You might recognize Brittney Palmer from a Playboy cover, or as a scantily clad UFC "Octagon Girl," i.e., one who struts her stuff holding a number to announce what round it is in a professional fight, or whatever. But Palmer's much more than the sum of her million-ish Instagram followers: painting is her passion. But Palmer will be the first to say she didn't always consider herself very good at it.
Her paintings focus on pop-culture icons from Billie Holiday and beyond, though the figures Palmer especially loves were most popular in the 1960s and 70s. There's a woozy, psychedelic style to her portraits, evoking lava lamps and the ubiquitous artwork of Peter Max. Some of her (usually-dead) subjects are recognizable as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Prince, and so on. Others are less so, though the faces are often presented in the style of strip-mall glamour-portraits or publicity headshots; there's no "candid" feel to any of them. Instead, they are carefully composed and artfully staged renderings of how Palmer views the intersecting worlds of art, music, and entertainment.
Palmer didn’t initially plan on being a visual artist, but turned to painting after a serious car accident meant she couldn't walk on her own for three months. Her burgeoning career as a budding dancer was cut short. “That’s when I picked up the paintbrush and became obsessed,” Palmer tells The Creators Project. In a rare display of self-deprecation among artists, she says painting “was definitely not an instant gift, that's for sure.” Nonetheless, she became as passionate about the art as she was once about dancing.
After developing her skills as a visual artist, Palmer became "hooked" and moved from Las Vegas to LA. Like many other creatives in the City of Angels, she responded to its thriving arts scene. She says, “Art held strong here, [I] just thought it made sense.” Dell Computers CEO Michael Dell is one of her collectors; that, coupled with the waitlist for her commissions, is at least some indication that Palmer made the right move.
The artist is not afraid to draw connections between her work as a painter and as an Octagon Girl. “I couldn’t have one without the other,” she admits. “UFC has given me a platform to show my work to the world”—and of course, she notes, it puts the "art" that is MMA on display.
When asked to describe her own visual style, Palmer calls it “spontaneous realism.” She emphasizes her love of hyperreal faces, vivid hues, and a mixed-media approach to art-making in which no material is excluded, from acrylics and charcoal, to crayon, and even whiskey. "I make sure to bring as much depth to my work as possible,” she says, adding that she embraces multiple influences: “I couldn’t even explain the importance of every person, song writer, model, actor, friend, and family member is to me.”
Palmer draws from personal experience when selecting subjects for her paintings. Whether it's Lana Del Rey or Charles Bukowski, "They all have what it takes to create a great piece.”
For Palmer, creativity means experimentation. It's about following your passion, no matter how little faith you have in yourself, at least initially. It's overcoming fear of failure, trying repeatedly, and ultimately working to move past the limits you've set for yourself. “[T]o create good art is to not be afraid to mess up, to know when to stop and to 100% believe in yourself.”
Ultimately, Palmer believes that her work will help her grow and redefine her own creative approach. And her response to that prospect is enthusiastic: “I can’t wait.”