BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Beautiful Brooke Doyle proves that in Chicago, you can take what you love doing and make it a career. A freelance prop stylist for décor, lifestyle, and food brands, she works with creative teams and production crews to create enticing images of products for companies to use for their websites, social media presences, print catalogues, and advertising campaigns.
“I have a background in art and visual merchandising and, before working as stylist, was running a mid-century modern design store in Pilsen. Previously, I had my own gallery in Montreal where I sold vintage clothing but grew weary of the day-to-day of retail. I realized the most exciting days for me during my work week were spent coordinating with set designers for film and TV who would come in and source furniture and décor for their productions. I decided to make that my focus.”
Over the next weeks, we will profile others who have, like Brooke, taken their talents and built them into jobs they can’t wait to tackle each day.
We asked Brooke to tell us about all about her work—how she puts together campaigns and creates serene still lifes for companies large and small.
How do you choose the props that you use?
Most props are chosen to help tell the story of the products being sold. They communicate a certain season, mood, or lifestyle. It can be anything from a stack of books in a certain color scheme, to a piece of art, to a pair of a certain style of shoes or carefully discarded reading glasses on a side table—as long as the prop doesn’t directly compete with or distract from the product.
The scale, color, and texture of the props are primary deciding factors in how they are chosen and where they are placed in an image. That and, of course, budget.
What have been some of the more unusual things that you have had to find for an assignment?
It’s not always the unusual nature of a prop, but the level of specificity that I find to be a fun challenge. One entire day was spent recently trying to get the perfect scale and color of white glitter—not powder or confetti, not silver or iridescent—to use.
I have driven miles out of the city to find hay bales and to the South Side to buy custom-made ice cubes out of a factory in an old slaughterhouse. Sometimes I bring myself to the set. One minute, I’ll be breaking down old Christmas trees with heavy sheers, then I am asked to throw off my work gloves and hand model for a set of dinnerware!
How do you best feature the product?
In most advertising, there is a strong element of aspiration around the products being sold. The thematic direction to achieve this aspirational quality is generally passed down from the creative directors in a company’s corporate office to the art director, who works on set to communicate those ideas to the production crew and stylists.
Creative themes and direction for propping can be meant to evoke anything from a color palette, the feeling of a specific city, a holiday, or a more abstract concept like “hygge,” the Danish word for leading a cozy lifestyle full of small, simple pleasures.
What are some of the skills that you think it takes to do well in this field?
As far as I know, there are no official degrees or certifications in the field, so it is hard to pinpoint specific skills. I have personally been excited for some time to create interior and retail environments, and I usually tell people I am just a compulsive visual organizer.
You have to be obsessive about the smallest details—the way a napkin falls or the angle of a tray, for example. You have to be able to be flexible and have fun working with large teams.
What are some of the companies you work with?
Crate & Barrel, CB2, Tyson, and Kraft are a few of the companies that I work with now in Chicago. I love editorial and lifestyle work that focuses on tabletops and interiors. Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma, West Elm, Target, and Martha Stewart are on my list of dream teams to work with in the future.
Tell us about growing up in beautiful and rural northern Wisconsin.
I grew up in a conservative small town where creative opportunities were really limited. Even though my parents were dedicated to giving my siblings and myself access to music lessons, athletics, and travel, I was kind of a loner and found my own community through a DIY (do it yourself) music scene in high school.
It started between three adjoining towns in the same county in the early ‘90s. We’d throw shows every weekend to support all our friends’ bands. There weren’t really any rules to how you expressed yourself, and I think that gave me the courage to branch out to so many fields and travel later in life. I’ve loved living so many places and experiencing what it’s like to work in different cultures.
How did you end up back in the Midwest?
I followed a pretty circuitous route to get back to the Midwest. Out of college, I started working in the art world, managing a gallery in Los Angeles, then moved to Seoul to travel and teach English. From there I went to Montreal, where I started my own business selling vintage clothing in a gallery and event space, and finally Chicago.
What’s great about working in Chicago?
There are a lot of opportunities for styling, but the community is small enough that you end up seeing a lot of familiar faces. I have worked with some of the kindest, sharpest, and most creative people in Chicago; I am very lucky.
Find out more information on Brooke’s work on her website or via Instagram: @brooke_doyle_style.
In periodic “All in a Day’s Work” stories, we anticipate profiling others who have taken their unique skills and passions and crafted just the right job for them. If you know the perfect person to nominate or would like to share your own story, please email us at email@example.com.