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12 Questions: Brighton D. Smith

1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I live in Mesa, AZ with my wife, Chelsea, our cat Thiebaud, and our two Australian Shepherds, Stella and Matisse. In addition to painting I teach 3rd grade at a local school. I love reading and I have been learning Classical/Spanish guitar for two years. I love working in my garden and trying to maintain my cacti throughout the year. I grew up in Southern California, attended Pepperdine University in Malibu where I earned a BA in Art and a minor in Art History. My wife and I moved to AZ in July of 2013. 

2. What first inspired you to begin painting?

When I was a child both my parents worked a lot. They worked hard for not a lot of money, my grandparents and great-grandparents all took turns watching me after school. My grandmothers in particular were just trying to keep an energetic only child (at the time) busy and they were very patient. They would do crafts and play dominos, read books, play music, play chess, but mostly we would draw. They all encouraged my creativity and created situations for creative play. 

When I was in 7th grade I had the opportunity to attend the Orange County School of the Arts. We had academic classes from 8am until 2pm, then from 2:10 until 5 we had Conservatory classes. For 6 years I studied academic figure drawing and painting, plein air landscape painting, Still Life, Design, Ceramics, and Sculpture. My teachers were all working artists at the top of their field who expected the highest caliber of work from middle school and high school students. It was intense but we all loved it! It was there that I first thought, “hmm I think I could be a painter for the rest of my life.” 

3. What is your studio like? Could you share an image?

My studio is the 4th bedroom in our house, it has a 5 foot tall window that looks out south to our covered front patio. My studio table is made of two ikea bookshelves laid on their sides, half of the shelves are art supplies, half are book. And I have my easel from college that I work on still. The storage closet is fairly organized with art storage and my guitar cases. I have at least one guitar out at all times and my Oud, a Syrian lute instrument that I’m determined to learn how to play. 

4. What are some of your rituals in the studio to get the momentum going?

I try to just go sit for 10-15 minutes in the studio every night if possible. Just the ritual of being in the studio gets me started. I always play a bit on the guitars while looking at work. I love a set of fresh clean canvases or panels. I love putting out 5-7 blank white ones, because I can’t let them stay that way. 

I plan a lot before I start painting, not the details of the piece but I often think larger and plan an entire show or body of work. This includes drawings, watercolor scratches, collages, photos etc. Once the entire group is planned I pick the one I’m most confused or challenged by and start painting that. 

5. How do you overcome ‘failure’?

With Small failures, I mostly just say a few bad words. But with larger ones I will admit, I do not overcome well, for a short amount of time. I, like so many others, am prone to dark self talk and depression. I can be very mean to myself when big failures arise. But after a short amount of time I remember that I like working, I like the thrill of drawing and making a start. I know that I can do better, and that my work can be better than I have imagined, I just have to try something harder! So I do, and even though it’s hard I open the studio door I sit there and eventually I have to start something. 

6. What is the most inspiring place you have been to?

I love museums! The Getty Center and the Norton Simon Museums are just beautiful.

7. Do you have any other interests or hobbies?

Classical and Spanish Guitar, eating, and drinking wine! My wife and I are major foodies.

8. Do you collect anything?

We, my wife and I, do collect art. We have a few pieces from artist friends. I try to either do trades or buy a piece of art each year for our anniversary. I don’t believe I collect guitars per say, but my wife would say I have certainly spent too much money on a hand made Brazilian guitar from San Paulo. 

9. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?

Robert Beverly Hale’s Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters is best drawing book of all time. The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca 

10. What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an artist?

The greatest challenge for me is balancing other people’s opinions of my work. Some are legitimate, some are nonsense. Some seem like nonsense are are truths. I value other people and so it is hard for me to cut those voices out, but sometimes it’s better to just do work and stop listening, and other times it’s important to reflect and listen to the words of others about the work.

11. Who/What are influences for your work?

Robert Beverly Hale is a major influence on my drawings and conception of space. I still hear my high school painting teacher Gary Blackwell’s voice when I’m mixing color and applying paint. My college mentor and friend Dr. Michael Zakian’s words and hard critiques have pushed me further than anyone else has. 

12. What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a group of large 4ft pieces that will be in a show in Los Angeles sometime later this year. They are brightly colored and take many of the ideas from my show “Dreaming of Summer” at James May Gallery and take them to an extreme that only working on that scale can do.


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