Meet Katherine Bradford

Impromptu street painting of flapjacks. Photo by Katherine Bradford, Buddy of Work blog.

“Today what we need most is the life of the imagination. Informal notebooks provide a space where you don’t feel intimidated, where you can experiment and vary your approach from page to page.”
—Katherine Bradford

Portrait of Katherine Bradford, pencil on paper, by Phong Bui.
Portrait of Katherine Bradford, pencil on paper, by Phong Bui.

When the Plumb team considered the inaugural trio of artists, we were looking for variety and complementarity among the group. Where Tucker Nichols draws and writes and Sumi Ink Club unites everyday people to make art, Katherine Bradford brings the eye and technique of a classic painter as well as longtime experience in navigating the art world—though she didn’t become well known until the age of fifty. Katherine approached her Plumb notebooks with thoughtful sincerity, joy, and a respect for the hand-drawn mark. She says, “I love the idiosyncratic mark a human hand can make. Maybe it’s a way of going through your days, and your life, to let a little bit of mishap in.”

Sketching has been enormously important to Katherine’s work, and as a longtime teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, she’s seen the value of sketching for her students:

“Plumb really got me thinking about notebooks. I had taken using notebooks for granted. Once our collaboration started, though, I realized it was a big part of how I learn and how I proceed from one step to another. I see a lot of students doing their best work in notebooks and I always think it’s too bad—if only they could work like that more publicly! Notebooks play a big role in a visual artist’s practice. It’s sort of a scary prospect to do large work that’s public. The whole idea of making a painting or work of art can cause people to fail, but if you think you’re doing something private, you relax and better things happen.”

Katherine Bradford’s Brooklyn studio. Photo by Maria Calandra, Pencil in the Studio blog.
Katherine Bradford’s Brooklyn studio. Photo by Maria Calandra, Pencil in the Studio blog.

There are both serious and playful qualities to Katherine’s art. The New York Times has described her work as “luminous and sumptuously tactile, sometimes goofy.” Despite frequently returning to certain themes, like the Titanic and superheroes, she takes them in varying emotional directions. Katherine describes her abiding interest in a few key subjects:

“As an artist, after a while you have access to your subconscious, so certain themes just keep coughing themselves up—thank god! I like cultural images. I’m rather obsessed with the Titanic, and fortunately it provides a rather potent metaphor for man’s fragile place in the world. I’ve reduced the imagery to a series of shapes. It’s iconic, a mighty symbol—maybe it’s every ship. After the Titanic sank, another ocean liner, the Carpathia, came to the rescue. Maybe that’s the ship, hopeful on the horizon, appearing just when you need it. The sinking happened at night, so you’ve got the dark, open ocean, full of mystery and beauty. It was an ocean liner, all lit up under a starry sky. I love dots and points of light, so maybe that’s how I came to the Titanic the first time. It’s also about survival. I love survival stories—quests and rituals and communities doing something ceremonious together.”

While Katherine returns to the same subject matter in her paintings, and her vibrant, evocative notebooks are clearly by the same strong hand, she appreciates flexibility of process, which made working with her a great pleasure on so many fronts:

“One of my favorite times in the studio is when I don’t have what I need—I don’t have the color I need, I don’t have the size brush I need, and I don’t have anything to paint on. It’s then that I’m forced to be inventive and I have to pull in something new. The unplanned is so much fun. In life, circumstances require you to give way to a lot of other forces. That’s not a bad way to make art—to be open, to invite the unexpected.”


Further exploration on Katherine Bradford: