Amanda Hope Smith graduated from Baylor University in 2022 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in studio art. While still a student, she was hired to create 15 illustrations for the new biography I Will Teach History: The Life & Time of Frank Guittard, written by the subject’s grandson, 1964 Baylor Arts & Sciences graduate Charles Francis Guittard. It was her first professional art assignment.
In a recent interview, Amanda talked about her work on the book, and discussed her time at Baylor and her future plans.
Amanda, how did you come to take on this unusual extracurricular project?
I had already been discussing with my one of my Baylor art professors, Kyle Chaput, about moving my art in a more illustrative direction. Professor Chaput referred me to Professor Greg Lewallen. Professor Lewallen informed me about the opportunity. He asked me if I would be interested in doing some illustrations for a book about a Baylor professor. To find out more about it, I contacted Charles Guittard by email and we set up a meeting on campus.
Had you ever received a commission for your art before?
Never. This was the first real job in my desired field. My end goal is to be an illustrator.
What was attractive about the opportunity to illustrate a biography?
It was new and challenging possibility. Charles, I hoped, would be easy to work with.
How were you able to illustrate a story that took place so long ago, about real people you had never seen or met? And how were you able to correctly illustrate the clothes people wore during that period?
Well, when Charles and I met and discussed the assignment, he provided photographs of his grandfather Frank Guittard and his first and second wives Mamie and Josie, and he talked me through Frank’s entire life story and the characters’ motivations. I also went online and researched period clothes. Charles specifically described 15 scenes he wanted illustrated — for example, a scene early on in which Frank Guittard and Josie are gathered at their kitchen table discussing Frank pursuing a PhD at Stanford in the summers. That scene turned out to be one of the most interesting to draw.
Did you just draw the figures from your imagination using the photographs?
Oh, no, although using my imagination was part of it. The process I chose was to use some of my family members, my roommates, and my neighbors to pose for the scenes Charles specified. I would photograph them in various positions suggested by the scenes. Sometimes I was not able to find a model for the desired pose and I used myself as reference. For example, in the classroom scene, I posed for all the students.
When did you add Frank and Josie’s faces? Were they difficult to draw?
After I had sketched the scenes in pencil using my reference photos, I consulted Charles’ family photos to add the likenesses of Frank and Josie. The faces were more challenging in the beginning. As I became more familiar with Frank and had sketched his face for several of the scenes, drawing him was a piece of cake.
The illustrations are very striking. How did you achieve that?
It was the charcoal. Charles had liked the charcoal drawings I had sent him as samples. In this style I first penciled the drawings, then revised them — usually several times with Charles’s input, then went over them with charcoal and revised them again as needed. Then, if Charles approved them, I would seal them, make digital photographs I could turn into JPEGs, then send the JPEGs to Charles as an email attachment. Overall, I believe they turned out so well because I wasn’t stingy with my mark making. I allowed myself to make many types of lines and marks; it was quite freeing. I also made many contrasting value ranges in the illustrations. Thus making the images bolder and more appealing visually.
That sounds complicated.
Yes, I guess, but it was a joy to work on such an interesting project. I found myself connecting to the people I was drawing.
What was interesting about the project to you?
It was my first professional assignment, it was a referral from Professor Lewallen and was about Baylor, and I would be working with someone (Charles) I had never met. It would give me a chance to create believable spaces in my work.
What do you mean by a “believable space?”
That means a scene I’ve created using my imagination which is a believable visual representation because it is closely based on research as to real places, real people, and real events, and the way they all looked. We have no photographs of a particular event, let’s say, but a believable scene, nevertheless, can be constructed from what we do know.
How did your collaboration with Charles work? Did you two work together closely? Did you talk or meet frequently?
Closely, although after the initial meeting, we communicated only by email and sometimes by text. On most of the illustrations we went through multiple drafts to get the illustrations perfect. I did a lot of erasing and revising to accomplish what Charles wanted. On one or two illustrations, I had to start almost completely from scratch, like the one of Frank and the bees. I had to draw Frank again from a different perspective, but without the hat and the protective mask I drew initially. I also added a tree limb above Frank’s head with bees pouring out. On the one with Frank and the railroad ties, I had to change the way I had drawn those railroad ties. On the one with Frank and Pat Neff talking in their hotel room, I made several changes, including to the satchel on the floor, and I made Frank a little older and gave him a moustache. And on the one showing President Cooper and the dog, Charles really liked the figure of President Cooper, but I had to make changes to the little dog. On the one of Frank and Mamie at the sanatorium, I changed the way her hair looked since I had initially drawn her with long hair. Frank’s hair in some of the illustrations was a challenge since he starting dyeing it at some point — I had to show it was dark on the top and then getting gray below that. Frank walking with the sack of sand — Charles wanted me to make the sack smaller. Frank in the classroom with his students — I revised it to show Frank and the students smiling and an historical map under the clock. Actually, there were no illustrations that Charles accepted as is.
Were there things in the life story of Frank Guittard which especially appealed to you?
His story was interesting because he had to work while he went to school, and he never had it easy. And since he was from outside Texas and went to Baylor in Waco, that’s something we have in common, since I came from Virginia to go to college in Waco. I think Frank is relatable, which is what appealed the most to me. He was a wonderful man, with great morals that overflowed into his career. I think I felt the most connected to him through the classroom scene. He cares about his students and as a student myself, that’s something you hope for in a professor.
I’m curious where your talent and passion for art came from. Did your parents inspire you?
That’s a good question. I’ve always been interested in art. Ever since I was young my parents always encouraged me. I’d draw something for them and they would tell me how great it was, so I kept on drawing. Looking back, my drawings were not as good as they said they were. I think anyone has the talent to draw if they are encouraged and continue to pursue it. My great-grandfather was an artist, so art runs in the family. Art has been something that has shown me the beauty in the world around me and the wonder of my creator. I feel closer to God when I am making art because he is the ultimate creator.
Tell us a little more about your family, and how you came to enroll at Baylor.
I love my family very much. I am the oldest of three siblings. My family consists of my parents, Mike and Amy, my siblings, Audrey and Noah, then me. I’m a big homebody and did not want to go to school out of state. My goal was to pursue a BFA at Virginia Commonwealth University after transferring from community college. I had to prepare a portfolio for VCU to review, but it is a tough school to get into and I was denied. I was telling God what I wanted instead of listening to where he wanted to lead me. After I got that rejection letter, I just planned on working a year and trying again. However, my parents were asking me to apply to schools every day, as they wanted me to pursue my dream of a career in art. They suggested Baylor University — I wasn’t even sure if they had an art department. The day the admissions closed for transfers, I was emailed by a staff member from Baylor’s admissions office. They were asking me many questions, but the last one was — why I wanted to go to Baylor. I told them I didn’t want to, that my parents asked me to apply, and that I did not want to move out of state. I said I had no idea what God had in store for my life, but Baylor was not for me. They replied in an email that I was accepted! My parents and I took a trip down to visit and I felt like God was calling me to go to Baylor despite all my fears and worries about moving away from home.
What have your years at Baylor and in the art department meant to you?
Baylor University is home. I’ve met so many wonderful people, made so many good friends, and I believe I have grown more as an individual being surrounded by such kind and caring people. These professors and fellow students are the reason Baylor has become my second home. I feel torn between two places, which is something I’d never thought I would say. When I’m in Virginia, I’m homesick for Texas, and when I’m in Texas, I’m homesick for Virginia. I think back to meeting Professor Lewallen and Professor Force on my first tour of Baylor. My parents and I had traveled so far to arrive at Baylor’s campus, but no one could tell us where the art building was. After a while we stumbled across the art building, running into Professor Lewallen, with whom I bonded over our love for micron pens. He then introduced me to Professor Force, who would be my advisor and also professor. She had been working on a quilt in the printmaking studio. I didn’t expect to find anyone in that building on a Tuesday at 5 p.m. but we did, and I am so grateful, because meeting these two wonderful professors is what sealed the deal on Baylor.
What are you doing now, and what are your future goals?
I’m now pursuing a master’s degree in illustration, and also working as an artist in College Station. I think illustrating books and graphic novels would be my ultimate end goal — maybe having my own book to illustrate someday. We will see where the winds take me.