"Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without," is an old saying that sums up Talent artist Irene Brady's childhood. Growing up poor on an Idaho farm taught her resourcefulness and adaptability at an early age — qualities that have been the backbone of Brady's life and career.
Thirty years ago, Brady's neighbors in the hills near Talent first knew her as the woman who was building a little house in the forest, much of it with her own two hands.
"I designed the house and hired a builder with the understanding that I would be the second carpenter, involved in every aspect of the building — from laying the foundation, building the walls, roof, everything. After six months they left, and I did all the shingles, Sheetrock, windows and doors by myself."
She also aroused curiosity as the woman who collected road kill.
"I'm an illustrator with realism as my goal. My pictures are part of the story and tell what is happening. At that time, I salvaged road kill for models to sketch," she explains.
Brady's career has been characterized by finding new ways to use her talent in order to make a living. "You have to be adaptable if you're going to support yourself with your art," she says.
"Fortunately, I also grew up believing I was a great artist," she says. "My older brother and sisters were paralyzed with polio, and my mom spent hours every day working on their exercise therapy with 3-year-old me underfoot. She'd give me pencil and paper and tell me to draw her a picture, always saying, 'That's wonderful! Draw me another.' So I drew, year after year, eventually learning how to draw the way things actually looked — always encouraged in whatever I produced."
While helping out with 4-H projects as a teen, Brady saw a need for the country's variety of horses to be identified. This started a four-year project that culminated in the publication, at age 19, of her first book, "American Horses and Ponies."
She had no formal artistic training before writing and illustrating her early nature books but later obtained an associate of arts degree. First she wrote and illustrated her own nature books for children, then illustrated for others, as well. This background led to presentations for elementary-school children from San Diego to Alaska on how she wrote and illustrated her books.
"I developed a slide show and talk for groups of 30 to 500 kids, learning techniques to keep them quiet and engaged for an hour. It was exciting and fun."
Although Brady never wanted to end up in a 9-to-5 job, she made an exception with a five-year stint at the Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, designing their graphics department.
"There was something new and challenging every day. We even made courtroom displays for the Exxon-Valdez case, reportedly helping to settle out of court because of the impact of our presentation. But I like to meet new challenges, overcome them and then move on," she says.
Moving on, in this case, meant teaching scientific illustration at Southern Oregon University for several years and writing her own textbook that ended up becoming her best-selling book, "Illustrating Nature: Right-Brain Art in a Left-Brain World."
Typical of what happens in a Brady world, new possibilities kept developing: sketching workshops for adults, a nature-sketching class in Costa Rica, traveling to exotic places to sketch, more illustrations. Then, noticing that people sold just about everything over the Internet, she decided to sell, too. Her Nature Works website offers nature clip art, nature books and a variety of tutorial workbooks that people can purchase, download and use to give themselves a workshop.
Soon Brady will return to Costa Rica, and then she's heading to the Amazon. By living frugally and finding creative ways to use her talent to make money, she has lived the life she wants.
"Everything in its turn has been interesting and fascinating. My philosophy is to do what's important to you as long as it's putting you forward in the right direction and not hurting others."
To view Brady's work, see www.natureworkspress.com.