Shapes and colors

Kate Bailess

photo by howard hardee

Kate Bailess is her own woman and artist. While growing up in Salt Lake City, she never quite fit in with the conservative majority there, she says, and her experience as an outsider helped her focus on making art. Since moving to Chico three years ago, Bailess, 26, launched a screen-printing business, Love Life Be Free Art, using hand-built equipment. When she's not studying psychology at Butte College, she custom designs colorful geometric patterns for shoes, reusable grocery bags, skateboards, or really whatever is requested. She recently copyrighted the image on her best-selling T-shirt, a stencil-style graphic of a bicycle with the words, “Drinking town with a biking problem,” which she created in reaction to the deaths of two local bicyclists in 2013. This month her work is featured in the window at Ellis Art & Engineering Supplies (122 Broadway). Look up Love Life Be Free Art on Facebook or email her at to make a custom order, and keep an eye out for upcoming open houses at her studio.

When did you start making art?

When I was a little kid I started scribbling. I've always done lettering; that's what I was drawn to do. I took a calligraphy class and then got really into graffiti-type stuff. It never looked cool, I guess, but now I've practiced a lot more, focused more, looked at a lot of examples. Calligraphy helped because it's a flowing style. Not a lot of people even know how to write in cursive anymore. So, that's pretty rad—calligraphy is something I've got that not a lot of people do, and there's a new term called calligraffiti.

Is that what you practice?

Not really. Most of my stuff is super colorful. Calligraphy is more black and white, to me. When I'm not thinking about it, I just draw something colorful, like this [holds up skateboard deck].

How did growing up in Utah shape your development as an artist?

I definitely was mistreated, in a way, because I wasn't Mormon and was looked at differently. I was uninvited to birthday parties when I was a kid, so I had to be more independent and create my own world. You have to do you.

Have you ever gotten in trouble for making graffiti?

I've never vandalized; I'd rather put it on canvas or a skateboard. I don't deface somebody else's property. That's not my thing. I'd rather get paid to do it and be known for it, because I'm trying to uplift that generation of art.

What sets you apart from other screen printers?

I am 100 percent homemade, so my process is a little different from somebody who bought a printing machine for $8,000. I'm drawing my designs, turning them into a graphic on the computer and making a shirt out of a machine I built. It's more genuine, I guess, and there's more room for error, but people don't know that unless they see what I've done with my studio.

Is that the impetus for your future open houses?

I had a friend in Utah who would do screen-printing parties every other month, and he would have an underwear night, a T-shirt night, or whatever. He would have a bunch of prints made before[hand] and would be screen-printing while the party was going on, so people could interact and talk to him, see how the process works. I want to do that.

—Howard Hardee