A few years ago, I had the privilege of checking out the art of Brooklyn Ottens, as well as work with her on a few artistic projects. Her designs and pattern pieces at the time were simply stunning, as her work went into lavish detail at the tiniest levels, and stood out from a lot of the other works. She spoke with us about her artwork and her career in SLC. (All pictures provided courtesy of Ottens.
Gavin: First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, I'm Utah born and raised, living in downtown Salt Lake City for the better part of the last nine years. A lover of the outdoors, the incredible beauty of this state has kept me from going too far for too long. I'm the type of person who is constantly trying to create "something out of literally anything." Some would say "something out of nothing," and have been ever since I was a kid. A lifelong learner with a variety of interests and hobbies, I spend my time on anything from gardening to sewing and clothing design, snowboarding to camping, then from designing window displays, to screen printing, cooking and so on. There's always a project (or three or four) that I am working on at any given time. And now that it's getting warmer, you can most likely find me hanging in a sunny spot in the backyard, biking with my boyfriend Matt, or drawing in my studio with the window open.
What first got you interested in art early on and inspired you to create?
My dad was always an art-lover, and would often sit me and my brothers down to draw or paint. I was a creative kid, so he would patiently answer all my questions and let me make a mess for hours. He always pushed me to be artistic and to find creative solutions to my little brain's curiosities. His mom and dad, my grandma and grandpa Ottens, were also very influential on my creatively as a child. Coming from a split home, both of my parents worked quite a bit, so my grandparents often took care of us after school, or on the weekends we were hanging out at dad's house. When I was young, I truly believed that between my grandparents, they could make anything. My grandmother was an excellent seamstress and taught me and my brothers how to sew, crochet, cross-stitch, quilt, embroider and, of course, the art of the yard sale. Now my grandfather could pretty much build anything, from a house to an engine, but he also loved photography, wood carving and intricate beading. I think between them, my dad and my mom constantly wanting to redecorate each room in our house every year or so, my creativity was born.
Did you seek out any education in art or were you primarily self-taught?
Primarily self-taught. I took an array of art classes throughout high school and spent most of my senior year in one art class or another, whether I was supposed to be there or not. Art had always been a place of solitude for me, whether at home or at school. As I graduated and moved out on my own, that space and solitude were something I sought out. I would rent houses or apartments with an extra room just so I had somewhere to make a mess and get creative. Always wanting to expand my knowledge, I would watch YouTube and Google tutorials to figure out what it was I was trying to make or just how to do something. Rather than going for a degree, I began taking online courses in whatever areas interested me. Through that self-fueled curiosity, I have learned Photoshop, Illustrator, screen printing, hand lettering, fabric and pattern design, weaving and much more.
What specifically drew you toward illustration and design?
I have always loved very graphic art. Growing up in Utah County, I was surrounded by a lot of safe and religious art styles, and it bored me to death. I loved anything colorful and edgy, with bold patterns, asymmetry or out-there graphics. In high school, I had a group of friends who were into comics and graphic novels, and that definitely rubbed off on me as well. It blew me away that anyone could illustrate a whole novel, let alone frame by frame. I enjoyed learning traditional art techniques in high school as well, but quickly realized the detail oriented mind of a realist painter was not the time-consuming detail I was looking for. It was also the rise of graphic design worldwide, and although I loved the visual nature from much of that style, I knew sitting at a computer creating wasn't my artistic angle either.
How did you end up taking an interest in patterns as a genre?
As a kid and teen, I was always really into math, and later tried to incorporate the rules and precision of graphs and geometry into my work. I loved shapes—circles, squares, triangles, anything that could be made exact. I swear to have OCD tendencies, and working with perfect shapes often was comforting for me. I liked to create balanced and minimal designs at first, then got really into typography and hand lettering after I started doing chalkboards at a restaurant I worked in. Lettering
was really fun and fulfilling for a while because my eye naturally wanted to find shapes, straight lines and even spaces. I practiced lettering as my main style for a while, until I realized that I still wanted to work with more than just letters. I began incorporating heavily patterned borders into designs, then later went back to working mainly with a bunch of shapes and patterns, I guess. Natural geometry became a bigger focus for me a few years into it, I think, to help me try to understand the world around me, and possibly portray or connect to something bigger than myself.
What was it like for you breaking into the SLC art scene and doing exhibitions?
