Discussion with Sanyah Brown on Self-Learning, Family Influence, and the Future of Art

Discussion with Sanyah Brown on Self-Learning, Family Influence, and the Future of Art

The library was quiet, as Sanyah and I sat across the table from each other. The first time I had seen Sanyah and her art was in my English class. It was during a lesson where we had to create a visual rendition of “The Metamorphosis” that my gaze was caught within her sketchbook. The precise adaption of the horror of Gregor’s family after seeing him being turned into a bug combined with the creative decision such as only exposing the arm of his mother to show her fainting demonstrated the flexibility of Sanyah as an artist in reinterpreting reality. 

In the following interview I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Sanyah about the influences on her as an artist as well as the impact of art on her. This article marks the first installment in a series of interviews with student artists at Towson High.

How would you describe your background in art? How did you get started?

I’ve been drawing since as long as I can remember. I have family members who have backgrounds in arts. My late grand uncle was an artist commonly known around Baltimore City. My grandmother is very musically inclined and with drawing and everything she basically would teach us how to draw along with how to play instruments. Artistry has always been in my life. And then throughout elementary school, we will have art classes. I just remember that being my favorite class of all my classes as it felt like the only class that I could truly express myself and was also understood along with the teacher being someone that I felt very comfortable being around and who I could talk to. Then past elementary school, I didn’t take an art class in middle school, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t practicing at home or learning by myself. Basically, doing what I’m doing now, at the moment, just sketching and practicing and watching YouTube videos and learning techniques and how to improve. Currently right now as in 11th grade, the only art class I’ve taken is the fundamental arts in 9th grade. Other than that, I’m not in any of our classes. I am in the art program, the National Art Honor Society. When it comes to teaching techniques and how to draw and stuff like that, that’s mostly at home.

Would you recommend the art program you’re in and art classes we have at school to aspiring artists at our school?

Yeah, I would recommend. I believe there are probably more difficult classes. If you were just looking for learning techniques or getting into art and learning about new artists, then Fundamentals of Art, of course, is probably where you would want to start.

When it comes to the art program, it’s just a good way to be in a community where you are together and just in a comfortable space along with being a part in activities and communities that could also look good on your resume. It does help with new opportunities as well because I remember last month, there was a portfolio day at MICA the college, and before then the club was helping people get their Portfolios put together so they could present it. So that could be a very good opportunity if you want to apply to an art college.

Looking through your sketch book I see a lot of pictures completed with pencil and watercolor. How did you develop this preference?

It’s just that those have been the ones that have been most accessible to me. I just grew up learning how to use them, so they feel most comfortable to me. I am experimenting more with mediums such as charcoal. As you can see here, I’m trying to learn more about charcoal. I’ve recently got, you know, a set of oil paints, so hopefully I can learn how to work those things as well. I don’t necessarily want to stick to one medium it’s just what feels comfortable to me because that’s something that doesn’t always pop up in my mind when I’m doing art. You know, if I’m just sketching fast or something, at home, I just have like a pencil or pen near me that I’d just use it. Or, if I want to make a painting, I don’t really think about what type of paint I want to use, I just, I guess use whatever paint is near me at the moment. I do want to work more with oil pastel. I like oil pastels; the way they feel very soft, nice and easy to blend.

I had also been investing more in good quality art supplies. So here I have a case of Prismacolor color pencils, very pretty, a bit expensive, but I feel like it probably would be better because were you to compare them to Crayola they don’t really blend as nicely they don’t have, like, a nice texture.

[Sanyah performed a Swatch test with Prisma color pencils and Crayola color pencils. It is seen the Prisma color pencils blended better with a smoother look to it.]

I’m trying to invest more time and money into learning and experimenting more with different mediums, knowing that I finally got a job, and everything, I’m able to do that gratefully.

What would you describe a common theme within your artwork as?

Most common thing that I do is faces. I’ve always gravitated towards facial expressions. I do not have the exact reason why, maybe just something I grew up learning just how to draw faces and different body features.

You know I have one smiling, I have one screaming, I have one doing exaggerated expressions, it’s all like about wanting to learn about proportions within facial features and then also different facial features that might come with other ethnic groups or races. That’s why I like to have diverse reference.

I make a Pinterest board of drawing references, I would like to do. They consist of you know all types of people, varying between races and ethnicities, to body types to genders. Even when it comes to aesthetics I like to collect them as a way to just experiment to see what I like to get a feel of.

