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When Karla Bailey moved to Centralia from Kansas to live with her aunt and uncle for a couple years during high school, it didn’t take them long to figure out that Bailey had an aptitude for art.
Her aunt and uncle bought her a drawing table, paper, pencils and paint, and let Bailey paint giant murals on her bedroom walls.
“It was absolutely amazing,” Bailey said.
Just recently, that same uncle, Leon Bowman, let her paint his brand new wheelchair ramp that was donated by the Rotary Club of the Twin Cities. Bailey painted a three-dimensional chasm that looks like a giant hole is in the middle of the ramp.
“Everybody takes funny pictures with it like they’re falling in,” Bailey said. “We’re having a good time with it.”
Bailey is now a professional artist in Centralia, and was involved in the 2020 ARTrails of Southwest Washington, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching the area’s art culture. She began noticing her talent with a pencil and paintbrush at an early age and was aided by the help of a couple art teachers in school who pushed her to further her skills.
“I’ve always been into artwork, for as long as I can remember,” Bailey said. “I’ve had a lot of people in my life who’ve kept me going forward in that.”
It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, after Bailey had traveled and lived all over the U.S. working seasonal jobs, that she began selling her art in Kansas, starting with commissions.
She moved back to Centralia about four years ago, and joined ARTrails about a year later in 2017. Bailey specializes in hyper- realism in graphite pencil drawings, as well as oil paintings and acrylic. Most of her work is landscapes, people and animals.
“I’ve always had a real knack for that,” Bailey said. “I like people and animals because they always have expressions. Animals have a lot of different expressions, just like humans, but they also have a lot of texture that’s fun.”
She does take commissions, as long as the subject is something she can physically see, such as if someone has a picture of a loved one. It’s difficult to replicate something she’s never seen before.
Art has become a stress reliever for Bailey over the years, a place where she can escape the realities of the world and transport herself into another space; a place where all her problems are gone, at least temporarily.
She creates something every day. Not a huge, complete work, but at least something small. And she gets stressed out if she doesn’t create something for a while. She gets antsy. Sometimes she’ll be watching TV with her uncle and get the sudden urge to do art and has to leave immediately to go create something.
“Art is kind of like breathing to me,” Bailey said. “Your mind goes into a different place and you can set aside all the here and now and move into your own created world. And then when you’re done, there’s a huge sense of accomplishment.”
Her most recent venture is Trompe-l’œil, also known as “deceive the eye,” which is a style that uses realistic imagery to create optical illusions, just like the chasm she painted on her uncle’s wheelchair ramp. She had done some three-dimensional art before that, but wanted to branch off and have a little more fun of it.
“Everybody in ARTrails encourages each other to go forth and try new things, have fun, play with it and see what happens,” Bailey said.
Having that type of support from other artists is important for nurturing skills Bailey said, and having such a varied group of individuals to gain inspiration from has been invaluable to her career.
“We’re misfits and oddballs, and the great thing about ARTrails is we embrace each other for our uniqueness,” Bailey said. “The only thing we have in common, truly, besides our love for art, is the fact we don’t expect each other to be the same. Accept it, love it, embrace it. It’s fun.”