Featured Artist Interview

Britanee Sickles

Britanee was our May 2015 Featured Artist Contest winner. A recent graduate of the Columbus College of Art and Design and new to the Toledo area, she learned about American Frame and our contest via a local artists group, PRIZM.

Classically trained in drawing and painting, she is captivated by the figure and works in portraiture and is most interested in the historic period between the late 1880s up to 1960. Raised as a Catholic and inspired by a trip she took as a young girl to the Vatican, she is heavily influenced by the iconic art of the church and is now merging that interest with her fascination with old Hollywood in her next series which she calls her ‘Celebrity Sainthood‘ series as a social commentary on how we revere our ‘stars‘ in American culture.

About her winning piece: “Cheerio,“ Britanee says “I have always been inspired by the past and this is evident in the painting. I wanted to capture a look of a smug aristocratic gentleman. Making people wonder who is this man and what is his place in society.”

Laura Jajko (LJ): Congratulations on winning our contest!
Britanee Sickles: (BS): Thank you! I appreciate that.

LJ: So you‘re a recent graduate of art school it looks like?
BS: 2012 I graduated from Columbus College of Art and Design

LJ: I understand that that is an incredible program
BS: It is! I don‘t even know how to put that into words. It‘s definitely an experience. They work you pretty hard, but I think that‘s what makes you better. I really enjoyed my time there

LJ: What do you mean by that? Was it morning through night, just the time, the depth, the intensity, maybe all of that?
BS: All of it. It was very intense. You are living and breathing art every day. There are your regular English classes but it‘s very minimal. You have seven projects that are all art-related due in the same week. Very little sleeping. Lots of critiques, which is great because it gets you really prepared for the art world because there are going to be people who love your art and there are going to be people who hate it. I definitely appreciated that

LJ: I would say that that kind of intensity and your ability to have your art critiqued and to defend your vision is not only important in art school, but to be successful in anything.
BS: Oh, absolutely

They were extremely supportive. I feel very lucky for that just because when I went to college I realized a lot of my peers, their families weren’t necessarily supportive of them continuing in art and my family has always been super supportive, between my parents and grandparents. They tried to make sure that if there was a class I wanted to take, they would try to get their money together and drive me places to get those classes done.
Britanee Sickles
We’re always learning something. I’m just always looking at art in general. If it’s really good, it inspires me.
Britanee Sickles

LJ: I love that you‘re from our town. Where did you move from?
BS: I‘m originally from Clyde. My fiancé and I went to school in Columbus so we stayed there for a while. And then he got a job here so we decided to move to Maumee and I love it. My dad is originally from Perrysburg so we‘re somewhat familiar with the area.

LJ: Welcome! So have you been to our place yet?
BS: I have not actually been inside the physical location. What‘s really funny is how I found you guys. I was living in Columbus at the time and I needed to get some stuff framed for my soon to be sister-in-law. I did some paintings for her nursery. I found you guys online and I‘ve been ordering from you and then I moved here and I‘m like, “Oh my gosh, they‘ve been in Maumee this whole time. I could have just walked right in, instead of ordering online.” So the next time I need frames I will actually go to your location

LJ: Have you always been an artist? When did you start producing your art?
BS: I‘ve been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. I don‘t think I realized that I could be something more until middle school. I really started getting more attention and realizing that my work kind of stood out. And that‘s when I decided that art is something that I wanted to do as a career.

LJ: Were you one of the kids that was tasked with helping the teacher with everybody else‘s art projects?
BS: Somehow I would weave drawing into any project for any class.

LJ: Oh that‘s great! With your talent and your passion at a young age, did you find that your family was supportive of you going into art?
BS: They were extremely supportive. I feel very lucky for that just because when I went to college I realized a lot of my peers, their families weren‘t necessarily supportive of them continuing in art and my family has always been super supportive, between my parents and grandparents. They tried to make sure that if there was a class I wanted to take, they would try to get their money together and drive me places to get those classes done. I actually took some drawing classes at the Toledo Art Museum in high school so I feel extremely fortunate for that.

