Sydney Brown: Fever Fan, Fever Illustrator

December 22, 2006

This color sketch of Tamika Catchings in her Team USA uniform was presented to her by Sydney Brown in October.
sketch by Sydney Brown
Eleven years ago, Sydney Brown was told she would have difficulty writing and drawing. Today, however, the Lawrence North High School sophomore has become a diehard Indiana Fever fan while offering her talents to the Fever players and franchise. She spends countless hours sketching and drawing these days, and she has struck relationships with Tamika Catchings and Tamika Whitmore by sketching their likenesses.

This fall, she greeted Catchings with a color sketch of Catchings in her USA Olympic uniform. Brown has won awards for her animal sketches, and as her love of the Fever has grown, so, too, has her modest library of hand-drawn Fever images. A season ticket holder who attends games regularly with her parents, Sydney recently took time to discuss her artistic passions, and passion for her favorite basketball team, the Fever. Sydney, what is your grade and high school?
Sydney Brown: “I'm a sophomore at Lawrence North High School.”

FB: How long have you been sketching?
SB: “Basically, I have been drawing since I could pick up a pencil. Well, actually, it was a magnadoodle. The story is that when I was about four years old, preschool counselors were worried that I would have trouble with drawing and writing because my hands were too weak to hold a crayon. So my parents gave me a magnadoodle, which did not take so much hand strength to draw on. I eventually wore the thing out and graduated to pencil and paper around the age of five. Someday, I want to go back to those counselors who once doubted me ever being able to draw and say, ‘Hey, remember me? I was the little girl who you said would have trouble drawing and writing all those years ago. Well, look at what I can do now.’”

FB: What inspires you to draw and sketch?
SB: “To me, drawing is a way of expressing myself. I'm pretty quiet, so I use art as a way of communicating my feelings. My sketchbook is more like my diary. I also use art for therapeutic reasons. If I'm mad at something at school or somewhere where I can't go to my room and pout, I draw a wolf snarling or some other angry animal. Same thing if I'm really happy or content. I use drawings of animals (and sometimes people) to convey my emotions. Also, I just love doing it.”

FB: Do you sketch primarily from photographs? Or do you draw freelance, also, and create new images?
SB: “When I was younger I drew from memory, but when I started taking more advanced art classes in fifth grade, I started drawing from photographs, as well. Now, I do both, but I use photographs when drawing specific people or animals.”

Sydney's first, and probably biggest passion, is animals. This sketch drew numerous 4-H awards.
sketch by Sydney Brown
FB: You have undoubtedly sketched other items besides athletes ... what do you normally draw? And what are your favorites? Why?
SB: “When I was younger, I only drew animals, mainly dogs and cats, because EVERYTHING was animals to me when I was little. I only liked books with animals, movies with animals, shows with animals, etc. Humans did not enter the picture until I was about eleven or twelve, so drawing athletes is still pretty new to me. To me, animals are easier because of their less complicated expressions. My favorite animals to draw are wolves, along with cats and dogs. My first job was drawing Pet Portraits for employees at my dad's work, the NCAA, which I began doing when I was thirteen. I also was awarded Grand Champion at the Hamilton County 4-H Fair for a pastel drawing of a Canadian lynx that I did in a private art class outside of school. The lynx picture also won a Special Gold Merit and blue ribbon at the 4-H division at the Indiana State Fair.

FB: Where did you learn to do your sketchings? Particularly, the ability to sketch detail, like muscle definition, for instance?
SB: “People ask me this all the time, and I never know how to respond. I basically taught myself, if that makes any sense. I never took any advanced art classes until I was ten years old. Going back through my old drawings from when I was in preschool, they look like any four-year-old's artwork, so I'm no prodigy or anything. What was different with me from other kids was that I drew repeatedly. Everyday. I would never go a week without doing so, even on vacation. That was how I learned, by practicing it over and over, much like athletes and musicians do. My parents supported me by not trying to push me, but let me do my own thing. I thank them for that. The ability to sketch detail came from both observation and practice, but with muscle definition, I had an art teacher help me with that one. We were drawing from mannequins at this class I took in Avon, Ind., and I (big surprise) was drawing a basketball player. My teacher helped me with shading to show muscle on the limbs. That's how you draw muscle, putting the shadows and highlights in the correct places.”

FB: Any other types of art that you practice?
SB: “I do mostly colored pencil, pen and ink, and regular pencil, but I also like working with pastels and clay.”

Sydney loves Catchings because of her Tennessee background, but she doesn't choose Fever favorites - she likes them all. This sketch was drawn for a Fever season ticket holder. The image is the same that hangs over the Fever floor at all home games.
sketch by Sydney Brown
FB: Regarding the Fever, you'd done sketches for Catchings and Whitmore ... how many pieces of art would you estimate that you have drawn with Fever players?
SB: “Catchings has been the most frequent Fever player I have drawn, since I cheered for her when she played in college, but I've also drawn Whitmore, Tan White and Tully Bevilaqua. I've probably drawn about ten or so pictures with Fever players.”

FB: Do you have any goals for your artwork?
SB: “I want to become an illustrator or get into graphic design. I like to do work that tells a story and I also want to get an art-related job with a regular salary because in the world of freelance art – you’re either famous and make money, or not famous and starve. I just don't believe I'm good enough to survive on only commission work. I like knowing when I'm going to get my next paycheck, but I do enjoy doing commissions for people. But I don't want to be famous, I just want to feel like I've made some sort of difference in the world.”

