Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Young Lady Among the Good Ol' Boys

In the course of relating the details of her career, Barbara Bradley agreed to speak candidly about what it was like to be a young female illustrator in a male dominated profession:

About my days at Coopers. A background. My first husband, Herbert Briggs, and I met at UC, Berkeley, married and went to Art Center together.

After graduation, we polished our portfolios, took them on a train, and went to the Big Apple. He got a job at Young & Rubicam and I at Cooper’s. We’d postponed starting a family because I thought it would be easier to learn to be an illustrator before learning to be a mother than the reverse. A decision I never regretted.

Because you asked before, I’ll start by discussing being a woman artist.

There were two women artists at Cooper's during my years there. Both were quite established when I arrived and both were married to Cooper artists, Lorraine Fox to Bernie d'Andrea and Sheila Beckett to J. Frederick Smith who HAD been at Coopers.

Sheila seldom came to the studio but I knew Lorraine fairly well. I had a regular account at that time, Calling All Girls (formerly Polly Pigtails, a magazine for teenage girls) which featured the same girl and her dog on each month's cover.

Bernie and Lorraine's Dachsund, Heidi, was one of my best models. Though Lorraine's style was very different from mine, I learned a great deal from her about texture and color. I followed the work of other women artists, but did not know any. They were either freelance or at other studios and had been established for quite awhile.

I'd been at Cooper's for a while when I started Polly so it wasn't any more thrilling than many other jobs. Except that it was my account. For several years, I'd been doing crossword puzzle covers. They were silly, but always featured a pretty girl and crossword pattern somewhere. I had a free hand in the ideas and jobs. Though technically editorial, a salesman got that account for me and it was lumped into my job, which, for the first few years, was salary.

Had I been less shy, had I not been married with an outside life of my own, and had I known how to drink, I might have socialized more and known more artists outside of Cooper’s. I knew nothing about [other art studios]. Many of us were in a lovely cocoon at Cooper's, especially those of us who weren't one of the 'good ol' boys', who went out on long lunches. I never went to the Society of Illustrators, where there must have been more communication with outside artists. As it was, both in New York, and even the early days in San Francisco, I did not socialize with any artists outside of Bob Jones.

At first, I got a lot of "perky women" jobs, aprons and hair flying, faces beaming with joy at the wonderfulness of their stoves and laundry soap. Children gradually became a specialty, probably because not too many artists did them very well.

I think my biggest thrill came from my first full page color ad, and that was shortly after I began. It was for Woolworth's. They were a client for quite a while. They were very fussy and had tight layouts that required a lot of finagling to fit the figures in. Woolworth work always went back for changes. I thought that was the norm. When I did a Life Saver's ad and there were no changes, I was not only shocked, I learned a lesson. I was the same artist, doing the same quality of work and they loved the work and wanted no change. Art Directors at small accounts have to prove their worth and let us know who's boss. Art Directors on major accounts didn't need that.

After a few years at Cooper’s, our first daughter Lauchlin was born, right at the New York Hospital. We moved to Westchester County, rented, bought 9 acres of land in Pound ridge, had plans made for a beautiful house, and were in the process of choosing a contractor. When we began talking about 2nd mortgages before we’d even broken ground, we stopped and thought. Did we really want to spend the rest of our lives on the East Coast? NO.

So Herb got a transfer, and back to the Bay Area we came. We found an almost completed house in the Berkeley Hills, overlooking a regional Park, and moved in. A second daughter, Glennis, was born. My marriage broke up but I eventually remarried. I added the name Bradley to mine and we added a son, Andrew, to our family. Just like his sisters, he often modelled for me, especially for the Hawaiian Kids. My children are grown with their own families, and I’m still here!

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, thankyoubarbarabradley.com 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. A great story and an amazingly talented artist. Thank you Barbara ( and Leif).
    Did Barbara have any contact with other illustrators who worked for the Parent's magazine group of publications ( Humpty Dumpty, Children's Digest, etc.) like Dan Lawler or Jerry Smath?

  2. Glen; I'm posting barbara's reply to your question on her behalf:

    Thank you, Glen. No, though I wish I had had more contact with artists other than at Cooper's, I didn't. I went into Parent's office, picked up the job from the art director and that was that. I just looked up these artists...charming work. The one piece I saw of Lawler reminded me a little of Bob Jones's work.