Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Feature Artist: Katie Bradley

This week's Friday Feature artist is Katie Bradley.  She describes herself as a wife, mother, and a nerd, since she has degrees in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and International Relations. Somewhere in the time between these, she became an artist. Her passion is creating watercolor and ink nursery art, and she has recently finished illustrating 2 children's books.

This year's big life change is that she is adopting a little daughter from Ethiopia. Her 2 boys are so excited to have a sister soon! A lot of her art is centered around adoption, Africa, and art for children of a diverse ethnic background.

Hi Katie, thank you so much for being here today.  I am so excited to highlight a watercolor artist today as that's a medium I would like to learn more about.  I also love that your art celebrates diversity by capturing many different skin tones and cultural influences.  So let's jump into today's questions....

So how did you go from Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and International Relations to art??

I get asked this a lot! I’ve always loved drawing and painting. While I love art, I never wanted the pressure of “having” to earn money with it. In the past used art (and dance) as a counterbalance for my scientific endeavors. Art kept me sane. I enjoyed drawing, and dabbled in acrylics.
Because I was a big science nerd in High school, I decided to study Biochem/Molecular Biology… and for good measure added a minor in Organic Chemistry. I think I probably just wanted to prove to myself that I could get good grades in one of the hardest fields of study. My studies went well, but I didn’t particularly enjoy them. After college I worked as a research associate in a Cancer research lab for a year while my husband finished his degree. The research was amazing, but I didn’t like the “publish or die” mentality that seemed to pervade a scientific field that I felt should be focused on helping people instead.

In 2004 my husband was stationed in Germany with the US Army, so we got to move overseas for a few years. I started looking into a variety of degrees, mainly just to keep busy. International Relations struck my fancy, and so I began the program. This was an amazing experience – for the first time in my life I found myself reading the optional reading material because the subject fascinated me so much! I loved my classes, and enjoyed learning. I finished my Masters degree in International Relations in early 2008.
I didn’t paint much during this time, but when my son Mark was born in 2006, I painted 3 paintings for his nursery. My friend asked me for prints of the paintings to give a friend for her baby’s nursery, and then her friend’s friend asked… and then someone suggested I sell prints of the painting on Etsy. I sold the first print of “Jungle Baby” within half an hour of listing it.

After my husband’s time in the Army was finished, we moved back to the US. I feel so blessed to be able to stay home with my kids - I painted for fun here and there, as time allowed. I watched my friend’s son 4 days a week and my second son was born in 2010, so I was pretty busy being a fun Momma. When Sean was a few months old I challenged myself to start an “Everyday Art Project” – painting a small painting every day for a year. This finally got me into the swing of painting regularly, and things just kind of went from there! We began the process of adopting a little girl from Ethiopia last Spring, which in turn inspired me to paint a lot of my African-American and adoption-themed pieces. For the first time I began to market my art, primarily through African American hair blogs as well as the adoption community. My Etsy sales soared, and here we are now. :o)

In the end, my art is my favorite hobby that has the added benefits of bringing others joy, and helping us raise the funds for our adoption by selling originals and prints.
What is it you love about watercolors?

I love the fluidity of the paint, and the unpredictability of the outcome.  I love that the white of the paper shines through, and the bright, lively colors I can achieve with them.  I also love that I can colorize my black ink pen drawings fairly quickly with watercolors, bringing sketches to life.

One other more practical aspect that I love about watercolors is that I don’t have to worry about clean-up afterwards. Paintbrushes don’t have to be perfectly rinsed, because unlike with acrylic paint, the brushes aren’t ruined by sitting with a little paint in them. I can start painting, and drop everything if the kids need me. I can paint for a couple of minutes here and there throughout the day.

As a busy mom to 2 (+ watching a friend’s son 4 days a week) and in the process of adopting a 3rd how do you fit in time to do art and list your art to sell?

