British illustrator Rebecca Bradley pays tribute to her heroes—from Bessie Coleman to Coco Chanel to Malala Yousafzai—with colorful drawings.
“I’d never painted or drawn famous people before,” says Rebecca Bradley, a British illustrator who now lives in the American city of Baltimore and teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art there. “Frankly, I was also a bit hesitant about it. Drawing such celebrities, it quickly becomes cliché, especially when they’ve been portrayed often.” Yet Bradley went ahead, the first time as a test assignment for a children’s book, and then because she developed a taste for it. “I shared the first illustrations on Instagram tagged under #womenheroes. These got such a positive response that I decided to make more.”
Bradley wanted to draw the British sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth because she loved her art. As for American singer Nina Simone, she fell for her strong character. And about the Pakistani children’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai she says, “At her age I could never have done what she’s doing now”. At first Bradley thought she chose her models because of their passion for art, music, culture and nature. But gradually she realized that it was deeper than that.
“They are all strong, determined women who had to overcome all sorts of obstacles in their own way and in their own time,” she says. “They had to break through something and succeeded as well. I admire that enormously. And that’s why I feel a great responsibility to draw them well. Every part of it must be right. In this sense, this project is almost a mathematical challenge for me. They are not fantasy drawings, but people who have really lived and have meant something to the world. And continue to do so today, as with Malala and the British primatologist and anthropologist Dame Jane Goodall.”
- Read more about Rebecca Bradley’s ‘women heroes’ in Issue 28.
- See more of her work on her Instagram or website.
Text Annalot Boersma Illustrations Rebecca Bradley