LJ: That‘s where I went when I was a kid and I still think the Toledo Art Museum has one of the finest educational programs for young students in the country. It‘s just amazing what they do. I have a daughter in art school and she has a supportive mother. My husband was like, “Where‘s the academics?” I was like, “Forget it! Just let her study what she needs to get the degree.” You‘re a degreed artist. Are you working on your art solely, do you have visions of opening a gallery? What do you feel you want to do with it?
BS: I would love to someday open my own gallery. At this point in time it‘s not practical because I‘m just getting out of college. I hope someday to do that and to get local artists involved. I know I‘m really excited about the Toledo area in general. There‘s a lot of talent here.

LJ: There sure is!
BS: I‘ve had the opportunity to meet some awesome artists. Everyone‘s very friendly and welcoming. So it‘d be great one day to open a gallery and help new young artists get their work out there.

LJ: What kind of studio space do you occupy now?
BS: My fiancé and I split our extra room (we have a two bedroom apartment). Half of that second room is his office and the other half is where I work. I end up taking up a little more than half.

LJ: So he gets a corner right?
BS: Pretty much. He has a very small corner where his desk is and then my stuff is everywhere.

LJ: Give him a wall! Actually give him a corner and have him facing out so he can see the work that‘s being produced. Are you working in a different field or are you supporting yourself as an artist full time at this point?
BS: I‘m just doing my art. Fortunately he‘s very supportive as well with my art. With art, it‘s feast or famine, that‘s been my experience. He‘s fine with that. He knows this is what I love, so in the summer I try to do as many shows as I can.

LJ: Did you do Crosby Gardens this year?
BS: I did not. I did not find out about that one until past the deadline. I was bummed. I hear it‘s a really good one.

LJ: It‘s a lot of fun! The local community comes out for that one and then there‘s the Black Swamp in Bowling Green. Have you heard of that one?
BS: That one is amazing; it‘s a lot of fun. I did do Artomatic this year and that was awesome. It‘s incredible to see all this art in such a big space and so many people from the community coming in. That was really cool.

LJ: Yes and then I see that you were in the Salon de Refuses. Was that this year or last year?
BS: I think it was between 2014 and 2015. It started in November and they took it down in January. And then I was just in a PRIZM show at the 5/3 building.

LJ: PRIZM is a great group.
BS: They are, definitely! There‘s a lot of stuff going on in Toledo and I‘m very excited about that.

LJ: I just had a conversation with the president of the Toledo Artist Club and we were just talking about how truly undervalued this area is for its impact on the arts. There‘s so much going on and people are really excited about it and I think it all starts because of the museum. Let‘s get to your process. How do you work? What is your process?
BS: Oh, that‘s a tough one because I like to do things differently. Art is very exploratory for me, so I do a lot of portraits. I work in oil, sometimes I work in acrylic, sometimes I draw so I‘ll use graphite or colored pencil or charcoal. So, it‘s really whatever I‘m in the mood for. If you look at most of my work, it typically tends to be traditional. That would be the best way to describe it. But that‘s a tough one for me because I don‘t approach anything the same.

LJ: Do you work from a figure or from your imagination?
BS: I do a little bit of both. I like to create personas. People are probably the main thing I enjoy doing. A good example is if I can get my friends together I like to dress them up and it‘ll be totally opposite of their personality. It‘s just fun for me to play. So I could paint the same person and they could look totally different. I‘ve painted my friend Colleen a couple of times and in one painting she‘s very edgy looking and in the next she‘s very formal. I just like to, I don‘t know, dress people up, if that makes sense. I do a lot of patterns so a lot of that comes from my imagination. I do look at photo references. I try to lay out the composition the way I want it and it‘s definitely a combination of both.

