Monthly Archives: May 2016

Brooke Smart: Bringing Up Baby

Kitchen Helper

Brooke Smart is a talented Utah-based illustrator with an enchanting new series called Bringing Up Baby. She also creates fascinating custom portraits of individuals, couples, and families and was previously profiled on The Krakens. Smart graduated in 2007 from BYU in Illustration. She lives in Utah.

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Tell us about your new series Bringing Up Baby. My series focuses on my day-to-day life right now with my three-year-old daughter. I’m doing it as a 100-day project (one black monochromatic watercolor painting each day) and am one third of the way through. I’ve wanted to chronicle this particular time in our lives because it feels like such a brief moment; a moment that I want to always remember and that my daughter will love looking back on. It’s my version of a journal. So many tiny things happen in our days right now, some hilarious, some heartwarming, some sad, and some that are completely unique to our relationship and us. For me, it started out as just that: painting scenes and stories that I thought were completely us and no one else, but I’ve found out, through comments on my series, that a lot of my story is actually a universal one. I love that. I love feeling connected to other mothers in that way.

Do you find this project a challenge, a job, a pleasure? I do one painting a day, which often seems like a lot, coupled with my other freelance work, but I so look forward to painting it each day. This series has so much meaning to me personally and so far has taught me so much about who I am as a mother and who I want to be. And in an artistic sense, working this quickly, with such a strict deadline each day, has taught me how to trust myself so much more, how to work within very limited boundaries, and how to very simply tell a story.

Visit Brooke Smart’s website.

Follow Brooke Smart on Instagram.


Photo by Christine Comstock.

Cristall Harper: Buttercup

Summer Fun 21x21

Cristall Harper is a prolific painter and dog-lover. She graduated from BYU with a BFA in Painting. Harper lives in Utah. She explains about her muse, “I have a yellow lab named Buttercup who epitomizes loyalty, joy and friendship. I started painting her as a pup and my passion for capturing her happiness quickly grew. Now my dog paintings are in numerous galleries and dog-lovers everywhere are connecting with my work.”

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Tell us about your evolution as an artist. I quit my day job and started doing art full time in 2008, about five years after I graduated from BYU. I’d do little daily paintings, list them on my blog and eBay, and I’d have shows at my apartment (later my house) inviting friends and family. I would show my work in any venue I could get with anybody willing to give me space. It didn’t always mean sales, but it did help me feel like I was moving in the right direction to promote myself. Fast-forward 8 years and fantastic galleries in Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho now represent me and I’m in a place where I can pick and choose where and how to invest my artistic energy. I am extremely diligent in the studio and on the business end of being an artist. It blows my mind to think back to my college apartment where I had a small corner of a shared bedroom to paint, to the days of making slides and mailing them to galleries (thank you internet and websites!), to the Christmas my sweet dad bought me paints because I couldn’t afford all the colors I wanted. Now I’ve got a 330 square foot studio in my backyard (with plans in the works for an even bigger one) built from money I saved by teaching art lessons for four years at the same time I was trying to build a name for myself, and I recently used money from my art business to fly home to help care for my dad when he had knee replacement surgery. I love the growth cycle: artists receive help and advice and artists give help and advice. I’m grateful to associate with other professionals who give me that help and advice today. I’ve evolved from a timid artist that didn’t have much of a “brand” or style into a strong artist that knows her own mind, has a vision, and works consistently at goals. My business mantra is to keep looking forward to new ideas, new methods, new opportunities, new paintings. All artists have that stack of homeless what-was-I-thinking paintings collecting dust in some forgotten nook. I used to fret over this other side of the coin, but being a painter who tries new things means you’ll make good work and bad work. My favorite movie line in Disney’s The Incredibles is Edna Mode’s line “I never look back, darling, it distracts from the now.”

