“My work is exclusively focused on the human figure and consequently I have been a longtime fan of PoseSpace”
Brian Smith is a professional artist, award-winning graphic designer, and art professor from Canada. He started his artistic career as a designer in 1969 and created his own business in 1979. Smith and his team earned several design awards and in 2004 he decided to become a full-time artist and focus on his fine art pieces —something he had been already doing on the side for many years.
Soon after leaving his company, Smith gained more recognition as a professional artist. In 2005 he was awarded the title of Honorary Drawing Master by the Drawing Society of Canada, in November 2008 he was named Artist of the Month by American Artist magazine and even got featured on TV on the show “Star Portraits” in 2009. Brian has also been teaching life drawing, portraiture and figurative abstraction for over 30 years in colleges and universities in Canada —such as the Ontario College of Art and Design University and the Haliburton School of The Arts—, as well as at his own studio.
In this Q&A Canadian artist Brian Smith shares with PoseSpace how he got into art, what artists influenced his work, how he discovered figurative abstraction and what he always says to his art students:
Can you tell us about your background and how you got into art?
I am very fortunate to be the son of a full-time artist. My mother was a fashion illustrator and spent her working days as well as her time off, drawing people. So it was natural for me to become enamored with the idea of figurative work. At the age of 21, I was accepted directly into 2nd year on full scholarship at the Ontario College of Art and Design, graduating in 1969. Over the next 37 years I was a professional graphic designer including running my own business from 1979-2004, and my staff won over 90 international design awards over that period. In 2004 my two senior employees bought the company and I was then able to focus more on my fine art work that I had been doing all along in the background. From 1985 to the present I have been teaching drawing and painting the figure at several post-secondary colleges and universities as well as conducting workshops across Canada and a Master Class in my own studio.
Which artist or painter has influenced you?
Many of my painting influences are figurative abstractionists such as Richard Diebenkorn, Eberhard Hückstadt, Melinda Cootsona, Harry Paul Ally, Carmel Jenkin, and Kathy Jones. My drawing influences are much more classical and include Pierre Paul Prud’hon, Edgar Dégas, Alphonse Mucha, Anthony Ryder, and Zhaoming Wu.
You’ve earned several awards. From your personal view, what’s been your greatest artistic success?
In January 2005, I was awarded the title of Honorary Drawing Master by the Drawing Society of Canada. Gerrit Verstraete, co-founder of the Drawing Society, noted that to receive this honour, an artist must “demonstrate a substantial commitment to drawing as well as mastery of drawing techniques. They have developed a body of work that positions drawings as complete works in themselves and not just preparatory work or ‘studies’ for paintings. A Canadian drawing master is an artist who loves to draw, who draws well, who is comfortable in one or any number of styles and who has spent many years creating drawings that in turn have become valuable contributions to Canada’s overall artistic heritage.” Previous inductees have included Robert Bateman, Peter Mah, Eric Freifeld and Ken Danby. Pretty good company.
What do you think of PoseSpace? Do you prefer books or individual poses?
My work is exclusively focused on the human figure and consequently I have been a longtime fan of PoseSpace. I am fortunate to live in a large metropolitan area and have fairly easy access to many excellent models. However, PoseSpace offers me the opportunity to choose different model “looks” and poses at a price that is very reasonable. One of the features I most like is the ability to see the pose from 16 angles and choose my pose from the various nuanced angles. Most of my PoseSpace purchases have been books/DVDs which give me an even further discounted price as well as so many more poses and angles.
Tell us one thing you thought you knew, that it later turned out you were wrong about
For the first 40 years of my fine art career I focussed on classical red chalk drawing of the figure much like da Vinci and Michelangelo. And, as I improved my skills over those years, I thought I had reached a pinnacle in my art. In 2002 I discovered figurative abstraction thinking: “How hard can abstraction be?” However, after 40 years of accurate, proportional, well-rendered figures, I discovered I knew nothing about abstraction and that it was immensely more difficult, more challenging, and therefore, more rewarding than lifelike, classical drawing. So, here I am at 74, deeply in love with being an artist and challenged every day I go to my studio to create work that is meaningful and maybe just a little bit better than the art I did yesterday.
How has your style changed over the years?
As I mentioned, I was classically trained in the typical red chalk drawing style of da Vinci and Michelangelo from the time I was 18 years of age. My goal for the next 40 years was to develop that specific skill in order to capture the essence of the model in a classical drawing. I still do classical drawing every week and I do regard it as the foundation of all my art. However, when I was invited to be a member of a 3-person exhibition at a major Toronto gallery, we decided (out of the blue) to spend the year leading up to the opening date, being more abstract in our work. The other two artists seemed to understand what “more abstract” meant and showed some very exciting and strong work. I, however, clearly had no idea how difficult abstraction would be and consequently, my work paled beside the other two artists. And the challenge for me began. Over the past nearly 20 years, I have explored figurative abstraction, bumped soundly into dead ends, thrown away a serious amount of canvas and paper, and have
also had some very exciting results. And I continue to grope my way into a style that I enjoy and that gives me satisfaction without becoming formulaic. Life is good!
What advice would you give to young artists just starting their careers?
I tell my students all the time to “Show up for work!” The great thing about being an artist is that, if you want to be a better artist, you simply do more art. So, show up for work as often as you can —even if you are not working on “the big project”—, just show up and work/play at your art.
Brian Smith’s website: http://www.drawn2life.com
Interview by Andrea Miliani