Byron Bay's creative culture and artistic flair has been engrained in its roots since the first bohemian visitors set up camp over 50 years ago. Fast forward to present day and you'll find the number of art galleries around town exceeding double figures, alongside a vibrant community of street artists and new-age creatives who have fostered a strong online presence from their home studios. No longer are art galleries the sole home of the art world's finest, with several of Byron Bay's most successful local artists rising to prominence through digital channels.
Local resin artist Mitch Gobel is one such artist, building a reputation by capitalising on the power of social media. Amassing over 200,000 followers on Instagram, Mitch has fostered a career selling his works for thousands of dollars, shipping all over the world. Another local artist, Paula May, is at the beginning of her journey down the road of digital success. Working from her Burringbar home studio, Paula's artworks showcasing warm earthy colours and curvy natural shapes have been gaining traction in the digital space, with new artworks in high demand from online buyers. We caught up with Paula to chat about her art-making practice, local inspirations and life in Byron Bay.
When did you start painting and what inspired you?
Art and creativity have always been a prevalent part of my life. I used to sketch and write a lot growing up, then I found photography later on. My mother painted in her spare time too, so I think its just in my blood to create. I only started painting around September last year, right after I returned from a trip travelling through Europe. I was already a photographer, but something was pulling me to paint, so I picked up a paintbrush and started experimenting with colours and designs. Painting is also a type of therapy for me. It has helped me overcome some mental health challenges and continues to get me out of my head and into a mediative state, so this in itself is a huge inspiration and motivator.
What's a typical day in the life of Paula May?
I start off with a morning coffee in our sunroom. It is the warmest and most light-filled room in the house, and oh so lovely in winter especially. This is a little ritual I look forward to, it’s a time I feel most inspired and I feel like I have the world at my fingertips with a new day ahead. Then my partner and I head down to the beach or to the park and walk our dog Tala; it’s also just a good excuse to get out each day.
After that I would have something to eat and get ready for the day, which I find to be another important part of my process. I tend to work better when I feel dressed and ready as though I’m heading out for the day. Self-presentation holds power because when you’re at your best you give your best; Especially during these limiting times, something as simple as dressing up lifts your mindset. Then I’m ready to head into the studio to create.
Can you take us through the process you take to create your works?
My creative process changes slightly with each collection I create, and it has taken me some time to find what works most efficiently. I usually start off with colour mixing. I choose the colour scheme and see what goes well together, but I try and maintain some level of consistency with the colours. This is an important part of my process because having original colours is a large factor in the type of art that I create. It’s quite a science, and an art form in itself. Then I sit and play with designs in a draft book. Once I’m happy with the colours and design, I prime my canvas or paper and then get painting. Once the painting is completed I finish it off with a proactive resin spray. Finally, I photograph my pieces to add onto my website.
Having a good camera and photography experience has definitely been a vital asset in what I do. I’m always so grateful to have that skill and it feels so great to combine two of my passions into one business.
Where do you paint? Can you share a little about your workspace?
My studio is also our sunroom, the lightest airy space in our whole house. Good light is essential to painting, to get the colour and shapes just right. I also have a constant live stream of bird songs, which is so lovely to listen to while I paint.
How are you inspired by nature and the natural elements of the Byron bay region?
I have always loved nature and the beauty in this world. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many stunning countries prior to Covid, which I think has contributed to my love for the beauty in this world. I get my inspiration with the seasons and whatever I’m drawn to at the time. Australia, the ocean, sands and different texture inspire me at the moment. I think perhaps because of the times we are in, overseas travel doesn’t look like an option in the near future, so I’ve been drawn to seeing more of our own beautiful country. “Feel good colours” are what inspire me most and the Byron shire is full of beautiful natural colour palettes.
Do you have a favourite local spot to hang out on the weekend?
I love spending free days at fresh water creeks lately. Just at the back of Mullumbimby there are so many beautiful spots that you get all to yourself, but anywhere out in nature that isn’t overly crowed I’m happiest. With summer on its way, I’m really looking forward to more time spent by the water.
Where can travellers find the work of local artists - do you have a favourite gallery?
I follow a couple of great art galleries on Instagram such as Yeah Nice Gallery. They always have quite funky artwork showcases, but at the moment I believe many artists are finding their audiences online with everything that is going on, myself included. Instagram is a great place to showcase your work, for free!
What are you working on at the moment, and what's next for you?
I’m currently working on my next collection, which will be released very soon! This collection has been an exciting one for me, as I’ve been focusing more on canvas rather than just paper designs along with a new colour palette. I also have a secret collaboration project happening behind the scenes, but that’s as much as I can say at this point.