[Looking through Sanyah’s Pinterest you can see a wide range of aesthetics collected from both modern mediums such as TikTok and older styles such as from renaissance paintings.]

Do you have an artist that you really like?

I would definitely say that my grandmother and my grand uncle have inspired me the most as they are literally the reason why I love art and they have gotten me into art. But when it comes to visual artists, like well known, I would say John Basquiat, Keith Haring and Ron Hicks, those would be my top three along with my gran uncle who was also a painter. I remember when he would visit my grandmother’s house when my siblings and I were there, he would bring his big case of art supplies along with printouts of his artworks and he would give them to my siblings and I for us to color and work on while he would chat catch up with my grandmother. It’s just things like that that you know at the moment you probably won’t realize how impactful they are but when you look back on them, they really do make a big difference.

Would you say a lot of your fond memories surround art and family?

Most likely, yeah.  Art has always been very important thing to me. I hold it very near and dear to my heart. It would be that outlook that I will need the most when I was going through something emotionally or mentally, I need somehow to express myself, especially if I couldn’t talk it out with anyone or could really articulate what I was feeling at the moment. Or, either that I just want to do it because I was bored. Either which way, art has definite had an impact on my life and my upbringing of who I am as a person.

Would you say you choose to draw because you have a talent for art?

I mean, anybody can draw. I guess it is sort of like a talent that I’ve developed over time. I mean, I’ve always been drawing, but I’ve always been wanting to improve more and more on my skill. And it’s just something that makes me happy to do. It brings me joy. So along with it being a talent of mine, it’s also something that I’m very passionate about.

Would you recommend art to more people and encourage, especially the younger generation, people to continue to draw?

Most definitely. Art should never die. I don’t think art will ever die. It can’t be extinct. No matter how many generations there are to come art will always present itself in one way or another. I would definitely recommend it to younger people because it’s a great way to express oneself. You know it’s a great way to not be silenced, as if you feel like you’re being silenced, you can convey your messages visually or in another way. Even if it’s not to really convey some sort of message, it gives that healthy outlet that people need, you know, doesn’t even need like you need to show. Just having that ability to create art and create what you want, and that freedom right there is very important.

What advice do you have for people who want to make art but don’t have good art materials or don’t know what to draw?

Material wise, this is what I’ve learnt. It doesn’t matter what materials you really have, you can have the cheapest pencil, color pencil, oil paints, whatever. You can probably draw with soup, a candle or something. I don’t know, you can draw with dirt if you want to, it doesn’t matter. It’s just as long as you’re starting something to create, you don’t have to have the best, highest quality or whatever.

Before I started investing in higher quality art supplies, I would start out with regular pencils I would find around school. Half of them would be broken, half of them wouldn’t even have an eraser. I will have old colored pencils and crayons that would be beaten up and everything from prior use, but I’ll still be able to create art pieces that I grew to enjoy. It’s not within the materials that you have, it’s more within how you want to execute your vision for your art piece.

When it comes to motivation for creating art, I understand that can be quite difficult because especially in time now where everything is presented to us even via social media or maybe these magazines or whatever. You know, we compare ourselves a lot and it makes us feel probably a bit inadequate, like, “oh If I don’t make something that…” then it has no value because people won’t see it, or it’s not treating enough. And to that I say to hell with it. You don’t need to do something so extravagant to just fulfill a purpose which is creating art. As long as you are satisfied with what you have created and what you believe within your ability to create something purposeful, then it wouldn’t matter how other people perceive it. Don’t get so caught up on that.

You know, you can gain inspiration from anything. Just look around you, the whole world is art, anything really can be a model. For example, if you look at the bookshelf, you can just draw that, that would be you know motivation for art.

Art is really about capturing life that’s around you, and personally I use art to appreciate life more so. With that, I use that as motivation. I want to appreciate the world I’m currently living in by capturing it within this form.

Lastly, what would you like other people to know about who you are as an artist?

As an artist…I don’t know. Really, who I am as an artist as of yet. I’m still trying to discover what style or if I even have a distinct style. If I have something that I could present to people and make them go like, “oh, I know who that is”, [or] “oh, that’s a common feature or a common motif within this artist’s project” then that’s the goal I’m striving for. But then again, that’s not always one said and done thing.

Thanks to Sanyah for taking the time to participate in this interview. Thanks to Jay and Colophon for their support for this project and making it possible.

If you have any art and writing pieces, consider submitting to Colophon at https://thscolophon.weebly.com/submissions.html to have a chance to be published within Towson High School’s award-winning literary magazine.