BYU student shares her journey of becoming an artist, storyteller


“I started out of spite, but I kept going because I love it.”

From a young age, Maddie Lytle was drawn to art. It started around the age of four, when she received a Crayola box full of art supplies. Lytle’s mother, Lynette Rands, said the young girl got bored of store-bought toys and would much rather make her own.

“She would just spend hours creating. Even when we went to her brother’s baseball games she’d be out there making sculptures out of pine cones and rocks,” Rands said. 

Lytle began to realize her talents in her senior year of high school when she often received compliments and praise for her work from others. She was in an International Baccalaureate art program where students would send their portfolios to Europe to be judged. Lytle said her teacher was harsh and discouraging and told her she didn’t have a future in art. When the teacher predicted her final grade for the semester, she told Lytle to expect a 4 out of 7. 

Lytle said she was motivated to prove her wrong, and in the end she received a 7 out of 7. She was the only student in her school at the time to receive such a score and the first student to get a 7 out of 7 in five years. 

“When someone tells you that you can’t do it, then you want to do it even more,” Lytle said.

Maddie Lytle paints flowers for a new collage piece. She is experimenting with oil painting and collaging. (Nicole Olson)

After earning the highest score on her final grade, she began to consider how she could use this talent for her future. When Lytle applied to BYU, she also applied for an art scholarship, not thinking much of it. She was given two scholarships, which made her think more seriously about art as a major. She said she was hesitant at first, unsure if there would be a future there, but quickly saw her love for art grow and decided to dedicate herself to the program. 

The BYU art program widened Lytle’s perspective on what art could be. While learning technical skills, she also said she learned how to “think like an artist.”

“I think once you realize that you need to start building your skill and practicing that, as well as start thinking like an artist and approaching things in new ways, marrying those things together — that’s where the good stuff happens,” Lytle said. 

Lytle found exposure to be the key to thinking like an artist. Particularly, exposure to history and contemporary art. The BYU art program puts an emphasis on studying art theory and contemporary art, something Lytle said she is extremely grateful for. Lytle said realizing art is so much more than just how realistic one can make something look opened her eyes to the possibilities of what her art could be.

Lytle said she credits a lot of her development as an artist to her advisor Joe Ostraff. With his advice and direction, she said she was able to do her best work.

Ostraff said Lytle’s direction demanded a high level of commitment to using and understanding the human form.

“She really came through and put in the time and has become quite effective using the figure,” Ostraff said. 

Lytle said her art is driven by the human need to tell stories. She is inspired by palimpsests, manuscripts that have been erased to make room for new writing, and the idea that she can build on other stories. Her paintings are based on personal experiences, her friends’ experiences and even childhood memories. There is always a story behind her work, and she enjoys seeing others find their own stories in her pieces.

“I like the idea that I can connect to someone through this object or painting or whatever that seemingly makes no sense and seemingly doesn’t connect us, but everyone will resonate with it in many different ways,” Lytle said.

Though Lytle was initially driven to create “out of spite,” she saw it evolve into much more.

Lytle is working to expand her skills by venturing into collage work and seeing how that can fit with her oil paintings. She teaches community art classes out of her parents’ house, helping others to come into their own as she did. She is also preparing for grad school and said she hopes to work in art museums as well as produce more pieces to share.

“I remember her grandmother telling her that one of the greatest things you can do in this world is to make wherever you are a little more beautiful, and that’s her way of making wherever she is more beautiful; it’s her art,” Rands said.

Readers can explore Lytle’s work on her portfolio website.

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