LJ: When you work are you a morning person? When are you inspired? Do you approach it in routine way?
BS: I do. Typically mid-day is when I‘m most inspired. I‘m awake by then –laughs- I‘m not a morning person so I do try to have a schedule just because there‘s things to get done. Because I‘m at home, I‘m a bit domestic, if that makes sense. So I try to get all my chores and stuff done in the morning and then I‘ll take time in the middle of the day when I‘m feeling inspired naturally to work on my art.

LJ: I ask everybody is if there are any common, underlying themes to your work and I see that it‘s the portrait. You approach the portrait and then I read about what you said on your website, that you‘re most inspired by the time of the late 1880s up to 1960. But is there anything else that you want to showcase about the themes you explore in your art?
BS: Yes, actually, recently, pop culture has been a huge influence. I was baptized Catholic. My grandmother was a practicing Catholic so I went to church with her. So religious art and pop culture has been something that has been really inspiring to me and I‘ve actually started to blend the two.

LJ: Really?
BS: Yes! People look at celebrities, now I feel like they kind of worship them in a sense. So I‘m actually working on a celebrity sainthood series. I just finished a couple of months ago Saint Marilyn Monroe and that actually sold in the first show I‘ve ever shown it in, which was really exciting. I‘m working on an Elvis right now. I plan on doing a whole series of celebrities with these really elaborate backgrounds. Very inspired by prayer cards or religious cards.

LJ: I was raised Catholic too, but yeah, those little saint cards. You‘d get them on different religious holidays.
BS: That‘s what I‘m kind of exploring right now. I also have a celebrity pop star/last supper thing in the works. I did a small one in college and I wanted to do a large one with all of the disciples and all female celebrities to totally spin it. That‘s what I‘m working on recently.

LJ: You‘ll have to post that on your art gallery when you‘re done!
BS: Definitely!

LJ: So obviously you kind of like to poke a little fun.
BS: Yes!

LJ: So is there any particular artist that has inspired your work or influenced you?
BS: Oh, there are so many artists. I had a minor in art history as well, so I love a lot from different artists. I‘d say Egon Schiele. It‘s funny because his work is figurative, but it‘s very expressive compared to mine. Mine is a little more traditional. But I love just the way his work feels. He‘s definitely a big influence. I lot of Mucha‘s paintings, I just love all the details.

LJ: Every time we talk to an artist, I learn about all these artists that people are inspired by that I‘ve never even heard of before. And I think I know my stuff and I don‘t. You know what I mean?
BS: We‘re always learning something. I‘m just always looking at art in general. If it‘s really good, it inspires me. It could be someone anonymous and if it‘s done really well and you can tell there‘s a lot of heart put into it, it makes me feel like creating.

LJ: Have you met Leslie Adams here in town?
BS: I have not.

LJ: She is a local portrait artist. She had her own show at the Toledo Art Museum a year or two ago and she‘s a fine realist and works very large—oils. Being in town, you‘ll come across her work. So how do you keep a fresh perspective on your work?
BS: Honestly, I don‘t really have a lack of ideas. I‘m the type of person whose brain probably works on overload. Fortunately, that‘s not usually too big of a problem with me. More of what holds me back is everyday life. You let little things get in the way of creating. I try to tell myself “Okay, get your stuff done and out of the way so you can focus on what you love.” So I guess just trying to be conscious of it is how I keep myself in check.

LJ: Interesting, because that‘s where the routine becomes important. And I know that‘s antithetical to how people think an artist should work. I have a friend who is militant about her studio time. She will not schedule any lunches on certain days, she will not schedule doctor‘s appointments, no. She‘s like “Nope, can‘t do that. I‘m scheduled in my studio 12-8 that day.” So she‘s just really draws hard boundaries.
BS: It is really important because I notice weeks where I kind of lose my schedule and I‘m terrible and I don‘t work on anything. And I‘m like “That was just a waste of time.”

LJ: Right, right! And with your fiancé, is he gone during the day so at least you have that private time?
BS: He is, which works great. If he‘s here he‘s just moseying around and he wants to know what I‘m doing and he is very distracting. It‘s great that I have time where he is at his job so I can do mine.

