How one young man is sharing his passion for art with others
By Sue Baldani
Looking at art can bring people joy, soothe their souls and foster an appreciation of life. Being able to create art is even more incredible; Joe Baker of Bristow knows this well.
“It’s my favorite thing to do,” says Joe. “I like free drawing and sketching buildings and all that. It makes me happy and I like doing fun things.”
The 21-year-old ink artist has faced many challenges in his life. “He was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old,” says his mother, Colleen. “He was having a really hard time writing, so in kindergarten we pushed for occupational therapy. Within a couple years of OT, he started writing and started drawing and just never stopped.”
When Joe was in the fifth grade, he had his first major seizure. “We think the change into puberty was what prompted it; a third of kids with autism end up with epilepsy,” she says.
But art has always been there for him. It was a way to wind down after a school day and a vehicle to get his feelings out. While at Patriot High School, he took an art class and was also on the Unified Sports basketball team. “He loved playing,” says his mother.
Unfortunately, Joe’s epilepsy became much worse and Colleen, a teacher for 29 years, the last of which were in Prince William County, decided to quit working in order to stay home and care for him. She also home schooled Joe so he could obtain his high school diploma, which he proudly did.
When COVID hit, the idea of turning Joe’s passion into an actual business took hold. “I was doing some life skills with him like managing money,” she says. “We were stuck at home, and we made one of our bedrooms into an art studio. We bought all the furniture and spruced it up and bought a bunch of art equipment.” In September of 2020, Artfully Joe was up and running. Joe goes into his studio every weekday afternoon at 1:00 and usually works until 4:00, except for Fridays, which he and his mom call Fun Fridays.
“We think it’s going great,” says Colleen. “We’re always trying to come up with something different, so in addition to the drawings, we’ve added note cards to our repertoire, and made calendars for the holidays. We haven’t really been to any official art shows yet but are looking to do some.” Right now, some of Joe’s artwork can be found at The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm in Gainesville, where he also did a meet and greet on February 25th.
As with many small at-home businesses, initial customers consisted mainly of family and friends. But now, Artfully Joe receives orders from as far away as California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Florida. It’s not surprising. There are wonderful collections of flowers, animals, silhouettes and more available online.
Joe encourages people to buy his artwork. “They can hang it up somewhere in their house and put it in a nice frame and love it,” he says.
Colleen believes Joe gets his talent from her father. “I’m crafty, not artsy like him, but his grandfather is an artist, although not by trade. His mother’s family was from Copenhagen, Denmark and he had a couple artists in the family that still have artwork there.”
Joe and Colleen often brainstorm together about what he should draw next. “We have a whiteboard in his studio that somebody made for us and we decorate it for the seasons and we put ideas on it,” she says. “We also put up what we have going on that month.”
Colleen enjoys helping Joe with his business. “I help him with ideas for social media and the website, and with purchases and shipping, and I try to include him in what I’m doing or what we sell.
“It can be challenging for those with his issues to find a job. This has been great because he can see the benefits of working, and yet, if he has a seizure one day, he can stop and rest. He has that flexibility.”
In addition to his business, Joe is also excited about becoming an uncle this summer. “I have a sister who is pregnant now and her name is Abby,” he says. “I also have three dogs – Billy, Baxter, and Petey.” Joe will take commissions drawing other people’s dogs, but not his own. He wants to keep them all to himself.
“I’m really good,” says Joe. “I really love how I draw things and color them.” He would love for others to follow him and see his amazing pieces on social media. He also posts videos of himself in his studio, which are a must-see!
Facebook- Joe Baker
Written for Haymarket/Gainesville Lifestyle Magazine in Virginia.