Au Naturale; An Interview With Tyeesha Bradley

Tyeesha Bradley is a freelance illustrator based in Indianapolis, Indiana, and she is our newest guest on the Open In Indiana podcast.

You can find Tyeesha Bradley on her website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and You can find her coloring books from this episode on her Etsy store or Amazon.

Here is the full transcript of the podcast.

Ryan: Welcome everyone to the Open In Indiana podcast, where we feature the people places and events that make Indiana a great place to live, work, and shop. Today our guest is Tyeesha Bradley, an illustrator of comic and children’s’ books. Tyeesha, how are you doing?

Tyeesha: I’m doing great, Ryan, thank you.

Ryan: So, Tyeesha, you went to college for art in general, correct?

Tyeesha: I did, and so I have a bachelor’s in fine arts in Electronic Arts and Animation. I went to Ball State University. It took me about 4 and half years to graduate, and yeah, so that’s kind of my major. I started out on the animation side, and I realized I don’t really have the patience for keyframing, which is the step by step, 24 frames to do 1 second of movement, I don’t have the patience for that, so I decided to move into the electronic arts side, and that’s basically doing illustrations using computer programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, you know, there are a whole bunch of them out there.

Ryan: So, it’s the modern-day equivalent of paint and a brush?

Tyeesha: Sure, yeah!

Ryan: And so, once you graduated college you decided, you knew now where you wanted to specialize, right?

Tyeesha: Yeah, yeah. I knew where I wanted to specialize. And, I kind of graduated in 2012 and the art market in Muncie, Indiana wasn’t very great, so I had to move to other, greener pastures. But it took me about 3 years to get started in my art career and producing stuff for profit.

Ryan: And, so where did you decide for forms of art where your passion was and that worked for you lucratively?

Tyeesha: I started out with my first coloring book. So, I would do sketches and a lot of my sketches are of African American women with their natural hair and their clothes and everything. A lot of them are like comic portraits, I like to call them, and so basically, I decided just to do something: I’m going to make something and put it out there and see what people think of it. So, I put about 30 sketches together and I used Amazon, at the time it was called Create Space, now it’s Kindle Direct Publishing. I put them together a coloring book, and I printed it for sale, and I would go to art shows and sell it.

Ryan: And what was the general reaction people had to your coloring book?

Tyeesha: People loved it. I had people coming up to me at table saying they followed my Facebook page, which I’d never had that happen before. It’s very strange, and very uplifting, when you have people like ‘yeah, I follow your Facebook page and I knew you were going to be here’. Like, omg. So, that was pretty cool. Like diving into the coloring book groups and everything, but there’s a huge market for stuff like that online.

Ryan: And, so, since then that’s inspired you to continue doing more with coloring books and other types of books, correct?

Tyeesha: Yeah, so my first coloring book was called ‘Au Naturale’ and basically was about, again, it’s a compilation of my sketches and all of them had natural hair and so that was kind of the common thread. My 2nd coloring book I had with much more focus and I focused on little known figures from Black History. It’s called Edify: A Black History Coloring Book and that one actually won the Best of Indy Award which I was very proud of.

Ryan: Congratulations!

Tyeesha: Thank you! So, again, you never know what there is a market for. I just drew things that I found interesting. And so, it took me a long time to realize that. It’s hard to find people that are interested in what you’re interested in, I guess. But there is a huge market for that, and I did not expect it to be as popular as it was. And again, there is a huge market for that specifically because the Black community, you would think there are a lot of options, but there aren’t a lot of options. So, the best example I heard was a guy who said he was looking for a Luke Cage t-shirt and he would go to all the local shops and couldn’t find one. So, then he would go online, but there’s only like 4 options. So, you know, when you’re looking for variety, it’s hard to find when you’re looking for that specific market.

Ryan: And, so now that you’ve found a place where your art is appreciated and underrepresented you have a direction to continue growing, right?

