Levi the artist: Just have fun!
In May, St. Paul preschoolers were treated to a presentation by local artist and St. Paul preschool alum, Levi Folker. Levi talked about what it means to be an artist, how to work with watercolors, and where to find his artwork currently on display throughout the Quad Cities. But one detail that made this presentation different from others, Levi is not much older than his audience, in fact, he’s only nine years old.
Levi Folker stood in front of nearly 30 preschoolers, an easel behind him arranged with watercolor paintings of animals, his favorite subject, and the photographs he used as inspiration. Before the presentation began, he walked around the room, kneeling before each art desk, introducing himself personally, and asking each student their name.
During his presentation, Levi spoke about the artistic term ‘value’ or the lightness/darkness of the color and the process of using more water for lighter colors and less water for darker colors. But the lesson he stressed most was to “just have fun.”
While a preschooler at St. Paul, Levi was in the Rainbow Room with Kathy Becker and Chris Hoeing. Levi, younger brother Rory, and mom Elaine are all St. Paul members. Kathy has followed his journey, as she does with many of her students, and arranged to have Levi present to the kids. While Levi’s artistic talents have always been part of him, it was his connection and empathy with other students that resonated with Kathy, now the assistant preschool director.
“I don’t just remember Levi as an artist, I remember Levi most for what a kind person he was and is, his empathy and attention to others around him,” Kathy said. “He’d know if a friend needed extra time or if they needed someone to play with.”
Kathy and Chris have both watched Levi grow into the artist and young man he has become.
“The kids were just enthralled with him. He really connected with them and because of that, the students were just so into their paintings. He’s having fun with it like he told the preschoolers,” Kathy said. “I commissioned a piece from him of the Vander Veer fountain. He’s waiting until he can get a picture of the fountain in the proper lighting. The lighting is important. He’s just got the eye of an artist. He’s all in.”
When he’s not doing presentations for other kids, Levi is a third-grader at Adams Elementary school where music happens to be his favorite subject. And though he’s loved art most of his life, it wasn’t until his time at home in 2020 during COVID and the arrival of his baby brother, Rory, when his artistic exploration really took off. Elaine, Levi’s mom, homeschooled him and his interest in art grew from videos of Bob Ross to his new favorite YouTube channel, Emily Olson Art.
“I was one or two when I realized I loved art. I did fingerpainting then,” Levi said in his cheery, upbeat voice. “Later, I started with only landscapes then transitioned to watercolor and animals. Animals are my favorite, especially dogs”.
His art studio is a section of his bedroom and his art desk looks like that of a seasoned professional, filled with cupholders of brushes, tubs of paint tubes and watercolor palettes, and splattered with paint. The desk itself has become a work of art. Currently sitting just adjacent to his workstation are white pieces of paper filled with colorful squares demonstrating each hue of the watercolors Levi is currently working with and tests of various tools and color experiments plus a partially completed painting of a spaniel as he practices his newest project.
Levi puts a lot of time and research into each work he creates. From deciding what his next subject will be to finding the right photo to use and which techniques best suit his work, Levi puts lots of focused thought and attention into the entire process.
“Most of my paintings come from my imagination. I pick what I want to paint then I look through photos, usually online. Once I choose one, I sketch it lightly. From there you start layering it up. You have to start light and go darker. If you start too dark, you can’t go anywhere with it. One of my favorites is the snowy deer. How I did the techniques and the paint make him look calm.”
Levi is very in tune with his artistic process. He knows he prefers a quiet space and often challenges himself to grow, experimenting with new materials and techniques.
“I like to test out new colors and materials. I don’t do acrylic paints much anymore and I haven’t done oil painting. I love watercolor. You have to work in layers to create your painting. I like how that works. The next things I’m learning are fluffy fur and curly fur for dogs,” he said. “They’re two different techniques. My advice to artists just starting out is to have fun and start experimenting. Just have fun.”
Both of Levi’s parents are artists as well. Elaine and his dad, Stephen, own Giraffe Photography together. Stephen is also a busy filmmaker and Elaine recently opened Moss + Mercentiles Interiors, an interior decorating and home design company. But Elaine says Levi’s painting talents are entirely unique.
“We don’t share the same artistic talents with Levi. I can’t draw a circle,” Elaine joked. “This is something he found himself. He loves it. We don’t pressure him at all. He paints what he wants when he wants.”
Levi loves painting and wants to share his art with everyone. Follow his art on Facebook at facebook.com/LeviTheArtistQC or on his website at levitheartist.com/gallery
Making his mark around the Quad Cities
Last spring, Levi’s colorful flowers, landscapes, and animals adorned the walls of the QC Botanical Center in Rock Island. He is the youngest artist to have his own exhibit since the Botanical Center opened 23 years ago. Some of those works are now hanging at Quad City Arts.
The empathy that Levi demonstrated as a preschooler has stayed with him and is even inspiring his artwork. Recently, Levi’s parents posted on Facebook that he was deeply affected by the war in Ukraine. “He’s seen enough to know that those people need help and he wants to help,” the post reads. So Levi got to work painting a sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of Levi’s watercolor sunflower prints go to the International Rescue Committee to help families in Ukraine.
“I saw Levi was raising money to help families in Ukraine. I wasn’t surprised to hear he was doing that. That’s so Levi,” Kathy Becker said. “Even the sunflower is Levi, so bright and cheery.”
Levi knows he wants to continue his artistic journey but he hasn’t mapped it out too definitively yet. “I want to be an artist and help nature. It feels good to have my artwork purchased. I don’t know what I’ll do with the money I make. Probably save most of it and buy some ice cream.”