Bradley’s Blocks: The special story behind his custom pet paintings

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Carefully drawing a black Labrador, Bradley Spidell, 30, looked up to make silly faces at his entourage of teachers and friends in the art studio as laughs erupted.

"Oh you're so sweet," he joked, smiling.

Since 2008 Spidell has gone from art-lover to working artist, now painting custom pet pictures and making string art for a living. Once weekly he works alongside his teacher, Shannon Andrus, in her studio for artists with special needs, Hearts for the Arts on Grand Rapids' west side.

Spidell has Down Syndrome, but what's even more special is his spirit and thriving online business: Bradley's Blocks. He sells his art on his Etsy and Facebook pages. It's so popular that he has 30 orders at the moment, and orders placed now will arrive after Christmas.

"Bradley's just a little charmer," said Andrus. "He has such a big personality and he's so loving, so caring. He's been my student since 2008 and I just love him."

Friday Spidell showed FOX 17 many of his works of art, while creating another as a gift.

"I work really hard," said Spidell. "The next animal is Ryder," showing a finished block to FOX 17. "I sand it, and paint it."

"He's just so excited about every picture that he gets," said Andrus. "He loves animals, he loves people, [he's] just a kind person."

Spidell volunteers at nearby hospitals and churches when he's not painting. Recently a larger painting of his sold for $4,500 to an overseas company during the BISSELL Blocktail Party's live auction.

"It's dry," Spidell said, finishing his Labrador painting. "Do you love it? This is my brother's dog, Zeus, I just made it for my brother."

It's his creations that inspire and gift his spirit to others.

"Oh Bradley, thank you!" said one customer Friday picking up her gift at the studio. "I love it! This is going to be the perfect Christmas gift!"

If you would like to order a custom painting or string art piece from Spidell, see his Etsy or Facebook page.

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