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Daily Inspiration: Meet Brianna Thaxton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brianna Thaxton.

Hi Brianna, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Hello! I’m Brianna Thaxton. I’m a pyrographer. I burn wood and get to smell the wonderful smell that comes with it (just don’t bake brownies at the same time, the combined smells are awful)!

The study of art has been a lifelong pursuit. I was well acquainted with graphite as a child and practiced it on a daily basis. Horses, unicorns, birds, and fan art portraits make up most of my early portfolio.

I quickly understood the rules of proportions and shading. The color was never an interest to me until Junior high school, but once I introduced it into my work I couldn’t leave it out again. Both my parents had the creative bug and encouraged me to experiment and never stop drawing.

Music became important to me in grade school when my dad gave me a drum kit for my birthday. I was involved with percussion for the last years of high school and when I got accepted to Snow College in Ephraim, UT, I was determined to pursue music and art. I learned quickly that both are demanding of your time and money, so I chose to drop percussion and stick with art, being as it was in my life first long before I can remember.

After receiving my Associate’s Degree from Snow in 2011, I moved on to the University of Utah to gain my Bachelor’s Degree and made my emphasis on painting and drawing. I had all the possibilities to explore 2D media. It’s hard for me to stick with only one medium forever and ever so it was an absolute joy to try so many new things. I loved becoming a multi-disciplinary artist.

Though, It started to get harder and harder to keep up with myself. In the last few years, I’ve narrowed myself down to at least a constant theme and constant approach to my work.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Has it been a smooth road? Absolutely not. Life at the U definitely had challenges.

My peers and I had a lot of discouragement from some key adult figures during our education who told us repeatedly that only a handful of us would turn out successful, we were getting useless degrees, and that we should take a 10-year hiatus after we graduate before pursuing a Master’s Degree or any other artistic goal.

At the same time, we were told to seek gallery representation, which was confusing and hard to do after our spirits were crushed and self-esteem was thrown in the trash can. Tears were definitely present at graduation (2014) from a lot of us students who then stopped creating together because our hearts were no longer in it. It took a lot of positive self-talk and positive support from loved ones to create again.

Years were spent finding the artistic voice I once had, often without art to help me. There have been personal challenges along this road too. My parents divorced before I graduated from Snow College. It was a hard decision for my mom to make but was long overdue. Having been subject to verbal abuse, manipulation, control, isolation, neglect and minor physical abuse as a child caused a lot of trust issues within me as well as the ability to trust others.

Witnessing the same abuse happen to my sweet sisters didn’t help and witnessing the abuse toward our mom didn’t help either. She was the main focus for all abuse types, some of which got worse as we got older. Overcoming the shock and betrayal trauma was difficult. After learning that talk therapy wasn’t helping, while I studied at the U I implemented art as personal therapy to try to digest those awful memories.

But now the timeline of my educational career and graduation overlaps my personal timeline and I stopped creating art altogether. Over a year later, I forced myself to get all my old work out from college and my youth and document everything to compile a digital portfolio. A few years later, in 2019, I challenged myself to revisit some favorite 2D mediums.

Each month out of the year was dedicated to a certain medium. January was airbrushing, February was traditional acrylic, March was chalk pastel and charcoal, and so on. I never got bored but I never felt grounded either. I couldn’t tell what was missing.

In 2020, I tried out wood-burning and found it came very naturally to me, so I played with it for a year. Burning is a great outlet for my stressed and tired heart. I built a portfolio of work completely dedicated to the confusion resulting from a loved one exhibiting narcissistic tendencies.

Through this process I was able to come to terms more or less with my grief, pain, and anger which helped me find what I was missing: Using one medium on its own was great and all, but it was more fulfilling and gratifying to combine mediums. I am now a mixed media artist working with wood burning and paint.

Mixed media has satisfied my active mind and the need for constant change.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
Eight years after graduating from the U, I’ve taken my new mixed-media approach and have come back to my childhood roots where I now spend my time with the one thing that never disappointed me, unicorns. I begin by brainstorming and forming a final composition for a given piece of wood in my mind.

I freehand the basic shapes with graphite directly onto the wood. The outline and shading are then laid in with wood burning. This is where I’m grateful that my mom encouraged me to draw without erasing. Once the wood is burned it can’t be unburned, there’s nothing to be done but burn darker.

Sanding can help lighten unwanted burns and I have tried grinding burns away but that leaves a whole new unwanted scar on the wood and that afterthought sticks out like a sore thumb. Paint is either added with a traditional brush method or with airbrushing directly onto the wood.

With watercolor, the burns on the wood act as a natural barrier and reject the transparent pigment, but with the opaque acrylics I must mask the wood with tape and masking fluid or I’ll lose those burns under the paint. Between the burning and masking it’s a lengthy process that eats hours, days, and weeks of my time let alone the application of the paint.

That’s why revealing the final result always makes my heart sing! Unicorns have been my theme for over half a year now and won’t be leaving my work any time soon. They represent such purity and light and courage that using them to express what I feel inside really helps with coping with trauma, depression, and anxiety and helps me keep my personal outlook on life a positive one.

My unicorns are essentially self-portraits which aren’t something you see every day. I hope they may be relatable to more people too as I use them to portray that healing is possible. The struggles I have I know are very similar to struggles every other human experiences at one point or another during their lifetime. We are all born with purity and strength. The unicorn is pure and strong.

Turmoil outside our control challenges the longevity and endurance these traits have, often resulting in trauma. Emotional and mental scars are akin to the scars a burn leaves on wood. A unicorn and its surroundings, whether they be clear and bright or tangled and crowded, is really just me coming to terms with the universal truth that life is not fair.

The joy of color popping in on a piece are those sweet moments of relief and healing. Once in a finished state, these symbolic self-portraits are focused on my personal growth and becoming. They depict my emotional and mental reaction to personal life events that, whether I like it or not, have helped make me who I am today.

What do you think about luck?
If luck has played a part in my life it has disguised itself well. I used to think the unfortunate events of my youth were bad luck. In retrospect, however, I find, that although they were a huge negative, they gave me the chance to choose what I did not want to be.

Maybe it can be said that it’s lucky I chose to see a difference between the behaviors of my parents. Or it’s lucky I had a moment of reprieve and decided to create art again. Is it unlucky that so many friends and family find themselves in a situation parallel to what our family life had been growing up, if not worse?

I don’t know. Lucky and unlucky are points of view or even just a reaction to the bone life throws at you. All I can say is, that I know my choices to apply myself, to show up, to make art again, to make art that helps my soul heal, and to submit that art to galleries, shows, and competitions.

To brush off the inconsiderate comments, network, and actively support the other creatives around me, have all been the cause of my current life situation, and I’m glad of it. I’m glad to be here and I thank you for having me!

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