The two vibrant women behind Birmingham’s Bendy Knees Design are fully owning their roles as female artists in the South — from how they speak and write to the projects they choose to the causes they align themselves with. You’ve seen their colorful murals splashed on buildings, fences, and even buses across Alabama. Now, get to know the artists behind the work. Meet Levi Levinson and Jordan Thompson, our newest FACES of Birmingham!
Are you from Birmingham originally?
Jordan: I am a Birmingham original, baby! Living on Creek and Muscogee land. The weather and the community keep me here.
Levi: I was born and raised in New Mexico and lived on the lands belonging to the Mescalero Apache. The quick story is that my dad was the food and beverage director at our local ski resort, so my brother and I grew up with a mountain as our playground. Ultimately, I think my parents were terrified of us becoming ski bums, so they moved us to Birmingham in late 2005. The angsty teenager in me swore I’d never stay, but the creative community in this city is truly one of a kind. I’m so grateful to have established that family here in Birmingham!
Describe the Bendy Knees aesthetic in three words.
Jordan & Levi: Uplifting! Energetic! Explorative!
Tell us a bit about your background — individually and as a duo.
Levi: At six years old, I painted my very first mural with nothing but the one and only — PUFF PAINT! It was a teeny problem at the time, but little did my parents know, I’d be painting walls professionally 20 years later.
In high school, I started my first side hustle, painting custom Vans and guitars for my friends. Fast forward to my sophomore year of college, I got my first big break when Toms hired me as a Style Your Sole artist, painting custom shoes at various Toms events across the Southeast.
I graduated from Birmingham Southern with my BFA and started my “young adult” life in corporate jobs, working as a creative for Apple and then Trader Joe’s, taking custom commissions on the side. My time as an artist for Trader Joe’s opened the door for chalkboard menu pieces and paintings for local establishments. Once these jobs got bigger and more frequent, I decided to leave the corporate world to work part-time at a local art store and as a teaching artist to start building the dream!
Jordan came into the picture somewhere in the middle of all of this, and I was so smitten I started inviting her to come to work with me. One thing led to another, and then, before you knew it, she was helping me with taxes, answering my emails, and doing the math for my chalkboards … I think we both knew we had stumbled into something really beautiful.
Jordan: I think I’ve always had an inkling to make things … I ended my college career in the theater department — doing set design and lighting. This is where I decided to build, make, and create stuff with my hands.
Fast forward to 2016, Levi walked into the place I was workin’ and the rest is history … She was hardcore hustlin’ on her art career throughout the first four years of our relationship. Both of us were workin’ two and three jobs. She was paintin’ on the in-betweens, and then one day, I was finally deemed the assistant! Just joking, but I did start slow. Painting was never a part of my plan, but after a long bout with alcoholism, I sobered up and was starting to see myself come to life again.
March 2020 came along, and both of our jobs went on temporary pause, which turned into sleepless nights — planning and organizing and manifesting and dreaming about how we were going to do the daily grind for ourselves and our community. I’d be lying if I said it was all biscuits and gravy, but I’m pretty dang grateful to be where we’re at. We officially filed our business license in August 2020 and have painted around 75 murals since!
Where did the name ‘Bendy Knees’ come from?
Jordan: During the first few months of COVID, we had plenty of time to brainstorm. We made lists of words and phrases that we liked or aligned with, and pages and pages later, nothing really stuck. In the following days, while editing a timelapse video (probably feeling discouraged) it just happened! We bounce into some goofy positions to get those clean lines, so Bendy Knees felt pretty warm and cozy in our hearts.
Where can folks find your work?
Jordan & Levi: In real life, our Alabama people can find our work at Innovation Depot, EBSCO Industries, Magic City Acceptance Academy, Fancy Face, Al’s on 7th, House Plant Collective and Bus, Left Hand Soap Company, Birmingham Candy Co., Prosper Birmingham, Columbiana Main Street, Ampersandwich, Elle Luxe, and The Orion Amphitheater — to name a few!
Outside of Alabama, we’re in New Mexico, Oklahoma on Route 66, in Georgia, and fingers crossed, we’ll be in Cali soon!
In online life, our website, and on social media @bendykneesdesign.
