Katie Brightside’s eye-popping outfit — a multicolor dress made entirely of camel plush toys — stole the show at this year’s West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Creative Business Award. But what captivated the audience about this year’s winner of the John Chase Art & Design Award was the scope of her talent and the radiance of her heart. Brightside is the creative force behind Welcome to the Brightside, a design studio that is making major waves in the West Hollywood art scene. She shared the secrets behind her shine in this exclusive interview with WEHOville.
Who is Katie Brightside?
An impossible-possible wildly imaginative, passionate individual that loves a challenge.
Where did you come from and how did you end up here in WeHo?
This is the elevator pitch version. I was born in the UK. At 16, I enrolled into Art College, by 19, I was on a BA (Hons) in Fashion Design. 21, I was living in Italy working as a fashion designer for the United Color of Benetton. In 2002 I moved to Australia and freelanced as a designer. In 2012 I moved back to London to pursue a Master’s in Fine Art at Central St Martin’s. In March 2015 I consulted a white witch to where I would live happily-ever-after. I moved to West Hollywood a week later.
Did you draw as a child?
I didn’t, I have always hated my drawing until about 5 years ago. As a child I was into the theatre and costume. At 13, I realized I was a terrible performer so I put all my energy into fashion design. My grandfather did teach me to paint this one time, when I was 7, but it wasn’t until I was in LA that I recalled his lesson. Grandpa Ray taught me that drawing was not about being good, he taught me drawing is an expression of the soul. This revelation was a game changer in my career. I stopped judging my drawing and realized what I was creating was full of character, with warts and all! I finally fell in love with the drawing process and my drawing.
Where did your career in illustration begin?
It began in 2011. I bought an apartment in Sydney. You could call it the “Asset Rich, Cash Poor” stage of my life. After I paid my mortgage I barely had cash to be social. So I changed my approach to my social life and would go to art galleries and drink all the free beer and wine. I was inspired by the art scene and encouraged by a mega creative extraordinaire Eddie Zammit, to create my own personal work. I would work 8-4pm in my design job, roll home to the “money pit apartment” and draw 5pm-3am. I did this for 6 months. The abode became a screen printing studio and I was living my best life. On Valentines Day, 2012 I had my first solo show, My Fairytale Perspective on Love, at the Ambush Gallery. It was a huge success. I quit my job, sold my apartment and moved back to London to start my Master’s in the fall that year.
Who are your favorite artists?
Artists is a broad term in my book, so here we go, a lucky dip list of inspirational folk. Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Viktor & Rolf, Björk, Lady Gaga, William Morris and the Arts and Craft Movement, Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, Cindy Sherman, Judy Chicago, Paul McCarthy, Raymond Pettibon, Marylin Monroe, Hedy Lamarr, Disney, and Pixar.
What is your work process like?
Long and way too much coffee for one person. Ideas are easy, what makes an idea come to fruition takes time and dedication. Once the concept or project has been greenlit I already have had a strong vision of what the final artwork looks like from the original brief. Execution is the labor of love and usually I produce exactly what I’ve imagined. This does often change depending how many clients are involved. Most of the time I have been hired because they like my style and energy that I put into the work. I spend a lot of time making sure I am in a good headspace and love what I do, I try not to false creation, as you can clearly see it in the work. The art will feel dead if I’m not emotionally connected to the work.
What was it about WeHo that attracted you to relocate here?
On my first morning in March 2015, I walked up from Robertson Blvd to Melrose Ave and grabbed breakfast at Zinqué. Was it the fresh spring air or the richness of the bougainvillea hanging from the Hub of the House? I don’t think it was anything tangible, it was a feeling in my heart, whilst my feet were grounded in the soil. I finally felt I belonged somewhere, I still feel that way.
What has been difficult about running a business in WeHo?
People assume if you have a business in West Hollywood, that you have deep pockets. This is not a true assumption of most businesses here. It’s a community that works together and grows together. Those businesses who choose to ride alone often fail! They don’t understand that this is a city that works with local support behind you in partnership with tourism. Those who just rely on tourism alone won’t cut the mustard in the long run!
I was taught by a great boss Norman Gelber that leadership comes from the top. The best thing I ever did was join the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Genevieve Morrill is an excellent example of how leadership can be, spearheading a network of businesses into coexistence. Nalani Santiago, Jamie, John and Alexis are the Chamber’s cavaliers, and together they form a great, formidable team. I would say, always join a Chamber, especially West Hollywood. How can anything be difficult in business with the A-Team as support?
What current projects are you working on?
I am just finishing the project Werléver Young with the West Hollywood Artist Grant. It was awarded early this year for me to dabble back into fashion and create some WeHo specific prints and clothing for a performance on the Rainbow Crosswalk. My muse is local Trans Comedian Erin Mohr. The final presentation of this project is at 3pm, December 17th at Artlounge Collective on La Brea concluding with the performance thereafter on the Rainbow Crosswalk. I will also be presenting to the public a 5 minute video between 6-7pm December 7th 2022 in the Library Community Meeting Room.
Another project on the books is to assist with the feature mural artwork in 237 rooms of the Andaz Hotel, Sunset Strip. I have been collaborating with the team for most of this year, renovations should commence in the 1st Quarter 2023.
