Friday, February 15, 2008

The 70's, the 80's... and the Academy

My heartfelt thanks to Barbra Bradley for her fascinating, informative narrative this week. I can tell from the many comments we've had that you've all been enjoying Barbara's art and words as much as I have. Her story concludes below:

The continuing drop off in illustration in the 60’s, 70, and 80’s certainly affected me, along with most illustrators. On returning to the Bay Area, I had a great rep, Dick Danner, who kept me busy into the early 60’s, when he, seeing the handwriting on the wall, quit the business entirely. I continued to get some work through long-term clients and their recommendations. However, it really slipped in the mid 60’s. That was OK as I was getting more involved at the Academy. In the late 60’s, I began doing a lot of Point-of-purchase work, mostly for Dole, C & H, Del Monte. (The Hawaiian Kids live on, still bringing me welcome royalties.) As so much of this work featured children, it was a natural for me. It continued through the 70’s.

As food companies began cutting back on POP and I on neat jobs, the proportions between illustration and the Academy also changed. Developing the Department took a greater proportion than free-lance. Though I did take on a lot of profitable, enjoyable, but unglamourous work during the 80’s, much of it illustrating food and animals for packaging, I no longer sought work.

After retiring as director of Illustration in 1992, though continuing as advisor and teaching one class, there was time to do what I wanted to do. My problem was that, after having assignments and deadlines for so many years, I had a difficult time working on my own. I did a few paintings that are acceptable and playing with watercolors brought me the Amish plate job. I spent several years doing designs for Willitts Designs Native American Children. These combined my love of drawing with that of research. My greatest pleasure from art was in sketching on location, many sketches of which are in my book.

Teaching post-retirement drawing workshops,(at Disney, Pixar, and one in England), made me realize that even some professional artists wanted to know more about what I had been teaching for years. That decided me to begin my book about drawing illustrative figures. For over three years, that book was my baby, I thought of it as a legacy. I did over 900 drawings and a worked out copy and drawings for every page. Only 600 were used which was OK but copy changes and the book design were less fortunate. I was not happy. Just about then, my son’s daughter was born. The book became a book and I was content for it to merely have value.

About women in art

I’ve been wanting to say more about women with careers. Women are now respected as income earners. A married woman can buy a car without her husband countersigning a loan application. Years ago she couldn’t, even if her income were greater. She can buy disability insurance without a limitation of 10 years for permanent disability, determined on the premise that women are more inclined to malinger.

The worst enemy to a woman’s career is her nature. We women want it all, the career and the family. it is so difficult to rise to the very top and hands-on raise a family. We are so often torn between our female instincts and our professional work. We want to do it all for and with our families, and as well as possible. I liked to cook, sewed curtains and clothes for my daughters, and had to make every birthday cake special (volcano, banjo, merry-go-round, nightgown for a pajama party, Darth Vader, whatever). Time off should be in doing samples but I’d too often find another project.

Still, in my day, illustration, being a stay-at-home career, was a great field for a woman. Most women are great jugglers. I would put a wash on the board, then a wash in the machine. Today, because most illustration jobs are full time in the entertainment industry, not free lance traditional. Illustrating children’s books is an exception, but they are seldom as lucrative as advertising was.

I once read a comment by a celebrated British physician that she likened herself to a three–legged milking stool. She needed all three legs to keep in balance. Added to my family and illustration, teaching became my third leg. In my case, however, the length of the legs changes as outside circumstances changed. When I illustrated more than I taught that was fine. But, when I began teaching as much as I illustrated, I was frustrated. As directing the Illustration Department took more time, the proportions reversed and that was fine, too. In later years, I often felt guilty and sometimes regretful, thinking that I had owed it to my ability to do more productive with my art than I had been. But, when I saw how many Academy illustrator alumni (so many of whom are now my friends and many co-teachers), became successful, making their livings doing what they loved to do, I came to believe that teaching was perhaps what I was really born to do. The humbling comments on the surprise Blog begun last year (see link below), took care of any remaining doubts or regrets.

Barbara Bradley received the 2007 Outstanding Educator in the Arts Award from the Society of Illustrators. She is the retired Director of Illustration at the Academy of Art University. The Academy has created a blog, in her honor. She is also the subject of an in-depth interview and related article by Neil Shapiro in the current issue of Illustration magazine.

My Barbara Bradley Flickr set.


  1. Bob Bollini11:40 AM

    A wonderful week! Many thanks to Mrs. Bradley and to Lief for this memoir.

  2. Wow...just wow.

    From a look at Barbara's history, she was born to do it all.

    What moxie!!!


  3. Anonymous1:28 PM

    Wow. What wonderful commentary!! I hugely appreciate Barbara's sentiments.

    Best of health and luck to her in her retirement! Thank you for the posts!

  4. Barbara, I hung on every word, and enjoyed every post this week. You have had an amazing career as an exceptional illustrator and an exceptional educator. What a wonderful inspiration for everyone fortunate enough to have been one of your students, and to have experienced this weeks fascinating blog. And hanks Leif, for a special week on Barbara's career in her own words, which made it even more special.

    Tom Watson

  5. Great stuff Leif. I didn't get to read all this mostly until this week. She is a wonderful person and all of her work on top of that makes it special.

  6. barbara bradley created the hawaiian kids?!?!?
    they're soooo darling!
    look at those delicious "cankles"
    that's enough of a legacy in itself. i'm most crazy about 60's + early 70's illustrations, but i appreciate the brilliance of all her work + ability.

    i am her new biggest fan!
    i'm going to catch up on reading these. my daughter was sick last week + still is, but we're going to play hopscotch out front. she is a talented artist too at 4 + makes the most wonderful "masterpieces" :)

  7. Her book helped a lot. Hooray for Barbara!