LJ: Right. When you‘re working on a piece, how do you decide when it‘s finished?
BS: For me it‘s kind of a gut feeling. I look at it and I try to give myself a couple of days. I used to work where I can‘t start something unless I finish this. And that was really detrimental. I felt like I started getting to the point where I‘d overwork something and destroy a perfectly good painting. So now I try to work on a couple different pieces and give a couple days rest on the one that I was working on so I can come back with a fresh perspective. I can really see then what is working and what isn‘t. So that is kind of how I handle that.

LJ: That‘s smart. I‘ve seen a lot of artists go through that same dilemma.
BS: I think most artists are kind of perfectionists so you need that time to decompress otherwise you‘re going to be knit-picking it to death

LJ: Do you ever ask for anyone else‘s opinion?
BS: I do. I‘m still in contact with several people that I went to school with and typically if I‘m having a hard time I‘ll just shoot them a message and say “Hey, can you look at this as a fresh pair of eyes?” I mean, I‘ll even ask my mom sometimes. She has no artistic training so it‘s kind of nice. Sometimes she‘ll point out something like “Oh I think the proportion is off on that,” and I‘m like “Oh my gosh, why didn‘t I see that. That‘s exactly right.” If I‘m having troubles I usually ask. If I feel good about it, then I usually don‘t because I‘m like “I don‘t want to hear…”

LJ: That‘s exactly right! It‘s like you don‘t want anyone to cloud your vision. Absolutely! I guess we already kind of talked about the next one, about a typical day in your life. Do you like to travel? Do you ever travel for inspiration?
BS: I do. I‘d like to travel a lot more. Recently though, my fiancé does travel a lot for his job, and there have been a couple of times when I was able to go with him. We were in D.C. and I‘ve been there a couple of times but I just love going to a city because we live in a relatively rural area other than Toledo. It‘s nice to see a city that you aren‘t super familiar with. Architecture and things like that get me pretty inspired. I remember even in high school when I went to Europe, that totally changed how I looked at art.

LJ: Where did you go in Europe?
BS: We went to Paris, Venice and Rome. I got to see the Vatican and I remember that definitely changing how I look at things.

LJ: Oh definitely! I went to the Vatican right after college, so I was like 22.
BS: I would love to go back. I feel like now that I‘ve had all the art history classes, I appreciate things so much more.

LJ: Could you imagine just going there with your sketch pad and you could just sit and draw for months. You‘re young and still kind of exploring and trying a bunch of things. At this point what do you feel your biggest accomplishment in your field is so far?
BS: That‘s a tough one. I feel like at this point, any sort of recognition big or small is significant to me. I‘m trying to build my experience and make a name for myself. In Columbus, I had a pretty regular dog portrait commission group. I was contacted pretty regularly to paint people‘s dogs. So that was pretty cool. And then we moved here and it‘s kind of a different market. I‘ve been really fortunate that everyone‘s so welcoming. I‘ve got several shows in Port Clinton, I‘ve been involved with PRIZM, Artomatic was just amazing to be a part of. So I don‘t know if it‘s any one thing. I think just being welcomed to Toledo is just a big accomplishment for me.

LJ: It is difficult sometimes to take the plunge and immerse yourself in a new community, but like we were saying earlier, this is a great art community and people have a lot of respect for artists that are really trying to do something different here.
BS: Everyone‘s so helpful. It‘s amazing. I mean, I‘ve met Dani Herrera a couple of times. She and I are in contact and she‘s been so helpful. I‘m just very fortunate feeling that everyone is so welcoming.

LJ: Well obviously it goes two ways too. It sounds like you‘re welcoming to them and open to them as well, so that‘s really the other side of the coin. How do you see your art evolving?
BS: That‘s a tough one too because I do a little bit of everything and I never want to limit myself. That‘s a big thing for me because if it‘s not exploratory then it‘s not fun, if that makes sense. So it‘s hard to say what my art will look like in however many years because I really just paint or draw what I feel at that time. Right now, I like painting and drawing glamorous looking people. Who knows what I will feel like in a couple of years. So hopefully it just keeps improving and getting technically better.

