Brooke Smart is a talented Utah-based illustrator who creates, among her many projects, a fascinating collection of custom portraits of individuals, couples, and families. She has also completed the first two legs of the Mormon Triple Crown with her work in The New Era and The Friend. As her website explains, “she spends her days gathering ideas for stories and her nights telling those stories with her pen and paintbrush.” She graduated in 2007 from BYU in illustration and is cousins with another talented artist, Hillary Henslee.
You do a lot of custom portraits in your distinctive style. My artistic career thus far has taken many turns. I’ve always loved to draw, and to draw people, in particular. Growing up, I was drawing and painting constantly. This led me to the illustration department at BYU, where I fell in love with fine artists and illustrators alike. Along with my illustration courses, I ended up taking figure drawing and head painting classes each semester. Portraits became my passion. There is so much to be said in the human face and form, and it’s an exciting challenge to capture each specific person in paint. After college, I studied with Jeffrey Hein and began my career as a fine artist. Since then, and with many moves around the country, I’ve done a lot of fine art, illustration, and design work, including many jobs designing patterned paper and craft supplies. These portraits are sort of a marriage of all that I’ve learned to love in my art. It combines my oil portraits and my illustrative style into one.
I think your backgrounds are sometimes more fun that the subjects of your paintings. I’d never thought of it that way. The patterns in my backgrounds are meant to enhance the portrait and tell a story about the person I’m painting. I have each of my subjects tell me about themselves before I paint them and I like to think that their face as well as the pattern I’ve made for them describes who they are. My goal with these portraits was to do something new and all my own. I like them to look formal, as traditional portraits do, but to also have personality and whimsy, with a touch of folk art, like my other illustration work does. I want them to tell a story, and I hope that is what the backgrounds are doing.
How would you describe Mormon art these days? Mormon art has definitely evolved over the years. It parallels the message that is being conveyed through the ‘I’m a Mormon’ campaign, which is that our points of view within in the church are varied, beautiful, and often unexpected. Like music, it’s a way to worship God. I am constantly in awe of many painters within the church and hope to be numbered among them someday.
What projects are you hoping to do next? I would love to do more published work, perhaps illustrate middle-grade novels. And after pulling out my oils recently, I’m excited to do a lot more fine art in the near future. The goal is always to create beautiful, meaningful work and I want to constantly continue with that goal in mind.