Self Taught: Q+A with Artist Brittany Greenwalt

Brittany Greenwalt’s art will make you feel like you’re in a sparkly universe where a cute anime girl would be thrilled to be your best friend or lover. Getting lost on her Instagram page is easy due to her addicting style of bright colors and charming positions. Britt is an anime artist here in Indianapolis, who has 63 thousand followers on Instagram. Britt does commissions, portraits, and is working on short animations among other personal work. Her art invokes a sense of love and liveliness, with a little bit of attitude. Britt took a few art classes in high school, but other than that she is entirely self taught. We discussed the ins and outs of being a reputable self taught artist and why the self taught path worked out well for her lifestyle and desires.

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue art?
I was really young when I knew. I grew up with a gaming family and I was exposed to the internet really early. I was exposed to deviant art probably in junior high. I was really into Sailor Moon and Manga, so I followed a lot of anime artists. When I was younger I was like, “Oh I really want to pursue Manga, be a Mangaka and be an online artist.” I don’t think I took it seriously until this year, maybe a couple years before. I have always done commissions and made money from art, but I always told myself that it wasn’t a real job. I was taught to go to college and find a good career. I always doubted my art, first of all. I never thought I was going to be good enough to be a famous artist or a good artist, or someone who could profit off of it. I beat myself up about it a lot. It wasn’t until recently that I started to realize with a momentum of followers and stuff like that, that this is something that’s really possible for me.

How have you practiced art without any teachers/courses/classes/etc.?
Gesture drawings are probably the best way. There’s a lot of online resources, like youtube videos, where they do different poses for different times and you work on gesture drawing. That’s one of my foundations of practicing. I didn’t start seriously practicing until a little more recently. It had just been through repetition before and doing it a lot. More recently I’ve started looking at those gesture drawings. I did take art classes in high school, and I’d refer back to what our teachers would say and just kind of use that. Looking at still life type photos and doing it; just drawing it. There’s plenty of online resources to look up, like tutorials that are completely free online by other artists that give you their perspectives.

Who are artists that inspire you?
They’re mostly on Instagram: Galoupop, Littlethunder, Livinthefuture, Leilei.art, Paneeps, Naked_Cherry.

Do you feel like that’s where you get most of your inspiration from?
Oh yeah. There’s people who I was following when I was in deviant art when I was in 7th or 8th grade that I looked up to and years later they now follow me. It’s stuff that I’ve been watching since I was young. I’ve watched their art grow and my art grow. I feel like artists know other online artists. I’ve started having friendships from that, because we’re always encouraging each other in our artwork. I think it kind of builds from there. It’s been amazing. It’s really crazy when your idols follow you. It’s hard to get recognition and it’s very discouraging, I think, for people who start online and are trying to make a name for themselves. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in followers, likes, and who’s responding. It becomes a really fine balance between nourishing yourself as an artist, because you do art for yourself, and understanding that when you’re trying to make a living it becomes a little more complex. You become so much more concerned with how others perceive your work, because it becomes your livelihood.

How do you feel your style has changed over time?
Crazy amounts. What’s really cool is that a lot of artists will do redraws. You take an art piece that you drew last year, and then on that day the next year you’ll draw that again. I love doing those. I do them really frequently. I’ve been doing that for three years in a row, so I get to see my continual progress. Every time it makes me feel like it is possible for me to make a living off of it.

What is a challenge of being self taught?
What’s really cool about people who pursue art, and something that I wish I had done, is getting that studio time. They got time truly to immerse themselves in their art. Whereas being self taught, you don’t have someone there or other artists right next to you to inspire you or help you think of something different. I think that the benefit of going to school would be networking. That’s huge in the art community. Like I said, it’s a community thing. We lift each other up and people know people. If you’re trying to pursue super professional work, like Cartoon Network, and create shows and storyboards you’re going to have to go to school. You’re going to need those connections, those skills, and that devotion to get to that skill level, but, I do know self taught artists who have been reached out to by those companies, because their work is so good. It really just depends. You do miss out on lessons and knowledge. A lot of that stuff I had to figure out by my own trial and error. Whereas, I feel it would have been nice to have a teacher that could have guided me through my drawing process and right away been like, “Hey, this looks a little off.” If you post your art online people aren’t typically going to critique things. School just fosters an environment where you can focus more on the technical details of art. That’s what’s hard about being self taught, you are on your own. There’s no one there to guide you or talk to you about your artwork. That’s something that you have to consistently self assess. You just have to figure it out on your own, which is also super cool.

