With the Help of Meditation and a Renewed Perspective, Photographer Brooke Wilen Pursues the Life of an Independent Artist
Frame of mind.
- Written byTanya Monaghan
The opening of Brooke Wilen Fine Art, a studio/gallery in Downtown Manhattan Beach, marked the realization of a dream. Owner Brooke Wilen follows a philosophy of being present and open, which proved instrumental in helping her find and transform a studio space from an alley into a pristine gallery to showcase her bright, colorful work.
Though raised in Beverly Hills, Brooke found the history, art and grit of Los Feliz more appealing. While selling her art in a few furniture stores there, she decided it would be beneficial to have another space to display art and take meetings with prospective buyers.
Through a friend, Brooke found the opportunity to share a space in Manhattan Beach with designer Nancy Russert, owner of Les Beaux Interiors. At the very least, Brooke would have a private room by the beach for the summer, which was especially appealing as the pandemic was in full effect. She extended the initial trial run several times, and when Nancy announced she was moving to a bigger space after 20 years, Brooke was ready to have the place all to herself.
Her path to a photography career was a circuitous one. She started college in Santa Barbara but transferred back to Los Angeles, where she graduated from the University of Southern California. She initially wanted to work in the movie industry, getting a start at the ICM agency and then at Fox.
She was an avid knitter, and some of the costume designers on set commissioned her to make pieces for them. Brooke realized that she wanted to try something different, and her side hustle turned into a hand-knit clothing line. It was all going well until the financial crisis of 2007 resulted in some big stores canceling their orders.
This left Brooke with extra stock, but she turned what seemed like a desperate situation into an opportunity. Online shopping was in its infancy, but she decided to take photos of her products and create a website to sell them. Brooke started with a 50-person mailing list and a goal to simply clear her stock and make her money back. She ended up selling hundreds of units overnight.
A natural entrepreneur, Brooke realized that other designer friends were likely also sitting on stock, so she created an online sample sale website named Bad Joan. She hustled to get about 100 designers represented. It was gaining momentum, but managing, executing and marketing it all on her own was proving to be too difficult.
Brooke turned to blogging—a new trend at the time—to drive more business. Although she ultimately closed the website, she found that blogging and creating a social media presence for her designers was a profitable business. She started in the clothing industry and then branched out to other businesses. Eventually she acquired some big accounts such as Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, Saban Films and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
Business was booming. As the desire for more content grew, she started posting pictures and looking at the world through new eyes. When documenting the construction phase of the Waldorf, she noticed the light perfectly hitting a collection of nails on the ground and had to capture it. Someone asked for a print of the image, and that’s when she realized she had found her passion as well as a way to make it a career.
She started slowly, grew her knowledge of making fine art prints and began selling some pieces. Momentum grew after a few art shows, but then COVID-19 hit. The retail businesses she worked for began struggling, and almost overnight she lost her key sources of income. Brooke took this as a sign to follow her heart and be intentional about being an artist.
“What creates anxiety is that you’re not focused in the now; you’re focused on something that you don’t have or something in the past you can’t do anything about. But when I become hyper-focused on the now, like when I take a picture, magic happens. Things become so interesting, and I become so much calmer.”
She attributes her positivity and bravery during this unstable time to meditation, which she learned through Rewired—a video series led by doctor, author and lecturer Joe Dispenza. This course helped Brooke create her path without fear. Almost on cue, the world opened up to support her work as a full-time artist.
Brooke believes that magic happens in the “now,” so she decided to shoot all her images with her iPhone—super convenient and featuring technology that produces high-quality work. Using the iPhone enables her to capture moments as they happen—in the now—without having to give up the freedom and spontaneity that makes her work so special.
Brooke mastered the technical aspects of printing large-scale images from an iPhone photo because clients were requesting bigger and bigger pictures. She produces them on high-quality, fade-proof paper, creating a limited run of each piece. Everything is signed and numbered, and has a certificate of authenticity to make the work personal. Unlike some photographers who offer limited editions numbering in the thousands, she may make only three prints.
Taking photos has become a form of meditation and focus for Brooke, and through her art she has become more introspective. As a young child and through early adulthood, she suffered from anxiety and terrible panic attacks.
“What creates anxiety is that you’re not focused in the now; you’re focused on something that you don’t have or something in the past you can’t do anything about,” she shares. “But when I become hyper-focused on the now, like when I take a picture, magic happens. Things become so interesting, and I become so much calmer.”
Brooke takes a glass-half-full view of the world around her. “I enjoy simple pleasures—the joy and beauty in everyday life. I like to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, find the magic in the mundane.”
She hopes that through her art she can help people enjoy these things a little more. Maybe others too can find what they need in the now—a moment of happiness, joy or peace.