Some people just have to make art. With her mixed media and art journaling, Brooke Henry is one of those people. With a nod to her quilting grandmother, Brooke expresses her vision with an emphasis on textiles and an imagination open to incorporating other media into her work. When Brooke lets the materials in her studio guide her, new creative paths appear – with satisfying results, stitch by stitch.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? What motivates you artistically?
I’ve always considered myself to be creative. I have tried going down many different avenues as well as a variety of jobs in life, and nothing has stuck. It has always come back to a need to express my creative energy in some way.
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Another big aspect for me is I know what my life is like without art. My mental health suffers tremendously. It has taken me a lot of years to accept and fully embrace this path that I was destined for. I had to really fight the stereotypes ingrained in my head, that I needed to get a “real” job. It wasn’t until I truly embraced this path for myself that I could see that my loved ones accepted this about me all along.
My artistic motivation comes from an innate need to be creative. Art is what makes me the person I am today.
Did you have a “gateway craft” as a kid? Which creative projects led you to the work you do today?
My grandmother taught quilting all over the world, and I was fortunate that she wanted to ensure that all of her grandkids could sew. So I would spend weekends sewing away in her quilt studio. I was comfortable with the sewing machine from the age of 5. She taught me the basics, and from there she made sure that any ideas I could come up with were brought to fruition. Once you spend the time to learn the “rules,” you also learn how you can break them to create something brand new.
After that, it gave me “permission” in my life to seek out anything and everything that creatively interested me. So I never felt too young or inexperienced. I knew that if you break down the concepts into easier, more tangible parts – anything is possible! When I was 13, I biked down to the local yarn store and learned how to knit. Sitting in on my grandma’s quilting classes. Sending mail art to my pen pals. Everything that I have learned and taught myself over the course of my life has led me to what I do today: mixed media art journaling with a heavy emphasis on textiles and stitching.
Why do you focus on mixed media?
I focus on mixed media because it’s the only thing that fully encompasses everything I do and make. At points in my life I have considered myself a quilter, or a crocheter, or amigurumi pattern creator, or knitter, or hand writing enthusiast. But now? I consider myself an artist and a maker. Because it includes everything I love to create now, and anything else I could get into in the future.
With mixed media and art journaling I get to combine all of my loves under one roof. I believe it is the combination of all these past hyper fixations that make my artwork uniquely mine.
What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My work is often characterized as featuring bold black and white patterns with a pop of color. There may not be one thing that defines my signature, but the intersection of fabric, textiles, and paper all coming together makes my work stand out. In the end I think we are all finetuning our style over the span of our lives. New experiences and techniques encourage our art to evolve as we grow.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
This is a good question… I’m a bit of both.
When it comes to something like a class, I try to have a general, loose outline of everything that I want to include. I’m okay if this changes as I start to do the work because I try to listen to whatever the project is telling me.
As far as general creating, such as things that are just for fun with the only intention to fuel my creativity, I encourage myself to be much more spontaneous. It’s out of these play sessions that real ingenuity is born. These are the ideas that I take and then run with to create products to sell or feature classes around. In these sessions I’m completely open to failure (at least I try to be), and I even expect it. There is no pressure to create something amazing. Often it can be a small aspect of one attempt that sparks a new idea.
What do you do to develop your skills? How do you get better at what you do?
Always have the spirit of a student. Never think that you are done learning. I try to take as many classes and watch as many tutorials as I can reasonably afford and get my hands on. It can be hard to make time for additional learning when trying to run a business. But, I think it is so important to broaden your horizons and viewpoints.
For me, the point of classes is not so I can go and replicate that teacher’s work. Rather if I can take just one thing out of a class and implement it into my own style – I count that as a success. Something as little as the way a teacher organizes their papers, or holds a paint brush, or threads a needle – counts as a victory to me. If I can be inspired by even one thing, I’m happy with the money/time spent.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Yes! I am so lucky. We moved to a new house last year, and now I basically have the whole basement as my art studio. Up until now, things have been a bit of a mess with makeshift storage. I wanted to give it some time after moving in to really get a feel for the space. This allowed me to know what I really want as far as storage and table space.
One of my big projects lately is a total reorganization. I tend to get pretty messy when I create, but I think the key is being able to tidy up between projects. A big component of that is having a dedicated space for everything to go back to. Before this, I would just kind of shove things back to make room for a few inches of table top to create on. Even though I’m not done with this organization yet (in typical Brooke fashion I decided to film a new class in the middle of this project), I’m much happier already.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
First up would probably be my sewing machine. It seems like I use this no matter what kind of project I’m doing.
Other than that, I have my favorite supplies in many categories: paints, writing utensils, scissors, fabric, papers, washi tapes, stamps, stencils etc. But, I think I could make do without many of these supplies.
I enjoy the challenge of making do with whatever I have on hand at the moment. I believe this forces our minds to think differently.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
As far back as middle or high school I’ve always had to have something playing in the background. My usual is to watch a TV show while I work. I often find myself rewatching the same shows over and over. Think along the lines of: The Office, Friends, Arrested Development, Schitt’s Creek, etc. My guilty pleasure is definitely competition reality TV shows: Survivor, Big Brother, Project Runway. It’s more about the constant noise rather than stopping to actually watch. I also really enjoy audiobooks, and I’ve been on a big kick lately. My favorite genre for books is psychological thrillers.
What’s the best piece of advice you try to live and would give to others?
Never think that you are done learning. Always have the spirit of a student that is eager to learn. Every single person that you come across in life has something to teach us as long as we are willing to listen.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Yes, to both! I think creativity comes naturally to EVERYONE.
Let me explain what I mean by that. As children we let our imaginations run wild – we didn’t know that something was impossible or improbable. We didn’t know the “right” or “wrong” way. We just did what we wanted and thought how we wanted. And we didn’t know to let the opinions or learnings of others stop us. I think imagination and creativity run hand in hand.
The older we get the more we are taught to do things a certain way or to think within a boxed criteria. In order for us to let our creativity loose again, we must release those self-imposed or societal standards. For a lot of people, we have to relearn creativity as adults. A lot of that is training our minds to give yourself permission to let loose and let go of the rules.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
The best way for me to get unstuck is to go sit in my art studio. This doesn’t mean that I force myself to go in there and create – but rather sit amongst all my supplies and previous creations. There is inspiration everywhere I look. Eventually, after sitting there and handling my supplies, some ideas will strike. I may only manage a small portion for that day and that’s okay.
I always try my best to differentiate between being stuck and being burnt out. When it’s burnout, I try to step away for a little bit. This could mean reading a book or some other activity entirely. I often turn my focus to the administrative side of my business. Soon enough I get so antsy from staring at the computer screen that I have to do something creative with my hands!
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I look back at this year so far and realize how much I have actually done. But, my website is one of the most notable and exciting so far! It has taken a lot of hard work and dedication to get to this stage. From the beginning, I wanted my website to be a one stop shop for everything BB Henry Art related. I was tired of paying seller fees on other platforms so I knew I wanted a shop that I could control. Next I wanted a place to have a blog of sorts, a place where I could take a deeper dive in different topics and tutorials. Lastly, I wanted my website to be a host to a gallery of my past and present works. I hope that by visiting, people can learn a bit more about me and my art!
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Interview posted July 2022
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