my solitary studio environment. I’m maybe what you’d call an outgoing introvert. But recently, I had the chance to paint my first mural, and the interaction I was able to have with the public and with my environment while I was working on it was invigorating. So my short answer, at this moment, would be to have a combination of those two realities in my career: books and a mural every once in awhile to shake things up.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m proud that I’ve made a career out of something that I love. Creating art is something that is part of me, and makes me who I am. When I’m not consistently drawing, I feel like I’m missing a limb or something. I want my kids to have the confidence to be themselves as well. I want them to know that hard things can be achieved with lots of faith and patience and work.
What is your workspace like?
I have a home studio (converted from the dining room), with a double desk where my husband, Jeremy sometimes joins me in the evenings. Light has always been important to me in my workspace, and I’m lucky to have windows on two walls of my studio, one of which overlooks a park, which comes in handy for working and keeping an eye on the kids at the same time. The walls are adorned with works from some favorite artists, and there are plants in abundance, kept alive by my before-mentioned handsome husband. But even with such a great space, sometimes, in the morning hours, my warm bed doubles as a sketch studio.
What does your dream retirement look like?
About ten years ago, Milton Glaser came to visit BYU. He was about 80 at the time, and still working and drawing full-time. I think Milton and I have similar ideas about retirement, but it would be nice to eventually be painting from a beach house somewhere.
What artists/designers/creatives do you look up to? Both historical and present.
Living illustrators that are inspiring me at the moment include Lisa Congdon, Kenard Pak, Jon Klassen, Isabelle Arsenault, Tallulah Fontaine, Claire Keane, and Christian Robinson. Historical artists I admire include Andrew Wyeth, Beatrix Potter, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Lizbeth Zwerger, and John Waterhouse.
How has social media influenced your work?
I honestly don’t know what I’d do without Instagram as a platform to display my work. In college, we learned how to look up art directors in a big directory, how to send out mailers quarterly to publishing houses, which illustration annuals were the best to apply to, but with the emergence of social media, everything has changed. Instagram has ended up being the tool that has worked the very best to get my work out into the world in an affordable and unbelievable way. I do have an agent who works on getting me book deals with publishers, but beyond that, much of the work comes from clients finding my work on Instagram and heading to my website from there to contact me. I’m so grateful for its existence.
What’s inspiring you lately?
Honestly, my life has changed so much in this last year. I went from being a single mom of one to a wife and mother of three. I pinch myself every day for the gift that is. I’ve come to a fun place in my career where I get to work on projects that are truly exciting and personal to me. Family, of course, is a major theme of my work lately, but also the strength of women. These are themes that strike a chord with me, and I am eager and excited to create work around them. Also, history in general has been inspiring me lately. I’ve had the opportunity to work on some exciting projects where part of my job is to dive into books to read about the fascinating people that have come before us. With each person I study, I find aspects of their lives that inspire me to be a braver, stronger version of myself.
What did you want to be when you were young, versus when it came time to actually decide what to do with your life?
I always felt like I wanted to do something with art, but as a child, I had no idea what that meant. It really wasn’t until I graduated from college that I really figured out what a fine artist or illustrator actually did. It took me some years to figure it out completely, and still I feel like I’m learning something new about my career every day. I sometimes teach as adjunct faculty at BYU in the design department, and my goal when I teach is to give my students a leg up on what it really means to be an illustrator, what it means to work for yourself, and the incredible amount of time and devotion it involves. It’s a career that will only thrive under lots of hard work, often very little sleep, and a deep love for creating. It is a job that I am honored and proud to do and I can’t wait for what else is around the bend.
Find Brooke at:
Website of Brooke Smart