What do you think is the best part about being a self taught artist?
Well I’m not in debt for it. When I was taking studio courses in high school I hated the fact that they wouldn’t let me draw anime. I feel school is limited in your artwork, because someone is critiquing it. They don’t let you figure things out on your own, in a way. Self taught is having the freedom to learn on your own time. It becomes fun. School sometimes took the fun out for me. It wasn’t my creation, it wasn’t my expression, it was a lesson. I think that I improved over time, but I maybe would have improved a little faster if I were in school. It was more fun this way for me, more intimate, and more personal. I have to figure those answers out for myself instead of having someone else do it for me, I guess. Art is also just really subjective. You can not go to art school and people will still appreciate what you bring to the table. It’s just a matter of who your art connects with. If I could go back in time, I maybe would have gotten a general education in art instead of getting my Masters in social work. If I had known that art was something that I wanted to do, I might not have even gone to college honestly, and just worked on my art. All that time I could have focused and improved even faster. As artists, I think that we have so many resources online, with each other, and by practicing that sometimes school isn’t always necessary. It’s also so different for artists. Everyone’s needs are different. I don’t really view one as being right or wrong, it’s really just up to the individual, what feels right for them, what their goals are, and what’s the best way to achieve it. For me, I’ve always wanted to be a freelance artist. I don’t want to work for anyone, so going to school and networking really wasn’t my deal. I took it upon myself to constantly improve my artwork on my own, and I think it’s paying off.

What is an important financial aspect of being self taught?
Know your worth. There are a lot of times where I think I probably undercharge for my artwork. I feel like a lot of people don’t value online artists as much, because they fail to see the time that goes into your artwork. I think you need to honestly assess and know your value. Don’t settle. I settled a lot in the beginning just to try to get in there. At the end of the day, know the value of your artwork and feel confident in yourself. I’ve had people not understand why I charge so much for a commission. Artists are taken for granted, because people view it as, “Oh that’s just for fun.” People don’t think about the financial aspect of being an artist. I am trying to live off of this. I think it’s important to value yourself. No one thinks about the money that artists spend on materials, especially if you’re a traditional artist. To get an iPad, art program, and new brushes for your program, those are investments too. It takes a lot of time to draw, practice, and do these pieces. You’re paying for more than an individual piece. You’re paying for someone’s years of hard work, practice, and diligence to get to this certain skill level. It’s so much more than just a single piece. It’s this artist’s journey and the work they’re putting in for you. With a commission, I always look at how complicated it is, do they want background work, and is this a difficult pose. I have to assess how long it will take me to finish the commission and how much I charge hourly. That’s how I try to price it. It’s always fair, but sometimes when people see a lump sum for something like that they’re like, “Eh.” Don’t settle, and at the end of the day you’re going to know what you’re worth.

How would you describe your style?
Um… bright, anime, happy girls. I don’t know, I am gonna have to look at my art. What do I draw? (Laughs) I have a lot of NSFW and it’s a little racy, like Hello Kitty wearing a thong. (Laughs). It’s the stuff that comes out of my mind, that’s how I would describe it.

What is the most important thing to know as a self taught artist?
Do not judge yourself by looking at other artists and thinking that you can’t get there. That’s what held me back for so long. I was so intimidated by the growth that I had to do. I discouraged myself, and if I had just really believed in myself, my growth, and my ability to learn and expand as an artist, this all probably wouldn’t be happening this year. I just wish I had that confidence before. Nothing good comes easy. You’re gonna have to work for it and it’s gonna take time to get there, but you’ll get there.

What is your favorite thing to draw that isn’t necessarily your style?
I was actually really good at realism in high school. I used to do realistic portraits all the time. I did realism for a while, but I’m not really interested in doing that again. I do draw outside of my style. I think it would be cool to be a tattoo artist. I would love to see how my work transfers into tattoos, so that’s a different medium that I’d like to try.

What advice would you give to self taught artists who are just getting started?
Look at your favorite artist, see what they’re doing and explore that. Look up different techniques that you can try. Starting out, I liked anime. So, what I would do is draw the front of Sailor Moon covers. Imitating other people’s artwork, but never posting it unless you’re giving credit, that is really important. I would try drawing my favorite Manga artist and be like, “Oh they draw their eyes like this!” That muscle memory kicks in, but the beginning of it really is just doing it. People always tell me, “I wish I could draw like you,” and I’m like, “You can!” You just have to get past the part where your art looks really bad. (Laughs) Everyone starts out that way, just starting somewhere and doing it.

To support her work, you can follow her on Instagram, join her patreon, and buy her custom tarot deck available here.