Do you have a favorite project (or projects) to date?
Jordan: Magic City Acceptance Academy was a really big moment for me. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but that one took my little heart and burst it with joy over and over again. MCAA is a really big deal for Alabama, and it was so incredibly special to paint with their community. Growing up as a queer kid in the South was and still is incredibly difficult, so to know that we have a free public charter school that was intentionally designed with incredible resources for our future generations — gives me goosebumps. I’m incredibly honored to have been able to create a piece with them.
Levi: Gah, this is a hard one! We work with so many incredible clients who are doing so many amazing things, but I have to give it to Ed Farm. I have a brother in education, so being able to partner with a local nonprofit that’s making such monumental waves within schools makes my heart swell.
Our intention behind our Ed Farm pieces is to promote a safer space where students are encouraged to creatively engage the senses in open-ended interpretations as they explore new ways of tech-based learning. A space where there are no expectations but to authentically be themselves and push the boundaries of their imagination. Witnessing the impact firsthand on students and faculty is so inspiring and has given me so much hope for the future of education.
Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
Jordan: We’re a part of this incredible mural festival that happens at the end of the summer in Oklahoma — Sunny Dayz Mural Festival. It’s a festival that highlights and empowers women and non-binary artists who’ve been historically overlooked in this male-dominated field by providing equitable opportunity and compensation, professional development, and mentorship … Public, accessible art is so important! This festival always re-energizes that part of my heart.
Levi: I’m forever inspired by nature and the nature of connection. This world can be a dark freakin’ place, so we spend a lot of time outside appreciating the beauty around us. While our work is bright and bold, we always see little traces of our nature-loving side somewhere between the bloops.
The connection of the art community in the Deep South constantly inspires me! We have to find and support each other out here. Every interaction is a push and pull in this beautiful thing called life, so I try to take inspiration from every opportunity placed in front of us.
Are there any big projects coming up that you can tease?
Jordan & Levi: YEAH! We’re possibly partnering with Find Your Anchor, a suicide prevention nonprofit out of Long Beach, CA, on some murals for their new space. Aly and Morgan have created something beautiful with FYA, and we’re stoked to be included on their journey. Definitely check them out if you haven’t heard of them.
What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced as working artists?
Jordan: I struggle to stand up for myself as a female artist. Imposter syndrome, inconsistent income, the idea of being self-employed in general. Sometimes, it’s a real challenge to just stay grounded in the art and trust the process. We are trucking through it, though!
Levi: Being openly queer female entrepreneurs in the South has been a challenge. We are doing everything we can to make our own waves in this historically male-dominated industry, which means challenging ourselves daily to stand up and speak up. The feelings of belonging and empowerment in your art community are incredibly important, and we want to create safer spaces for creative dreams to come to life.
A big part of our job is to pay it forward by empowering other women and non-binary folks, especially queer students, to continue shining their light while being given equitable opportunity, wages, and education against exploitation. We just want to help others skip some of the tough parts of the creative entrepreneur biz!
Where are your favorite places to eat, shop, and play in Birmingham?
EAT: Shu Shop is the one and only favorite. If you are in Birmingham, Shu Shop. That’s all I need to say. It’s perfect.
PLAY: Railroad Park, 100%. City Walk is great, too.
PLAY: Railroad Park, Ruffner Mountain, Red Mountain, and Oak Mountain. We have some incredible state parks and nature preserves.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Jordan: I have two that I think about daily. 1) Don’t lose sleep over things you can’t control. If you can calmly focus on what you have control over, you will obtain the tools to maneuver through most situations with grace and love first. 2) Loving someone for being their truest, most authentic self is the biggest way to love someone. Let the weirdos be! And love them for it. We’re going to change the world.
Levi: 1) The biggest life hack is becoming your own best friend. 2) Don’t miss out on something that could be great just because it could also be difficult.
Aside from faith, family, and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Jordan: Quality time with my people, quality time with my cats, lots of H2O.
Levi: Salsa, my water bottle, kitty kisses.
Thanks, Jordan and Levi! We can’t wait to see what’s next for Bendy Knees.
Meet more dynamic FACES of Birmingham HERE!