As mentioned above, one of the joys of watercolor is that you don’t have to block large amounts of time off in order to be successful. In fact, since you have to let the layers of paint dry before proceeding, breaks are even necessary. I often paint for 5-10 minutes throughout the day, while I wait for a child to nap, or for water to boil for dinner. I usually sketch my paintings in the living room with the kids around me while they are playing happily. My kids (or my friends’ kids) inspire many of my paintings, so in a way, I NEED my kids for my art to succeed. We put the boys to bed at 7pm, and then I usually take about 1.5 hours for my art before I spend the rest of the evening with my husband.

Listing my art on Etsy isn’t that big a deal for me, since I enjoy writing, and I already have watermarked photo files of all my art on hand anyway by the time it’s ready to sell. If a print sells on Etsy, I can just re-list the item with a couple of mouse clicks. I have a pretty good routine down by now of checking my Etsy account at the end of each day, packing up the orders, writing clients a quick note, and then mailing everything out 2-3 times a week after dropping my oldest son off at school.  The mail clerks know me by name, and lovingly greet my youngest, who always comes along on my hip in a sling.

What’s your best advice for someone who is just starting to work with watercolors?

First, buy good paper. Arches cold press is by far my favorite. Good paints help a lot, and you will get further with just a few colors by a good brand. There is no need to buy millions of colors – I paint all my illustrations using 10 colors and mix all the in-between shades myself. It is better to buy 1 or 2 good paintbrushes (as thick as your finger, with a very fine point), instead of a whole bunch of mediocre ones. Be patient. Start with the lightest colors, and let each layer dry. Don’t be afraid to experiment – after all it’s just paper! Don’t fight the fluidity of watercolors, but rather work with it: it is ok to let colors run together.
Don’t feel like you have to create masterpieces right away. Don’t be too critical of your work. Just paint. Art is very personal, and when we paint what comes out of ourselves, people will feel a connection with what is created. Some of my favorite paintings are ones that I hated once upon a time.
The library has GREAT resources. I am now taking a watercolor class at the community college, but before this I was self-taught.

I am really interested in how art helps promote health and wellness; can you give us examples of how art does this in your life?
I believe that in order to be healthy physically, we also need to feel emotionally fulfilled, and happy. Art brings me so much joy, it helps balance me. I process a lot of emotions through my art. As long as I have time to paint, I am a happier, friendlier, more relaxed person throughout my day. As a Mom and wife I also think it is important to take a little “me time” – art fulfills this need for me.

Who are some artists that have inspired you and why?
My Great Grandma Louise Rumely used to be a children’s illustrator, and her paintings and style have surely influenced my art. A lot of her paintings are hanging in my grandparents’ and my parents’ houses.
Steven Kellogg is one of my favorite modern children’s illustrators – I love his book “The mysterious Tadpole” and I know that his use of color has influenced my art, although his paintings are much more advanced than mine.

Where do you hope to see yourself and your art in 5 years?

I am already honored and humbled that my art is being welcomed in so many homes in the US and abroad. I would love to have a solo art show in the next few years. I may be interested in illustrating another children’s book, although right now I am enjoying the freedom of painting “whatever I want” most of the time. I enjoy painting commissioned paintings, and plan to continue painting a limited number of these. Most of all, I just want to continue to paint for the joy of painting, and see where things go from there.

What do you know to be true?
I know that a smile, a hug, a kind word, can make someone’s day. Try to do the next right thing. Love freely. Forgive. Be generous. Live. Savor each moment. Be kind.

Thank you so much Katie!!  I love seeing the diversity in your art work and I hope it will inspire other artists, as it has me, to not only try watercolors but also to represent more ethnicities in their artwork.
To learn more about Katie and see more of her work please visit the below sites:

Have a wonderful weekend!!!


  1. Thank you both for the lovely post. :-)

  2. So wonderful ~ thank you for introducing Katie :)

  3. Beautiful artwork! Your Feature Friday has introduced me to yet another wonderful artist :)


  4. I love her work. Watercolors are great, but they're not easy. Best wishes on your new child and I enjoyed reading your story!!

  5. I lived in West Africa for 6 years when I was in my twenties and it will always hold a special place in my heart, especially the children I knew there. Thanks for this beautiful interview with the paintings that really capture those beautiful faces. Keep up the good work with your interviews, Harmony, they are so thought provoking.