VoyageLA Interview

My first official LA interview hot off the press 😬 Thank you @voyagelamag and @leahsmithsonart for encouraging me to tell my story. Who knows what’s possible in another few years ✨

http://voyagela.com/interview/meet-brooke-barttelbort-brooke-barttelbort-transit-los-feliz-glendale-san-marcos-san-diego/

Brooke, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Where do I begin? I guess it all began in Santa Fe, NM, on a road trip with my parents. I saw a woman blowing glass and was instantly drawn to the medium. As luck would have it, I found a glass teacher available back home in San Diego. With my parent’s help, at the age of 15, I met Andy Cohn and began glassblowing. I was her youngest student at the time. By the age of 18, I was a juried member of the Spanish Village, Balboa Park, San Diego. Andy and her studio gave me a space I felt safe to create, test ideas, perform in front of an audience and learn at such an awkward age. It was my home away from home — I loved being there so much. I’m still a member of Studio 19 and blow glass whenever possible.

Glassblowing remained a passion, but life took me a different direction. I pursued my Bachelor’s degree in Communication, graduating from USD during the recession. After a few internships, I eventually made my way to San Francisco for graduate school at AAU. While earning my degree in graphic design, I was hired as a designer in the wine industry for five years.

While at AAU, Bill Concannon was teaching neon as an elective course and I was lucky enough to take his intro class. I was instantly hooked. I merged everything I loved about hot glass with my design background—the sky was the limit! I kept wishing I could find a way to weave it into my thesis so I could take the next course. It would be a few years until I would pick up neon again.

It’s uncanny how everything fell into place. Skipping ahead a few years, at the age of 30, my life changed forever. My mom had a stroke, which set into motion many changes I could never have predicted. I moved to LA with my boyfriend to be closer to my family to help. I imagined LA would be easier to find work. What I ended up finding was the answer to my dreams — the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale.

Once I found MONA, I obsessively pursued neon. I took as many classes as possible, showing up to studio hours on weekends or whenever I would. I’m so grateful for each person I’ve met at MONA — Kim Koga, Lyle George, and Dave Johnson have all supported me along the way. I can’t thank them enough.

From there, I discovered Art Share LA, where I displayed my first piece of neon art in a gallery setting. Another defining moment was being accepted into She Bends, Milwaukee with so many female neon artists I admire. I’m now in the process of building my own studio in San Marcos. It’s amazing how much has happened in two years.

Has it been a smooth road?
It’s definitely been a wild ride with bumps and turns I could never seen coming. But without those struggles, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Some moments in life are so profound that you can’t help but be changed forever. I mentioned my mom’s stroke (that left her paralyzed on half of her body), but what I didn’t mention was that this coincided with my own early breast cancer diagnosis. My mom had breast cancer twice, so I made the decision to have a double mastectomy. I felt vulnerable and overcome with grief, which left me seeking a deeper understanding and guidance. These moments, as dark as they felt, allowed me to emerge with a greater sense of purpose and drive.

I don’t want to waste the time I’ve been given. Whatever gifts I have, I want to share them with the world. I think finding neon was my gift, and it helped heal me. It required my full attention, allowing me to get into a flow where time and thoughts almost fade away. While in the flames, I focused completely on the task at hand — it can be dangerous work! Hours could go by and I felt such joy completing a letter or bend that had challenged for weeks. One of my first neon pieces, “All that Glitters”, is grounded in my healing and understanding gained from my journey.

“All that Glitters” was inspired by everything I felt going through my double mastectomy surgery and witnessing my mom’s stroke recovery at the same time. What was once important suddenly became meaningless. What really matters is the people we have in our lives and the relationships that surround us. The cracked mirror reflects my shattered self at the time — still appearing whole at work and events, but fractured and fragile up close. The “Selfie” named font plays on all that is superficial and made to appear “gold”. This piece was dedicated to all my family, my fiancé and friends for their support and love in my darkest times.

Another roadblock (that forever altered my perception) took place only a few years prior. I was in a car accident outside of my apartment. In a matter of seconds, my right elbow was dislocated, fractured and ligaments were torn. My arm now has pins and a plate, plus new ligaments from a donor. I relearned how to twist and bend my elbow, an action I completely took for granted before the accident. My arm will never be the same, but I’m so grateful I can still move it and do glassblowing. Nothing in life is guaranteed.

Not to be dramatic, but I have one more example — my first commissioned neon piece. After months of working on a pink flamingo “Vaporwave” sign, letter by letter, I was ready to box and ship it to New York. My sign was outside a friend’s shop awaiting the move. Damn if somebody didn’t drive by and steal everything in the area, my sign included! I couldn’t believe it. Who knows where it went, probably in a dump somewhere? Either way, I had to remake it and won’t ever make that mistake again! Shoot, if anyone finds it…please return!

So, as you know, we’re impressed with your work – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I’ve been a designer for ten years now, developing branding and websites, labels and invitations. Currently, my focus is balanced between freelance design and neon art. At my best, I’m using my design skills and process to plan and create 3D neon art that tells a story. I’m most proud of my commitment to learning neon, and the initial entry bar is set really high. If you can keep showing up and trying, you’ll work through it; and it’s so worth it.

It’s a bit early to define exactly what sets me apart from other businesses. I’m still experimenting, learning and finding my direction as an artist. I guess I would say my design background? My ability to play with fonts, manipulate ideas on a computer, play with textures and layers, etc. Check back with me in a year or two, and I should have a better answer.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
After my time in San Francisco, I would have said, “I love the sun and that it’s flat.” But really, I love LA because it’s got some funk, it embraces the weirdos and has a creative pulse. You can tell the city is alive with so many dreams and stories waiting to be told. In countless short Lyft rides, I’ve interacted with drivers who can’t wait to share their side hustle. Many of my friends are working multiple jobs, juggling their passions with paying rent. I admire that. I feel at home here. 

Despite what I may have thought growing up in San Diego, I’m pleasantly shocked with how collaborative and supportive LA has been. Without the Museum of Neon Art and ArtShare LA, who knows where I’d be? They’ve allowed me to realize my dreams and make them a reality.

It goes without saying, the traffic is maddening. Because of the size of LA and the traffic, it seems like most of my friends live in another city. I wish there was a public transit system that functioned beyond only a few direct routes. And trees … we could use more trees in LA.