You once wrote, “Dogs are furry angels of joy.” Tell us about your dog and your related paintings. Buttercup is our 10-year-old yellow lab. I love animals, but I really, really love dogs. Buttercup is my best friend. Her face is in the window when I pull into the drive, her tail wags when I tell her about random things, and she is my companion all day long while I work. I did some paintings of her for fun in my early days as an artist. I had no idea that these little dog paintings would get me into a Park City gallery seven years later. My dog paintings make up about half of my annual painting production, meaning I’ll do about 70 a year for galleries, shows and commissions. I’ve recently started a water dog series (labs swimming with or without sticks and tennis balls) that I’m really excited about.

Visit Cristall Harper’s website.

Follow Cristall Harper on Instagram.


Ron Russon: An Extension of my Soul and Spirit

Earned Her Stripes oil on gallery wrapped canvas $7000

Ron Russon‘s original painting style is called a ‘modern expression of nature in art’. He attended both UVCC and the illustration program at BYU. As his bio explains, “While going to BYU, Ron was involved in a severe car accident, leaving him with a smashed car and broken neck. It slowed his progress for a bit, but he recovered and went back to school, and even accomplished an internship in New York City at Illustration House, studying under several prominent illustrators and artists. Ron became a freelance illustrator and gained several clients, but he is drawn back to his rural roots of farms and wildlife. Listening to bluegrass or space-pop, Ron paints in oil employing a loose brush and pallet knife to varied scenes, from a serene resting tractor in a windrowed field of hay to a cacophony of geometric colors creating luminescent bison. Through both abstraction and realism, his art reflects his relationship with nature and his communication with the outdoors.” He lives in Utah.

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Tell us about your evolution as an artist. My evolution as an artist is ongoing I hope. I originally wanted to be rather realistic in my approach. It was satisfying to see that I could make paintings and drawings look like a photo. It was tedious and detailed stuff that ultimately felt like a parlor trick to me. I was exposed to more modern approaches to painting in my journey of education at UVU and BYU. I had often not considered modern, abstract, or non-objective styles to have much value. I remember hearing from an instructor of mine, at BYU, how we need to give other forms of art a chance before rejecting it outright. He gave the example of seeing one of Jackson Pollack’s paintings in real life and trying to perceive what he was conveying. I had that opportunity on an internship in New York. I was able to spend some time with a few Jackson Pollack paintings there. It was transformative. I saw Vincent VanGough paintings, Kandinski, de Kooning, Rothko, Norman Rockwell, all kinds of work done in all kinds of fashion. That in a way gave me permission to pursue something beyond traditional realism and I could step out beyond the crutch of pure representational work. I was free from making a painting look like a photo. I now really try to pursue a more expressive style hopefully provocative or evocative but not offensive. I want people to be moved by my work by the texture or the color or perhaps deeper meaning through symbolism and metaphor. I’m working to make my art require someone to spend time with it, to allow themselves to think and become part of the artwork. The work hopefully goes beyond mere decoration and has impact for a lasting positive change.

You once said, ‘Sometimes an artist needs a kick in the butt.’ A great local Utah writer named Ehren Clark interviewed me and he is the one who coined that phrase of “needing a kick in the butt”. I was pursuing a career in illustration after graduating from BYU. I graduated in Illustration Design and I immediately got work upon graduation. It was a fruitful time for illustrators. That was not to last however. Many of my jobs lost budget as more jobs used photos and scanned work instead of commissioned work. Stock illustration became the next wave. It was a time for me to try to become an artist instead of an illustrator. I didn’t have much to lose and I had always wanted to be a fine art painter. So the impetus, or “Kick in the Butt” was the lack of illustration jobs that I used to have. It was a motivation to allow me a leap of faith towards my take on art. I took the chance to try what I wanted to do and be self driven and pursue my own work and style. I had always felt that I was given an art interest and even perhaps a mod comb of talent for a purpose or reason. My intent in my work is to provide expression, conversation, interest, reflection, introspection, and thought. If I can do that then my purpose or reason comes to fruition.

