Let’s begin with the obvious – my name – Willow Bader. It’s my real name, a lovely gift from my mother.

When and where was I born?  I was born February 16th, 1979, delivered by a midwife in a log cabin built by my father, far up in the woods on the edge of an Indian Reservation in northeastern Washington State. I am an only child. My parents were living off the land, growing a garden for food, and we even had a milk cow and honeybees. There was no electricity or indoor plumbing. From that time onward I will always have an affinity for the land and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and spending time in the garden. These interests express themselves in my Landscapes and Floral paintings.

We lived there until moving to rural Whatcom County in Western Washington when I was around five years old so that I could go to the Waldorf school where I attended through 8th grade.  The school was highly supportive of my growth as an artist.

As early as I remember, I knew my passion was to be an artist.  The Waldorf school encouraged me as did my parents who provided every kind of art material that furthered my creativity. As well as painting and drawing, I continue to sew some of my clothing, make jewelry and baskets from time to time. I took horse ridding lessons and draw horses.  Even then I was drawing and selling little drawings of horses that I drew. Growing up I took many ceramics classes, and in my teens, I worked as a potter’s apprentice. I can’t not be creative. I am always looking for ways to make things more beautiful. It extends to my cooking and presenting food in an artful way. I even arrange the fruit as I pass through the kitchen. Friends have come to expect that my salads will be colorful with edible flowers from the garden.

As a young person, I set my sights on art school and choose the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia – the oldest art school in the U.S. and one of the most traditional in its approach to training artists. I moved to Philadelphia in 1998 to begin the intensive four-year program of studio courses focused on drawing and oil painting. It was everything I had hoped it would be. Philadelphia was a shock after rural Washington, but I stayed focused on my goals and was rewarded. While still in art school I began to show my work in galleries.

The art school was well endowed, and I had my eye set on the coveted travel scholarships. I was awarded two months travel anywhere in the world and choose to use the scholarship to go to Spain and Italy. As you can guess it was an inspirational trip for me. Since then, I have continued to travel, and always with a sketchbook.

How did I get into painting dance and the social evening out? My first art studio after art school was in a Philadelphia building with four floors of art studios. The sculptor down the hall invited me to join him in a group Argentine tango class.  He had already had a few lessons and highly recommended it.  For someone who had never done any social dancing, tango was a scary place for me to begin. But I made it through those first lessons without running out the door and I was quickly hooked by the romance, complexity,  and beauty of the dance. Tango is deep and has an abiding hold on my life and art. Sometimes I take a break from painting but I always come right back. Please see my Tango paintings.

Around the time tango beckoned, I started experimenting on my own with encaustic painting. I was attracted to the look and feel, and the urgency of the medium. Gone were the days of waiting for an oil painting to dry. I now had three seconds to apply a brush full of paint before it started setting up! It did take some getting used to and I struggled at the beginning, but it turned out to be a blessing that I did not attend any encaustic workshops. I developed my own techniques as I experimented, borrowing very much from my experience as an oil painter.

But I missed the Pacific NW coast, so I moved to Seattle in 2005 where I continue to show and sell my paintings.  I did not know anyone, but I looked up the local tango scene and went out dancing. That is how I found a place to live and made my first friends. In hindsight, I think it was quite brilliant to go out dancing to get oriented in a new city. I would do it again.

The first paintings of tango were at the request of dancing friends.  That was back in 2008. Aside from my Landscapes and Nudes, my recent paintings really owe their origins to my first tango paintings, and I will explain why.

You see, from those first small paintings depicting a couple of dancers in the middle of the dance floor performing, my paintings evolved to include more of the evening. I shifted to painting the milonga, a social gathering of tango dancers. These paintings are very much about what it feels like to be there hearing the music, feeling the embrace and moving through space with my partner. The next time I was looking for a new subject to paint, I asked myself what else was part of an evening of dancing? The music we dance to! I started to paint the musicians making the music. Paintings of tango musicians expanded to include paintings of jazz musicians. See my paintings of the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra and other musician paintings in the Music section of my website.  The next time I was looking for new subject matter to paint, I thought of the food and wine and the dinner parties that sometimes happen before a dance…So I started painting the dinner parties. Relaxed, sensual dinner parties you wish to linger over. I then focused on painting the table with food and wine and the delightful still life they create on the table.  See my Wine and Food Paintings. Flowers often dress the table adding to the pleasure of the scene. I started to include them in more of my paintings and most recently I have added paintings solely of the flowers. See my Floral paintings.

I have returned to my long time interest in horses and I am drawing and painting them again. These first ones are fresh and loose, created with encaustic on paper. It feels like I have come home! For me horse and ridder are like dancers moving together. I get to paint the movement I enjoy. And what a pleasure it is to paint beautiful horses. Do you ride? Do you have a horse you love and would you like to have me create a painting for you?  See my Equine paintings. 

I paint from personal experience; from the things I know.  I think you also know many of these things, and if not, you can experience and take pleasure in them through my paintings.


~Willow Bader