Tyeesha: Oh yeah, so now that I did the Black history coloring book, I want to do fantasy characters featuring Black characters, mermaids, wizards – maybe, one girl said she wanted to see Black cowgirls. I mean, whatever you can see a coloring book as, just put Black characters in it and people will buy it because I don’t see that out there. Even on Amazon there are only about 20 coloring books that have majority Black characters in them, so there is so much room to grow.

Ryan: And, so now that brings a positive message to children who see themselves represented in these books.

Tyeesha: Oh yeah! For sure, and when you see, I like to do instances where you draw situations where you don’t normally see Black people, and it’s because it doesn’t matter what the media shows you, what you see in the media is not really how Black people are, kind of but not really, and then you think but oh that’s unusual, but then you have so many people who are hey, no, that’s how I am though. I’m interested in things like that. Like in my Black History coloring book, you have Shakespearean actors, the winners of the Kentucky Derby, scientists, and dancers, singers, more than just inventors, which I hate to say, we focus on a lot during Black History month, which if you’re not an inventor, a genius, or a math genius, you kind of feel like oh, I guess if I’m not in the STEM science, there’s no value to that. When you find out there’s other things that people do, like you said when you see yourself in a situation.

Ryan: So now that you’ve had the success here, you want to expand into more illustration and just overall get your work in front of more people?

Tyeesha: Yes, so I wanted to make a series of children’s books, I would like to call them modern fairy tales and so I started out working with and illustrator, sorry, not an illustrator, but a writer, and I illustrated a book for him, and I’m kind of taking steps to making my own book, and my goal is to make a series of fairy tales with Black characters and I don’t mean like a Black version of Alice in Wonderland or a Black version of Beauty and the Beast, I want all original tales that stem from African lore and things like that.

Ryan: So, to put history in an engaging way to get young people interested in an early age from reading?

Tyeesha: Right! Yeah, to be honest, I love to read, I read about 3 or 4 books a month and it is fiction novels and I read a lot. And it just brought me so much joy as a kid to have that imaginary world to go to, that I kind of want to give that back to kids that are like me, I need something to read, but what can I read? And just to add that diversity to the children’s book world. I follow this page on Instagram called @weneeddiversebooks and they do basically what I want to do, which is promote all these books that are about different cultures, different stories. Because the more you expose that to children at an early age, the more open they are, I think, to the world in general.

Ryan: So, it’s to help inspire better educated people more knowledgeable of the world around them.

Tyeesha: Yeah, it’s not just for people of those races, I think it’s a good idea for everyone.

Ryan: So, it’s important to make sure that everyone has an understanding of who each of us are?

Tyeesha: Yeah.

Ryan: And, so Tyeesha, what’s your advice to someone who is just trying to get their start in the art world and may be at the crossroads of choosing college or starting their career. What would you have to say?

Tyeesha: Well, I would say, number 1, you need to find other artists and you need to talk to those artists, because you will grow so much faster bouncing ideas off of other artists than working by yourself in a closet. Now, you could do that, you could lock yourself away for 10 years and come out with all this work, but you will grow much faster interacting with other artists, getting ideas from other artists., learning what their processes are, figuring out where they get their reference material from, what are they reading, who do they follow, things like that. I would say definitely interacting with other artists is number 1. Number 2, you have to show people your work, you have to. If you introduce yourself to somebody the first time, the first thing you need to say is Hi, I’m Tyeesha Bradley and I’m an artist, or an illustrator, or whatever. Because if people don’t know, they’re not going to ask you for work. A lot of the freelance work that I get are from people that I talked to and they know what I do, and they come to me first because the first artist I know that’s close to me is Tyeesha. You have to tell people. And I know you’re shy, I know it’s hard, I didn’t learn that until 3 years after college, so I understand. If I had did it differently, if I was 18, I would have did it so much differently. I would have been in a different place.

Ryan: And so how would someone follow you or connect with you on social media?

Tyeesha: I am on Facebook at Tyeesha Bradley Studio. My Instagram is @tyeeshabradley and @tbstudio on Twitter, or you can go to my website at . It’s T-Y-E-E-S-H-A.

Ryan: Wonderful, well Tyeesha, thank you for joining us today and thank you everybody for listening. Catch our next episode soon!