You work is very organic and colorful. How do you keep your art fresh? I am glad you find my work organic and colorful. I hope that is just an extension of me. I think that if there is any freshness it is due to my spiritual center. I find that I need to keep myself steeped in spirituality to have good work come out. I feel that my work is an extension of my soul and spirit. I find that if I am doing the right stuff like reading scripture, pondering, praying, participating in church, listening to the prophet and apostles my work is much more interesting and fresh. Being a good Mormon boy seems to help keep the flow of inspiration in my work. I don’t plan out my paintings much. I generally let them happen like a dance or an improvisational jazz piece. I find that is where I am in constant need and desire of inspiration and that place is a place where my artwork comes from. I am glad you find it fresh. I think that lets me know I’m heading in the right direction.

Visit Ron Russon’s website.

Follow Ron Russon on Instagram.


Rebecca Sorge: Full of Empty


Rebecca Sorge is a storyteller and illustrator with a new book out called Full of EmptyShe studied illustration at BYU and currently works as a free-lance illustrator. Sorge lives in Utah.

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Tell us about your evolution as an artist. My work has always been about telling stories; even way back when me and my siblings were drawing little monsters and making up the worlds they lived in. Studying in the BFA program at BYU taught me a whole bunch of new skills to help tell those stories more effectively and interestingly. Since graduating and working as a freelance artist, I’ve seen that the learning process really doesn’t end. I’m grateful for opportunities to keep learning from other artists and applying new ideas and technical skills to new projects. Trying to get the work I’m making now to match what I see in my mind has really spurred a lot of improvement over the last few years. I still feel like I have a lot to learn as an artist and am excited to keep pushing forward.

You once wrote, “Making the jump from being a student to a professional was both terrifying and exciting.” What do you wish you would have known when you graduated? Great question! I feel like I wish I’d known more about the business side of things – how to promote myself, how to negotiate, and how to establish expectations when working with clients. So much of making it as a freelancer is being able to communicate well. As a freelance artist you want to balance being easy to work with, exceeding clients expectations, and being compensated fairly for your work. Since graduating I’ve learned the importance of managing the business side of things so that the fun part stays fun and sustainable. I love creating work and illustrating for a living and am so excited to be able to do this full time.

At one point you were an English major and your work has such a narrative quality. How do you approach new projects? It really depends on the project, but one thing I like to do for all of them is think about how the artwork can not only help tell the story but add something to it. Ideally an illustration will work on multiple levels and give the source material greater depth. Good literature has purpose behind every word and good narrative illustration should have purpose in each aspect as well. It’s also fun to try and leave ‘Easter eggs’ for people who take the time to really look at the piece – little mini stories happening within the larger ones.

What’s next for you? More illustrating! Right now I’m working on some children’s books that will be coming out this fall – The Everything Princess Book and a Christmas story called Spider’s Gift. I’m also looking forward to a little extra time for personal projects. I’ve got some ideas I’d like to play with!

Visit Rebecca Sorge’s website.

Follow Rebecca Sorge on Instagram.


William Whitaker: Fixated on Art

William Whitaker is an acclaimed portrait artist and noted art professor and teacher. He is the most often mentioned artist on The Krakens for his influence on the Mormon art community. He as born in Chicago, Illinois to an artist father and has developed a long career with a legion of remarkable paintings. He taught art at BYU for years and currently lives in Utah.

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You have painted many of the Church leaders over the years. How would you say the Church’s relationship to art has evolved in that time? The most impressive thing are the great numbers of incredibly young art talents coming along. Our art will increasingly become more sophisticated and of higher quality as the years pass. As a people, we probably have the greatest number of superior talents in all fields and receive the least recognition for it of any group I know.

Jerry Seinfeld once wrote, ‘The female body is a work of art. The male body is utilitarian, it’s for getting around–like a jeep.’ Tell us about your lifelong pursuit of painting the female portraits. Seinfeld said it a lot better than I ever could! His observation about women is correct. It’s almost as if God was practicing when he created man, But got it right when he created woman. I believe that the eternal woman is the most beautiful creation in the entire universe.

Visit William Whitaker’s website.