In the old days, kids used to make some money by a paper route. Today, at age 10, Levi Folker sells his paintings.

The precocious Davenport boy has painted watercolors for as long as he can recall, and already has produced over 400 paintings and original works of art.

Levi Folker at his Davenport home, Nov. 17, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Levi was the youngest artist (aged 8) to have his work displayed at the Quad City Botanical Center in Rock Island; his art has been highlighted on Iowa Public Radio, and this year, Levi was the youngest artist to participate in the Riverssance Festival of Fine Art, this past September at Davenport’s Lindsay Park, where he took home the prestigious People’s Choice Award.

“His work in watercolors shows an innate talent and his depictions of nature and animals express a pure joy that only a young individual could convey,” Jodean Rousey of the Riverssance planning committee said Sunday.

Run through Quad City Arts, Riverssance previously didn’t have a policy in place for young emerging artists. “After some committee discussion, we all agreed that it would be a good addition for the following year’s call for entry,” Rousey said, noting that would start in 2022 (for artists age 23 and younger).

“We accepted three artists in this new category and Levi was one of the accepted artists,” she said. “When he came to the information tent to pick up his artist packet, I recognized the last name and asked him if he was Levi? With the biggest smile ever, he replied, ‘I am. I’m Levi the artist.’

“If his watercolors don’t win you over, his genuine personality will. He loves what he does, and it comes through when you speak to him about his art,” Rousey said. “It’s no wonder that he won the People’s Choice award. We look forward to watching his talent develop in the upcoming years.”

Of the People’s Choice Award, Levi said Thursday (Nov. 17) from his home: “I was really excited, I was happy, I was also really surprised that I got the award.”

Levi’s People’s Choice Award from Riverssance.

At Riverssance, he said he sold about 30 paintings. Levi has had two pieces sold to people in Texas.

“He has really improved,” his mother Elaine Folker said. “We’re just trying to support him and encourage his art. It’s fun for him.”

“I definitely think they’ve gotten more realistic, and I’m looking to improve even more,” he said.

Levi will often work off photos, sometimes tracing an outline over the photo with graphite transfer paper, before starting to paint.

A dog painting by Levi (right), and the photo he worked from.

“Always been artistic”

He began doing art with finger painting at 18 months to 2 years old, and then really liked watercolor painting with brushes. “I’ve always been artistic, starting with crafts and art projects,” Levi said Thursday.

“I developed my own style,” he said. “I’m really into dogs right now. I love painting dogs.”

“I kept doing more and more painting and my art kept improving,” Levi said. “I used to like painting landscapes, but now I do a lot of animals, especially dogs.”

The artist with one of his paintings.

“The techniques you get to do are really fun,” he said, noting he used to watch a lot of the popular TV painter Bob Ross. “I think his videos encouraged me to paint, but I naturally loved painting.”

When he was 8, he displayed his first paintings at the QC Botanical Center (2525 4th Ave., Rock Island), and was the first kid to exhibit his art there. Levi showed 28 paintings then, in spring 2021.

Former QCBC executive director Ami Porter was very taken by Levi’s eclectic artwork.

“It’s just wonderful and I just know the story is so moving,” she said. “What a wonderful way to pass the time during the pandemic and it’s an expression of creativity, especially from someone so young and clearly creative.”

Paintings and paint in Levi’s room, Nov. 17, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“He is such a character, he is awesome,” Paige Underwood, QCBC’s special events and marketing manager, said of Levi. “He’s been so crafty for so long.”

“I kidded him – I said, I ought to buy a few pieces now before you get really famous,” Dave Searl, the center’s head gardener, said.

Active online

Levi has 315 followers so far on his Facebook page (set up by his father, like his website), and one customer wrote in August: “This young man has so much talent. His artwork is amazing. I ordered a print of his deer and it’s so much more amazing in person. You won’t regret supporting Levi.”

A photo from Levi’s website,

He usually spends 20 to 60 minutes on each painting and his parents sell prints of them (the Botanical Center has a permanent 20″-by-30″ print of his koi fish). Levi’s father, Stephen Folker, is a professional photographer and filmmaker, and his mom Elaine is also a photographer and has a freelance interior design business.

Levi first started selling his art when he was 9, and he gets lots of requests from customers wanting him to paint their pets.

For a small print, he would make $15-$20. Prints available on his online store range from $20 to $75 each.

A painting of Levi’s dog, Lucy.

Of the Botanical Center, Levi said: “I felt really proud and I was happy I got my art displayed and I was happy to show my paintings to other people.”

“I get lots of requests, and I can’t do them all, but most I try to do,” he said of new paintings. “I really like painting other people’s pets.”

Levi — whose family has a dog, Lucy, and cat, Lily — said he can do a lot of painting on top of homework because he has free time. He’s not interested in sports. “I tried soccer, but I didn’t really like it,” he said.

Levi and Lucy, Nov. 17, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

If he’s inspired, Levi said he’ll usually paint every other day. When younger, he had taken art classes, but didn’t like them so he stopped. “If I don’t get to do it the way I want to do it, I’m not going to,” he said. “I’m mainly self-taught.”

You can view his website HERE.