LJ: Is there a particular material, even if you paint the same subject, is there a different medium or material that you would be interested in exploring?
BS: You know, I got to explore with clay a little bit in college, so that was mostly just throwing on a wheel. I think it would be really interesting to try and almost do a 3-Dimensional portrait with clay. I just don‘t even know where I would do something like that. But I would love to try to figure out the whole 3-Dimensional workings. I worked with gauche a little in college and I haven‘t touched it since. So I‘d kind of be interested to go back and try that too.

LJ: Have you ever experimented integrating your paintings with photography?
BS: I have not. I did something similar in my printmaking class. I do some photography; it‘s more of a hobby. I don‘t consider myself a photographer by any means but I take a lot of photos for reference and things so that might be interesting to do too.

LJ: There‘s so much to do, you‘re right it‘s almost limitless. You can keep working the same theme of the subject matter and work in all different mediums. So how do you price your work?
BS: That‘s another hard one!

LJ: Everybody has the exact same reaction. It‘s like “ugh”
BS: That‘s another one where I kind of go with my gut. I do think about how much time and materials I put into it but I also think, I‘m really big on arts for everybody, so I don‘t want to out price anyone, if that makes sense. I have mini paintings that are like 2” x 3” and I sell those for $20 because I feel like just about anyone can get a painting for $20 and then I have ones that are taller than I am for a couple thousand. So I like to have a range. I want to price it to where I still feel good about selling it but I also want it to be affordable because I‘d rather have someone enjoying it than it sitting in my closet, if that makes sense. I want someone to love it and enjoy it.

LJ: Do you sell any prints or do you mostly sell your originals?
BS: I do both. I just recently started doing prints and the first sale I did that was the Port Clinton art walk and those were the only things that sold, which is fine with me. It was exciting. It was nice because people were like, “I really love that painting but I can‘t afford it, but I can take a print.” So I think prints are great.

LJ: We do fine art reproduction here. We have a photographer on staff that does the capture of the image and the proofing. And then we can take that to whatever substrate you‘re working on
BS: Oh, that‘s awesome! I didn‘t know you guys did that!

LJ: Since you‘re the Featured Artist and you have your prize money and your 20% off coupon for the rest of the year, you can experiment and put that savings to good use. So your pricing strategy is truly based on the market you‘re trying to hit
BS: It is! My pricing totally changed when I moved here from Columbus. And even my pricing when I‘m in Port Clinton is different than when I‘m in Toledo. I mean, I think it just depends on what type of market is there. It‘s the same as someone from California, it sounds like they‘re making more but…

LJ: They‘re spending more too! It‘s just such a higher cost of doing anything there. But that‘s an interesting approach because frankly if you‘re pricing your art for everybody, we all go through different stages in our lives. So a twenty-two-year old affords something completely different than a forty-two-year old. And as you build a following, somebody who purchased something that was just one of your small pieces for twenty dollars might treasure that and then follow you and commission you and just become a collector over time. Last question: any framing tips you‘d like to share with us?
BS: If it‘s a dark piece, I‘m not going to want a light frame because I don‘t want them to compete. Same with if I have a really ornate piece, I tend to go with more of an ornate frame and if I have more of a plain piece I don‘t want to go with an elaborate frame because once again it‘s competing. So that‘s my strategy. I try to have them compliment each other rather than fight.

LJ: Yes, so truly framing to the art as opposed to the space.
BS: Yes, that‘s how I look at it. I mean if you came into my house, none of my frames match

LJ: Oh, good! I wish I could say the same, most of mine match. But I always admire the adventurous side of framing.
BS: Thanks again for taking the time to do this!

LJ: Thanks again and good luck to you!
BS: Thank you and have a good weekend!