To conclude I’m working on a dream project called Once Upon a Cocktail – West Hollywood, a cocktail recipe book featuring 55 of WeHo’s most prominent bars, restaurants and hotels. This project is what I love to call an impossible-possible project with so many moving parts. Nick Rimedio is the producer on the book. Without Nick’s passion behind me I would have never pulled it off. It’s definitely a who’s who of West Hollywood. Through the entire process the Chamber of Commerce has been super supportive. I’d actually say it’s a team affair with so much encouragement and championing. It’s incredible to see a city bond over this creation and further proof this city is like no other.
I have been working with WeHo Historian Jon Ponder and the director of the Sunset Strip Documentary, Hans Fjellestad to add in a few historical nuggets and facts.
Another fabulous addition to the book is Sarah Mengoni from Historically Drinking, Nick Rimedio introduced Sarah and I early Jan. 2022 and we have not stopped working together since. Sarah leaped onboard as the cocktail curator. She turned an idea into a stellar recipe book as a stand alone curated list whilst making each Bar, Restaurant and Hotel shine. Sarah and I did some hard core research, we pretty much covered every bar in town. Every venue who said yes I squealed with delight. I went from pitching 25 venues to 55 involved, each location has really put support behind us knowing it’s a community adventure.
Our partners so far include, the West Hollywood travel and tourism board, the city of West Hollywood, the Sunset BID, the Design District, Southern Glazer Wines and Spirits, Del Maguey, Beverly High Rye, Kuleana Rum, Liquid Alchemist, Beam Suntory, Ketel One, Tina’s Vodka, Kastra Elion and Casamigos.
We aim to launch in late spring 2023, a guide to drinking in West Hollywood. I’m really hopeful to engage the locals and tourists alike. I am hoping y’all will be proud of this project. It’s been made with a lot of love for our wonderful city!
Tell us about the Beanie Baby dress.
This dress was created for the West Hollywood Artist Grant project, made from 44 plush handmade camels. Each camel took 2.5 hours to hand make with the total dress time of 120 hours. Each camel is individually named and created, no 2 are alike. The idea came from how I would love to engage people in the history of West Hollywood by creating artful creations. The Camel Dress, aka The Beanie Baby Dress coined by Jackie Tohn at this year’s CBA’s (Chamber Business Awards) was created to highlight there were 6 camels purchased by Henry Hancock around 1860. These camels lived by West Hollywood’s first adobe, located near the stream that ran down Kings Road. For a deep dive please check Jon Ponder’s Greek George Caralambo, West Hollywood’s First Settler, Tended Camels around Today’s Melrose Place or is The Gay History of Camels Podcast, from Not Past It created by Gimlet and produced by Julie Carli.
Any advice for foreigners who have dreams of coming to WeHo/LA?
Relocating to a new country is never easy, the USA is my fourth. My advice is, I would begin with a great immigration lawyer that you feel is a great personality fit, do not choose one at whim or because one costs less than another. You can navigate immigration for several years so it’s a personal investment to have the right lawyer /client relationship. I personally recommend James Frankie Law from NYC or Joe Adams & Associates in WeHo. Both of these gentlemen are stellar humans with compassion and balls to get the job done.
I can only speak from my experience but it’s a long roller coaster ride, you have to be VERY patient, you have to be prepared to fail. It’s a small fortune and may require tissue for all the emotions.
Here is a little story for you, it’s not that bad compared to other stories I have heard: I was on an ESTA a tourist visa on and off for 2015 – 2016, granted my first O1 artist visa 2016 – 2019 second visa 2019 – 2022. The O1 visa only allows the person to work in the vocation field they apply for and is valid for 3 years from the approval date. An O1 visa is for an ‘Alien of extraordinary ability’ a classification by USCIS for individuals who can demonstrate exceptional talent or professional achievements in one of a number of specialized fields. Fact, I’m an Alien, I knew it, hahaha! On this visa in my opinion you really only ever get 1.5 years of breathing room without having to onslaught the process again. Stressful it is, and it can literally be hell of sleepless nights.
In 2020 I started the process to do my Green Card, which gives you 10 magical years of freedom. Mr Frankie, my vegan, dog rescuing, wonderful immigration lawyer, agreed I had enough evidence. Please note, generally lawyers don’t take cases unless they can win them. However, I was denied my green card early 2022 based on a contradiction point of the USCIS officer denying it. Mr. Frankie was more upset than me, as the conflicting denial reason didn’t make sense. Tissues all around, I was devastated. Catch 22, you can’t appeal a discussion whilst a new application is in, you just soldier on and re-apply. As a backup to this denial, to keep me in the country Mr Frankie applied for an extension of the prior O1 for one year, which will now keep me in the USA until April 2023, whilst we gathered another Green Card case to submit.
Here’s when it gets dicey, and unbelievably hellish, between April and October 2022 I was pending a decision from USCIS with no documents. On top of that, the DMV restricted my drivers license expiration date to the same date as my visa, April 2022 so I have had no Real ID licence all the time I was creating a Cocktail Book. I did revert back to my British license which ironically expires in February 2023.
The good news: I got my Visa extension confirmed in early October, wooohooo. As soon as I had the precious Visa documentation in hand, I went to the DMV. The clerk sent my Real ID renewal application off to confirm my alien status with homeland security. Don’t forget I have been here before, things are like Alice and Wonderland and backward in coming forwards. Patience is always required. It’s been 7 weeks and I still don’t have a licence. You call a number after 5 weeks of waiting and they ask you to send another scan of the paperwork. The moral of this story is immigration life is not for the faint hearted and you won’t like the process, but the pay off is to live in a country, city that makes you happy. I will never leave West Hollywood. I adore it and in a sadomasochistic way, worth all the trials and tribulations. Vive West Hollywood!!!