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Meet Trailblazer Katie Niewodowski

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katie Niewodowski.

Katie, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
From as young as two years old, I was blessed to have had the influence of artistic women who guided my path. Gladys Aldrich, the woman who took care of me when I was very young, was a painter, seamstress, ceramicist, and all around creative. She had an old, tiny house but to me, it was a magical wonderland. As we spent our days making things, I discovered I love to think, learn, and create with my hands.

Later, I would take drawing and painting lessons with a woman named Alice Goettler who specialized in portraiture and gave me my love for that genre.

I graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2002. It was there that I started to conceptualize the idea of portraiture as an extension of myself as if each person and every interaction was a small part of who I am. The portraits became smaller and smaller to accommodate this aggregate ” self-portrait.” At the same time, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I was forced to consider the very impermanent nature of our connections with others. All of this went into the work. I experimented with materials that either preserved or destroyed the art; wax, glycerine, and ultimately Shrinky Dinks. The portraits started to feel like the tiny relics I had seen growing up in Catholic churches. The bones of saints suspended in ornate gold cases, only my portraits were shrinkable craft store plastics.

I went on to receive my MFA from Montclair State University in 2005. The investigation of creation and destruction continued with various materials using the ‘cell’ as the symbol of our interconnectedness. I make a lot of biomorphic sculptures and drawings to meditate on the creative process that exists in nature. My big buzzword is PROCESS. It encapsulates the experience of life and art better than anything and the work continues to be a contemplation of this.

For the last 12 years, I have taught art at the college level and encourage my students to stay in the process no matter what. Process is the place of discovery.

Only recently have I returned to portraiture. My beloved Chihuahua, Francis passed in 2016 and I felt that I needed a “relic” of her. She has become the mascot for my company, Petitraits which gives others the opportunity to have their cherished loves memorialized in portrait. It is an absolute delight to receive photos and draw the adored people or pets of others, even if I don’t know them. Nobody feels like a stranger after I connect with them through this process.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The struggle to make a living while also remaining true to one’s art continues to be a challenge. It’s so important to make space for the work even if you don’t have as much time as you would like. It is essential to stay committed to the process to keep open the creative portals. Also, don’t be afraid to share your work. It took me a long time to shake the critical “boy’s club” mentality of my art school days. I wasted way too much time worrying about what others thought. It only hurt me in the end. Art is meant to be shared. Withholding it because of fear only damages the artist.

Lastly, and I tell all my students this: Don’t wait for inspiration to do the thing. Do the thing and the inspiration will come. Vision only comes by being emerged in the process.

We’d love to hear more about Petitraits.
Currently, I am expanding Petitraits, my personalized portrait making business. Being able to provide people with a memento of their cherished person or pet adds another layer of joy to the work for me. I draw each portrait on Shrinky Dink plastic, cut it, and then shrink it in the oven. This process makes the portrait a hard object ideal for installation in a display box or even jewelry. They’re each only 1 inch. Each Petitrait is mounted on a magnet and comes displayed in a round bamboo box measuring 3.5″. The handheld nature of this work makes it personal with an easy presentation. Plus, they’re affordable! Petitraits makes it possible to have an original, personalized artwork for about the price of a pair of yoga pants. Lol! They really make great gifts. I’ve been commissioned to do everything from couples for a wedding present to deceased pets for those grieving the loss of their loved one.

Finding a mentor and building a network are often cited in studies as a major factor impacting one’s success. Do you have any advice or lessons to share regarding finding a mentor or networking in general?
Use social media! It is a free and visual platform where you can find like minds and like minds can find you. Look for people who are working hard and putting themselves out there in a positive way. Connect with them. Choosing the artist’s lifestyle is liberating but it can be very difficult at times too. Find people who are fearless in their self-expression. These are the ones who inspire me even if I don’t work with them one on one. Most importantly, support other artists!


  • Petitraits personalized portraits are $107 each and come with display box
  • 11″ x 14″ Prints of my drawings are available for $50 each.
  • 18″ x 24″ Prints of my drawings are available for $75 each.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Katie Niewodowski

Getting in touch: VoyageMIA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Loretta Flerlage

    November 15, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    This is an old idea using new and modern materials! Miniatures were very popular during the 17 hundreds and many people collected them. Katie has brought this idea back and her work is exceptional. So happy to read about this!

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