It was slow moving at first, because I was still a young artist working off my kitchen table and didn't have a ton of pieces I wanted to show. I started to apply to local festivals such as Craft Lake City and the Urban Arts Fest in 2014, which on acceptance, really got the ball rolling for me. That is when I learned Photoshop and Illustrator as well as screen printing. Later that same year, I ended up with a shared art studio in the Guthrie Building. From there, I was really able to expand my art because I now had a dedicated space for it, and also a monthly bill to keep me motivated. After doing a few events and festivals in Salt Lake City, people just start hitting me up about being a vendor in their festival or event. Though I haven't expanded to that many festivals, it has been a very helpful way for my art to be seen and meet new potential buyers. I'm a little picky about where I want to sell and spend my weekend doing a booth because for me, not every event out there is worth my time and effort, unfortunately. I also first got into gallery exhibits by participating in group shows with friends, who were also artists, until I had enough pieces to do my own solo show. My first solo show in a gallery was just last year at the Avenues Sweet Library Branch from November to the end of 2017.
I've seen your art over the past few years and in some cases, the work is super detailed. What made you go for such intricate designs?
I think my grandparents definitely influenced that. Everything they did and taught us was a time-consuming and detail-oriented craft. My mom's dad is also a nuclear engineer and carpenter, so precision in craftsmanship was always a concept I was taught. I'm also super influenced by cultural and native designs that have come out of nearly every past and present civilization around the world. From Native American to traditional Mexican and South American, to Greek, Indian and so many
more—their cultural imagery is always extremely flourished, detailed and precise. I love that intricate patterns have been used by humans since the beginning of time to express the natural world around them. And if Buddhist monks can make intricate pictures and patterns out of colored sand, then I figured I may as well try that hard to make something detailed with modern tools. I guess the details were what held the connection and progression of my art.
How do you go about creating a new piece from concept to final design?
Most every piece is started as an illustration—ink, and sometimes paint, on paper. From that draft, I either hand replicate the larger image on the wood panels, or make a transparency and project it to size. I am definitely a fan of rulers, the occasional compass or circle stencil, but the majority of my illustration and finer works is all hand drawn meticulous OCD patterning, for real.
How much of it stays the original idea and how much to you play with it as you create?
Almost every larger piece I have made is directly from that first draft whether it's on graph paper or out of my sketchbook. So in other words, almost every big piece has an exact replica little piece that I have thoroughly thought and planned out. So there isn't much I change after that. And I have to admit, I'm not the best at using high-grade paper for those first drafts; you get sketchbook pages, lined paper, graph, tracing paper and occasionally a nicer watercolor paper. I do have a series of works that are patterned landscapes and portraits and they're a lot more free flowing, though I still like having a rough draft.
How has it been making a name for yourself as both an artist and designer around town?
It has been a little challenging, but also very rewarding. I think Salt Lake City has a lot of interest in local products and it has pushed me to think about what I really want to be selling and showing to my neighbors and community. Art is very opinionated and not everyone loves every style. So for me, I love being able to work a festival and get feedback from my customers. The same goes for art exhibits, most art is sold the night of the exhibit, when people can talk to the artist and get a feel for what they were trying to say. It's more meaningful for people that way, I think. And I'm a happy, smiley person, so not that hard to approach for most.
Right now you're currently in the Guthrie. How has it been having a space there and occasionally collaborating with people?
Having a space in the Guthrie Building [aka Guthrie Artist Studios] has been an awesome experience for me. I was first invited to share a studio with a jeweler friend I'd met through the building. I'd lived and worked near the Guthrie for years and often hung out there. I shared a space with her on the third floor for a year and a half until a larger space opened up on the second floor. Which I have been in since April 2016, now sharing with a seamster (male seamstress, FYI) friend of mine name Jordan Halverson of Halverson Designs. He brought in the nice sewing machine that my big studio was so desperately lacking before! Guthrie is also the place me and my boyfriend, Matt Monson, met. He has a studio there too, on the third floor, and it's definitely become a home away from home for us. The studios are a very social place, and everyone is really supportive of one another here, which has proven to be inspiring and helped create many new friendships.
Where do you want to take your art moving forward? And what can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
You can expect to see me at a few festivals over the summer, per usual. I can't quite say which yet, mainly because most of them are still in judging phase (i.e.: I haven't been accepted yet. But, always hopeful). The next thing I will be gearing up for is the SLC Gallery Stroll for June, as we do an Open Studios at Guthrie that same evening. I am also looking forward to having a booth at The Salt Miner
's next event: Summer Solstice Artist Market, which will be held in Graffiti Alley, directly behind the art studios and Fice Boutique later in June as well. The Salt Miner is a website Matt started that carries all local product, 24/7. It's a venture I've been helping him bring to fruition
, and we just launched it last October with an artist market of the same name and location. He has been selling my screen prints and clothing on the site, and it's the best place for anyone to find my current artworks as well as lots of rad products and art from other amazing local artist and makers. Check out their website for updates on the exact time and date of the next market, then come out to see us and say "hello!" You can also follow me on Facebook