Born with no hands and missing her big toes and supporting bones on each foot, Kathryn Bailey hasn’t allowed her quadrilateral limb deficiency to keep her from living a “normal” life and graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in Studio Art and a concentration in Painting and Graphic Design from the Department of Art, Art History, and Design.
Where others saw limitations, Bailey’s parents only saw potential. They always encouraged her to try everything and never limited her.
“Growing up, my parents wanted me to feel normal,” Bailey said. “They gave me time to figure things out and didn’t do everything for me; they made me learn. Them making me do things for myself made me the person I am today.”
Bailey also doesn’t place any limits on herself.
“I can either let being born with no hands affect my whole life in a negative way and just sit and achieve nothing my whole life,” Bailey said, “or I can let it make me be stronger and achieve even more because I was determined to do it.”
When Bailey learned how to use a pencil, there was no stopping her from becoming an artist, and over the years, she has moved from sketching to painting.
“Art gave me confidence growing up,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t think I would ever be able to do it, which made me want to create even more. People doubted me, but I proved them wrong.”
Bailey now paints large pieces using layers of oil paint to create scenes on canvas. And through her art, she tells the stories of her life and the hardships she has overcome. One example of this is the piece she created after her childhood dog died.
“I didn’t think that my dog dying would affect me in such a deep way, but it was like losing a member of my family,” Bailey said. “I came to school that day, started painting, and didn’t stop until the piece was done. Painting has always been my strength, but that painting was the first time I really used it to express how I felt and expressed that strength. I used painting to help me get through that day.”
Bailey finds inspiration in nature. Having grown up in Michigan with a forest in her backyard, she has a connection with the woods and uses that in the art she creates.
“As a child, I would use the woods as an escape if I was upset or had a hard day. They made me feel peaceful and safe,” she said. “As I got older, I started hearing about wildfires that would destroy entire forests. I thought it was incredible that the fires would wipe everything out, but the woods would come back stronger than ever. I started to think that if I could come back like those woods, if I could get reduced down to basically nothing because of people or hardships and come back stronger, then it would be a huge success for me, so that’s why I started painting the woods.”
Beyond painting, Bailey does graphic design and uses the software to collage her pieces before painting them.
“I didn’t think it would be difficult because I understood art, but I never realized how relying on separate technologies to work could be so challenging,” Bailey said. “In painting, you are your own tool whereas for graphic design you have to rely on software to create.”
Life at MSU and Beyond
Bailey also doesn’t place any limitations on any other areas of her life. One example of her incredible determination is the Disney Marathon that she ran with her mom in 2014.
“My doctors said that I probably wasn’t going to walk and be bow legged because of the quadrilateral limb deficiency,” she said. “Thankfully this didn’t happen, and just to prove them wrong, my mom and I ran the marathon. Finishing the marathon was a really incredible moment.”
Bailey credits her huge support system for her success. Her family, friends, faith and husband have given her the support and motivation to succeed in all areas of life. She also has found that same type of support at MSU.
“MSU has a heart for its students,” Bailey said. “If you need help, there is help. If you need someone to listen to you, there is someone willing. From faculty to staff to students, everyone treats you like family.
For Bailey, three of her professors stand out the most: Tom Berding, professor, and associate professors Ben Duke and Teresa Dunn, all in the Department of Art, Art History and Design.
“Tom Berding helped me to start painting about my life,” she said. “Ben Duke helped me shape my art and painting into contemporary themes. He showed me how to paint to today’s standards. Teresa Dunn was so kind and always there when I needed someone to listen to me. She taught me what it means to be an artist.
“My professors always treated me like they would any other student,” Bailey said. “They seemed to know I needed to do things on my own, and if I needed help, I would go to them.”
Bailey currently works remotely as the head of art and head of studios for Blue Socks Studios, a game development company based out of London, England, that specializes in open world and 3D technology. She started working for Blue Socks Studios 10 years ago creating art for the 3D modelers as a Concept Artist and has worked her way up.
Bailey graduated this month and will continue working for Blue Socks Studios. She plans to spend time traveling and to look at low residency master’s programs in Michigan to continue creating and learning.
This story was adapted with permission from the College of Arts and Letters.