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Ladies We Love: Artist Brooke Burnside

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When we popped down to Austin to get ready for our new store opening, we made plenty of time to meet some locals we’d been Insta-obsessing over. With an appreciation for abstract shapes, house cats and pop culture, visual-artist-slash-architecture-student Brooke Burnside is someone you can’t help but want to know. Read on for her favorite podcasts, advice for young creatives, future goals and more.

Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do, where do you live?

I live in Austin, Texas, where I’m a visual artist and a graduate student in the architecture program at the University of Texas.

Let’s talk go-tos…

Coffee order: Flash brew with lots of cream and sugar.
Outfit: I want to wear sack dresses all the time but I actually wear jeans and a T-shirt all the time.
Neighborhood spot: I just moved to a new neighborhood but my favorite place to eat in the city is Julio’s Cafe in Hyde Park, where I used to live.
Album/playlist:I tend to listen to podcasts when I’m working and it’s almost always either The Read or Bodega Boys.
Weekend plan: Swimming.

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You’ve mentioned that you’re originally from the Bahamas—what was it like growing up there, and what brought you to Austin?

Like many people and their hometowns, I would say I had a complicated relationship with where I’m from. I think part of it was general adolescent turbulence but there’s also a bit of cabin fever that can set in when growing up on a tiny island. I’ve come to love where I’m from and the people who made me who I am. The Bahamas has a truly unique culture. When I go back there now I realize how much I’ve taken for granted in the past.

I came to Austin to study architecture and I really enjoy it. I lived in New York City for about three years and Austin is a great middle ground between there and the slower pace of the Bahamas.

Have you always been an artist?

My mom is a cake baker and decorator and my dad is a painter and cartoonist. Growing up around incredibly creative people, I learned firsthand the value in making things. Any sense of color and composition in my work came from my parents. I took after-school visual art classes in high school that taught me a lot about using various media, but in college I studied film which became my creative outlet. I thought about becoming a writer and film scholar but it wasn’t quite as fulfilling as I’d hoped.

I got a scholarship to do a summer program in architecture at Harvard and things just kind of clicked. I’d always felt this creative energy in me but wasn’t sure how to channel it independently—how to turn it into what I wanted and not what was being asked of me for a class. I think architecture gave me the tools to work out that process. Still, it was difficult to get into a rhythm of making things that weren’t part of an assignment where no one was holding me accountable. It is so much easier to just not make something. I now realize my mental health sort of depends on making art and I’m pleasantly surprised that people choose to live with things I make.

About those (very cool) things that you make, it seems clay and chalk pastels are your preferred media. What do you love most about working with them?

I started with chalk pastels about three years ago in one of my architecture program classes and what I made was very bad…like it had no redeeming qualities at all. I wanted to become revenge-good at using chalk and spent my free time experimenting. I’ve been making pastel drawings ever since. It’s been a great way to continue practicing the arguably dead craft of architectural drafting, which is how almost all of my drawings start.

I first worked with clay in high school and it has taught me so many lessons that can be applied to other media and life in general. I love how physically engaging it is and that so much of what is considered waste can be reused. Clay also demands an awareness of time and rhythm, it’s constantly changing independent of anything you’re actively doing to it. The most important thing I’ve learned is to not be too precious about my work. I could use my whole body making this little clay thing that I love and it could so easily break and that’s just the way it goes.

The processes of working with chalk and clay are very different. Pastels are a much more solitary practice where I can create a whole piece from start to finish in a room by myself. Since I don’t have my own kiln, clay requires consulting other people to get my pieces fired. I love the community embedded in the practice of ceramic work. I know there’s still a wealth of knowledge for me to learn about the medium, so it’s nice to talk to other people about their techniques and experiences.

What inspires you when you’re in a creative rut?

My dad’s art and his commitment to his craft have always been a constant source of inspiration for me. I’m also very into geometry and photography, so I devour as much visual imagery as possible (aka, spend too much time staring at Instagram).

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Talk to us about your architecture studies—where do you hope they take you?

I think I’ve used architecture school to not only work towards becoming an architect but also a more versatile and capable artist. I hope to thoroughly blend art and architecture in my career, likely working in the design-build world. I want to have a hand in the design of spaces beyond the drawings stage and play an active role in construction. It’s also very important for me to inspire other young black women to join this field, as we are intensely underrepresented yet have so much to contribute.

Speaking of, do you have any advice for other young women looking to make it in a creative field?

I know it’s easier said than done, but carving out time to actually work on your creative projects is crucial. Test things out, make discoveries and just create.

Since this is part of our Ladies We Love series, tell us about a lady you love in your life.

I’m lucky to have grown up surrounded by many passionate, generous and strong women. My grandmothers, aunts, godmothers are all forces of nature, but my mother is one of the most inspiring and hard-working people I know. I’m constantly in awe of her thoughtfulness and wit.

Thanks for the chat, Brooke. Shop pants like the pair she’s wearing here, plus meet more Ladies We Love.