A year and a half ago, Ted Bradley took the bold step of quitting his job at Google and following his dream of becoming a full-time artist.
Even amidst a pandemic, that leap of faith has paid off. Working in his Boulder studio, Bradley makes custom, hand-crafted sculptural light fixtures for people all over the country — and he’s only just getting started.
Art has always been a passion for Bradley, who first discovered his love of clay during a high school ceramics class. But, as is often the case, life got in the way. Bradley, 35, studied mechanical engineering in college, then went to work for a handful of software companies. Through it all, he never forgot his love of art and working with his hands.
“I took a different path, one focused on engineering, but I always looked back and wished maybe I had chosen a different path,” he said. “I started having all these dreams about sculptures I wanted to build and, I had to focus on my work, but my mind was just always wandering back to the question of, ‘What if I did pursue this dream to get back to art and sculpture? What if I made it a priority?’ Eventually, I made a series of decisions to start leading my life a little bit more by intuition and heart.”
Bradley makes his custom, sculptural light fixtures, which range from a few thousand dollars up to $30,000 depending on the level of complexity, from fine porcelain rings that each require more than 300 steps and take several weeks to make.
We spoke with Bradley to learn more about his art and what he’s up to these days.
How did you develop your unique method?
I was working as much as 100 hours a week. I worked by hand through over 1,300 pounds of clay. I had hundreds of failures. I expected it to only take a few months but it took just over 12 months to create a process to build one of these rings. I was originally told by two master mold makers that it would be either impossible or very difficult to make these rings. There are a bunch of complexities, specifically in the shape and the material I chose, that make it very difficult. It was both a challenge and an obsession over 12 months to get these to come out.
What does the process of creating each sculpture entail?
You start with wet clay and over the course of about five weeks, you have to turn it into this brilliant white porcelain ring that has to reach a precision of a few hundredths of an inch. You start with the clay and you pack the clay into a mold. Then I will eject the clay from the mold and put it into a drying chamber that has to be very humid, around 94 percent humidity. And then eventually move it onto the kiln where it’s fired and then I’ll sand and glaze the rings, re-fire them, then install the LEDs and do all the wiring and install the brass hardware.
What’s the inspiration for your sculptures?
I start with a feeling and then an image will pop into my head based on that feeling. I’ll look at the image in my head and I’ll ask, “Can this be built? Does this fully represent the feeling?” and I’ll cycle through these different images that flash through my head. These feelings can’t be described in words, they can only be described with a visual, which is what the essence of art is. I had the vision for one sculpture about six years ago while I was on a hike with my brother and his wife along the California coast. I had a vision for (the Samsara chandelier) with these white arching ribs, almost like a whale skeleton bleached in the sun attached to a metal spine. That stuck with me for all these years and I would wake up in the middle of the night and I’d have to draw more ideas.
What’s the response been like to your work so far?
It’s been very exciting. People feel that what I’m doing is fresh and new, and in an industry that tends to have a lot of replication. Maybe it comes from the fact that, to create these designs, I didn’t start with other fixtures I liked and then try to modify them, I just started with these raw visions. It’s really fun, I have a couple of sculptures that were just ordered for clients in the Hamptons and then Laguna Beach. I’d love to connect with more designers in Colorado as well and see some up here.
Who are your clients?
First, they’re primarily people who appreciate art and sculpture. And then beyond that, a lot of people think about art as something they hang on their wall or sculpture as an object that sits on a table. But folks have to want to live and be surrounded by design and sculpture, including their furniture and lighting. This is the area that I’m most interested in – the intersection of functional lighting and ceramic and metal sculpture. Beyond that, what I really want to do is create pieces for people who appreciate and care about sculpture and are excited about my work and want to be surrounded by it.
How does Boulder tie into your work as an artist?
I’m elated to be here in Boulder. I came to Boulder to find a home and a place to stay for the duration and I’ve found that. I absolutely love the community here. There’s an excitement and a drive and passion — people have lots of different interests and are pursuing a lot of different things but everyone has something they really care about and they’re working on. I ultimately believe that all of the art that I create and care about most is just an approximation or an attempt at creating the type of beauty that we see every day in the Flatirons or on a hike above NCAR. All of my inspiration comes from nature and it’s fun to have an approximation of nature inside your home but the real beauty is outside and in our backyard.