Award-winning local artist opens up about his unconventional path to professional art

Artist Bridger Barksdale sits for a photo. Without a classical education or art school attendance, Barksdale is pursuing a successful career as an artist. (Photo Courtesy of Bridger Barksdale)

From ballet in New York to watercolor in the desert, Bridger Barksdale is a young, up-and-coming artist who has already won awards at age 26.

After spending his late teenage years in New York City training and professionally performing ballet, Barksdale returned to his home in Orem, unsure of where life would take him next.

Barksdale looked for something with a little more freedom as a change from the previously intense and rigid lifestyle of ballet. He was considering a cross country bicycle tour when his grandfather, a retired illustrator, invited Barksdale to his home in northern Arizona to teach art to his grandson. 

“My grandfather asked me if I wanted to learn to make pictures and I said ‘absolutely.’ I lived with him for a year and just painted all day, every day. It was hard to keep up with him even though he was 85, but we had such a blast,” Barksdale said.

Barksdale’s late grandfather, Ralph Barksdale, was also a professor at BYU in the fashion illustration department and helped create the stained-glass window display in the Orem Public Library.

Bridger Barksdale recalled with fondness his time being his grandfather’s student. He often woke up and would make marks on his page until midnight. 

“I was kind of an experiment for my grandfather. He wanted to see what he could do with a blank slate, somebody who had never painted anything before, and see how far he could take me in a year,” Bridger Barksdale said. 

Bridger Barksdale has won many awards, mostly for his watercolor, and displayed for the American Watercolor Society in New York. He likewise enjoys other mediums such as oil paints, charcoal and photography. 

Bridger Barksdale frequently paints “en plein air,” where artists paint landscapes outdoors. His work is on display at the Relics Framemakers & Gallery in Holladay, Utah and the Logan Fine Art Gallery & Framing in Logan, Utah. 

Bridger Barksdale said he appreciates how supportive the Utah art community is. 

“We’ve got something very unique, very special in Utah Valley, from Wasatch all the way down to the Salem area and beyond. Everybody knows everybody and everyone is so talented, like there’s so many wonderful, wonderful artists,” Bridger Barksdale said. 

Bridger Barksdale is an active member of the Utah art community. He holds workshops and teaches private lessons in home art lessons to students of any skill.

Sisters Alisa and Yeva Kovalova are two of his current art students. 

Alisa Kovalova, a current high school student, particularly enjoys character designing and hopes to eventually have a career in art. The art lessons with Bridger Barksdale are helping her practice traditional art principles that she knows will help her in her digital art. 

“These lessons are helping me to learn how to draw everything, not just anatomy. It’s really helped with visualizing and storytelling,” Alisa Kovalova said.

Alisa Kovalova’s younger sister Yeva Kovalova is in junior high. Although she does not see herself pursuing art as a career she loves doing art with her family and wants to continue it as a hobby throughout her life. 

“In these art classes I like that I get to try out more styles and materials to use. I can come up with anything to draw, and it’s a creative space,” Yeva Kovalova said.

This time lapse of Bridger Barksdale mentoring Alisa and Yeva Kovalava is a snapshot of their hour-long lesson. Bridger Barksdale encouraged students to think about value and where light is coming into the painting as they create their picture. (Sydni Merrill)

Art is not the only thing that Bridger Barksdale and the Kovalovas share. The Kovalovas are Ukrainian natives, and they met as Bridger Barksdale became involved with the Ukrainian community in Utah after he spent some time in Ukraine. 

In 2021, Bridger Barksdale visited Ukraine for several months where he spent most of his time in Lviv pursuing art and meeting with other artists. 

“I didn’t plan to be there for three months, I planned to be there for just a couple of weeks, and it just ended up that way. I loved it there,” Bridger Barksdale said. 

Bridger Barksdale was so inspired by his time in Lviv that he produced an entire show dedicated to capturing his experiences in order to not let the images of Lviv fade. 

“Lviv is like this fairy city that holds on to you. You just find yourself there one day and it doesn’t let you go,” Bridger Barksdale said. 

Bridger Barksdale’s trip to Ukraine preceded the Russian invasion in 2022 and since returning home, he said he has found ways to shows support for Ukraine and all those affected by the war.

Bridger Barksdale’s Lviv-inspired exhibit, titled “City of Lions,” was on display at the Orem Public Library from Jan. 23 to April 1. 

Bridger Barksdale describes his exhibit “City of Lions” at the Orem Public Library. Bridger Barksdale told a story about Lviv, Ukraine throughout the exhibit, trying to capture his visit as well as the heart of the city. (Video courtesy of Bridger Barksdale)

Bridger Barksdale is appreciative of the support he has received from the community as well as his family.

Bridger Barksdale’s father is a photographer and his sister is a graphic designer. Bridger Barksdale grew up with art, and it is not a surprise to his family that he took to painting so quickly.

Bridger Barksdale’s sister, Morgan Bronson, is an Orem-based graphic designer that does her own freelance work under Morgan Bronson Design. Bronson is most impressed with Bridger Barksdale’s drive and dedication. 

“Bridger’s always been a go-getter ever since he was a tiny kid. He would pick up an interest and just perfect it,” Bronson said. 

Bronson sees her brother’s artistic talent and pursuits as an organic extension of his upbringing, as they always participated in arts growing up and had their grandfather’s paintings hanging up in their home.

“Everything Bridger does, it just feels natural. It just feels like he’s always been meant to do this,” Bronson said.

Bronson also appreciates how with every piece of work, Bridger Barksdale tries to tell a story and connect with people. 

“He wants so badly to touch people with his designs and ideas … when he went to Ukraine in 2021 … the Russian-Ukraine conflict happened right after he left. He’s been able to tell some of that story and connect with people to try and make a difference in people’s lives across the world,” Bronson said.

Bridger Barksdale hopes to continue to connect with people in his local and global community. He is teaching a workshop in Salt Lake City in May. His workshop “AquaRealms: Watercolor Painting to New Heights with Bridger Barksdale” is open to intermediate to advanced watercolorists. 

Bridger Barksdale also posts personal updates on his Instagram page and website.

Bridger Barksdale said that the freedom that comes with watercolor, and particularly landscapes, is what he finds fulfilling.

“With watercolor I can let the edges bleed and let things drip. I can experiment with the drawing, and I don’t have to be worried about somebody saying, ‘that doesn’t look right.’ I don’t care. I’m going to see what I can do and let those barriers be challenged,” Bridger Barksdale said.

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