FB: Do you have any other favorite athletes or favorite WNBA players? What makes any of them your favorites?
SB: “My favorite football player is Peyton Manning, and Tamika Catchings and Chamique Holdsclaw (Los Angeles Sparks) are my favorite basketball players. Why I like them is that, first of all, they're great athletes, in my opinion, and, second of all, as far as I can tell, they're great people as well. As a little kid, I admired those three people mostly because they were the best players on the teams I cheered for (Tennessee), but as I got older I started appreciating them more for them not being arrogant and stupid like some other athletes out there. I do not know Manning or Holdsclaw personally, but they seem like great people. With Catchings, I have been lucky enough seeing firsthand how kind and genuine she is. That's hard to find in famous athletes these days.

FB: What sports do you play, yourself, if any? And if so ... what is your favorite? Why?
SB: “None. I'm not very athletic, and thus I'm the kid who is always picked last in gym class. I shoot hoops in the driveway but that's about it. I mainly like to watch sports and draw them. I've always liked basketball because of the quick pace and I can pay attention to it easier, but I like football and baseball as well.”

FB: I learned that you have grown up a Tennessee fan, in part because of your father. Is that mostly how you became a Peyton Manning fan, also?
SB: “Of course. I've known about Manning for as long as I can remember and he is the reason why I like the Colts. He was the first athlete I knew by name and attempted to draw (my dad constantly nagged me about drawing him). The first drawing I did of him was when I was ten, and that was less than impressive. Let's just say I've improved a lot since then.”

FB: Any aspirations to attend the University of Tennessee?
SB: “I've been asked that several times before, and the answer is no. I actually thought about it once, and it seems like a great school, but it just doesn't seem to have the art and writing programs I'm looking for. I'm actually considering going to the Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI, the Kansas City Art Institute, or the Columbus College of Art and Design, since you can major in illustration there. But I'm open to anything else as well.”

FB: As for school ... is it safe to assume that art is your favorite school subject? If not, what is?
SB: “Art is DEFINITELY my favorite subject. I'm looking forward to the class every other day since LN has block scheduling (classes rotate every other day). Even on Green Days I'm looking forward to it. Other subjects I like include German and English.”

FB: When do you find time to draw and sketch? Is your sketching exclusive to when you are at home or an art class? Or do you sketch and doodle during free time at school?
SB: “I draw anywhere. During free time at home or school. Just look at my math notebook from last year. The pages are covered in doodles. Of course, I try my best not to draw while the teacher's talking, but someone once told me that drawing while someone is giving instruction actually helps you listen to what they are saying better. I don't know if that's true or not.”

FB: How many Fever games do you attend each season?
SB: “My dad gets free tickets to a maximum of two games each season since he works for the NCAA. Those tickets are awesome because they're third row courtside (near center court) and you can really get a glimpse of how hard those women are playing the game. But last season we went to four games, three regular season and the playoff game against Detroit. The previous year we just attended two. But if I'm not at the games, I'm either watching them on TV or listening to them on the radio. Next season, we are signed up for a mini-season ticket package, so we will hopefully be attending even more games.”

One of Brown's first Fever images featured a photo of Tamika Catchings opposing Tamika Whitmore, before Whitmore became a Fever star in 2006.
sketch by Sydney Brown
FB: Favorite players besides Catchings? Why?
SB: “I like all of them equally. None of the Fever players are obnoxious, start fights, and do other idiotic actions. Each one has something to contribute to this team. With the addition of Tamika Whitmore last spring, the Fever now has more power inside. Whitmore helped take control of this team, and her impact has been wonderful. Especially during the playoff game against Detroit where she scored 41 points and had one of the best shooting games of any Fever player this season. Tully Bevilaqua provides excellent defense so it is not surprising that she joined Tamika Catchings on the WNBA All-Defensive team and was chosen to be a member of the Australian World Championship team. Anna DeForge has also shown that she is a great defensive player and can be a good perimeter shooter. Tan White has also had some memorable shots and Ebony Hoffman has improved from a reserve in the 2005 season to a member of the starting five this past summer. I can't name all the players' achievements, though I wish I could. I just like cheering for this team because they are not annoying and they have had a great past two seasons. I feel that there is something pure about them.”

FB: Favorite Fever moment?
SB: “That would have to be when the Fever went to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2005 season. Here is a team that exceeded all expectations and made it deep into the WNBA playoffs. Though they did lose to Connecticut after Tamika Catchings forced an overtime in Game 2 with a last-second three-pointer, they went well beyond where they were predicted to go. The Fever seem to have this determination about them. They always seem to try not to go home without a fight.”

FB: Second favorite Fever moment?
SB: I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Fever at Seattle this past season with their 22-0 run against the Storm. The 31 point lead was so un-Feverlike, I found myself asking, "Who is this team?" Out of all the teams I cheer for, the Fever tend to be in the most close games, so having a large run like that was a nice surprise from them.”

FB: Anything else you aspire to draw, specifically?
SB: “Drawing animals was my first love, so I can never leave it behind, and I also enjoy drawing people. Any picture that narrates a story, so I guess you can say I'm more of an illustrator than the typical fine artist. Animals and sports. Yep, that's me.”