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February 24, 2022

Leyla Bulmer is an Irish/Australian artist with an innate need to express herself creatively — and to use her work to process and overcome internal struggles. The divine beauty of the human form illuminates her creativity and, through travel, Leyla has found new surroundings and people an infinite source of inspiration. These past few years of staying at home on the Mornington Peninsula have been a change, but this stillness has brought much welcomed focus and deeper meaning to her work. Drawing from life, Leyla uses a continuous line style, putting her paintbrush down and allowing fluid but striking lines to emerge organically. 

Much of Leyla’s work showcases the female form, her way perhaps to heal wounding around the feminine and celebrate it all at the same time. Portraying the beauty of the human form and not staying within societal perceptions of perfection, she creates to unravel beliefs about the physical. Leyla's love for the water can be seen through the strong but fluid lines she uses in her work. 

This month, to celebrate International Women's Day, SunButter has partnered with Leyla in creating postcards that feature her beautiful artwork, The Surf of Venus. 

Artwork - The Surf Of Venus, by Leyla Bulmer - @leylabulmer. 

Purchase your very own print of "The Surf of Venus" 

What do you do? 

I’m an artist — a painter. You could say I’m a figurative artist, in a way, focusing on the feminine form a lot. That’s where I’m at at the moment, but that could change. I did study graphic design and I’ve done that for the past few years, but I’m letting go of it and focusing more on my art practice.

How long ago did you make the shift from graphic design to painting?

So, I guess I’ve always drawn and painted but probably more in the last three to four years. It’s been happening slowly, slowly over that time. 

What inspired you to make that shift — was there something that gave you a little bit of a nudge to embrace that part of your practice?

I just started to enjoy that part of it more. I was doing a lot of design work on the computer, and I started focusing more on my own creativity rather than working to a client’s brief. So, the transition was quite natural. I suppose I always wanted to be an artist but somehow ended up in graphic design school, and I’m very happy I did that because I learned some very important skills that help me a lot now. 

And youre from Ireland originally?

I was born in Australia but Mum is Irish, so I spent my childhood there.

How old are you now?

I’m 32. I’ve been back here for 10 years, which has gone fast.

Tell me about your studio — is it part of your house?

It’s separate to my house. During the pandemic I built a tiny house, which is so, so great. At the time I didn’t realise I’d use it as a studio but I’ve since moved house and so the tiny house is in the garden of my new place and it’s so good. I love it: it’s a beautiful space with arched windows. It’s such a blessing to have it. And it’s not very far from my house, but at least I can leave home and be at work.

How long did it take you to build the tiny house?

About four or five months. A friend of mine is a builder, so he helped, and my Dad and I also did a lot. Well, actually my builder friend built it, and we helped him! It probably could have been done a lot faster but we had pretty chill days, surf breaks and long lunches.

That sounds beautiful! And what about your creative process — do you have a routine, or is it different every day? How does it all come together?

So, at the moment it includes a lot of writing, just to get things clear in my head and see patterns, see what’s coming up. Writing allows me to see what’s important and what needs to be let go. Most of the stuff I write is to let go of so I can focus elsewhere — on my practice. That’s kind of new. I haven’t always done that but that’s recently been working really well. So writing to begin with, and then there are a few different ways I go about things depending on what I’m doing — if it’s personal creative expression with no clients involved then I usually take photos to work from, do a bit of sketching and from there I can see the lines that I want to pick out and paint for a piece. I guess I keep it quite simple. The sketches can be a little more detailed. At the moment I’m working mostly acrylic on paper, but I do some work on canvas as well. 

It’s a bit of a different process when I do a body portrait commission — that’s more about the clients; there’s no personal writing needed. I speak to them a lot and figure out what they like. Working from a photo or working from an in-studio sitting is the beginning of that process. 

Do you enjoy both those processes equally?

I do. Sometimes I find that it’s easier to work with clients because it’s less about me. And it’s lovely to connect with clients and get to know them — whether it’s via email and through them sending me photos, or they come to the studio. The in-studio sessions are really beautiful because we get to spend two hours together, and I get to create that space for a woman to be seen, feel seen… People love seeing themselves on paper too. It’s an interesting process to go through. I get to chat to them, learn more about them and It’s lovely to celebrate their bodies.

It must feel like an honour to get to know people in that way and represent them.

Yeah, it really is. And I’m getting a lot more confident with that process — in the beginning it was a bit daunting and I felt like there was a bit of pressure but that’s mostly gone now. It’s getting a lot more easeful and joyful.  

Who or what motivates or inspires you?

I guess the women in my life inspire me or motivate me, fuel me. I’m working on a project at the moment that involves a lot of my stuff around my mother. Many of the women in my life remind me of her, so that’s an interesting one. Those places are where ideas come from sometimes.

I’m inspired by a lot of the women from the paintings in the Renaissance era because of their body shapes and sizes. I guess I relate to them — I can see myself in them and their shapes and their pale skin.

And also just my world, I suppose. Living by the ocean, the water. Everything is inspiring. I used to get inspired through travel a lot, back in the day when that was a thing, but it’s been great staying at home actually and figuring what I can draw from being here, and being more still. It’s a little harder but fulfilling and rewarding. 

Exploring more depth over breadth, perhaps.

Yeah, there’s a lot of internal stuff rather than just seeing something beautiful and wanting to recreate it. 

And how does being a woman influence work? Does your womanhood flow into or bleed into your work?

I’m not sure because I don’t know what it’s like to be a man, but I guess it has everything to do with my art, being in this body. I create a lot of pictures of women and maybe I started that because of my own body images issues, so it was a way of working through that. When I started to do life drawing classes I realised that I really loved drawing figures, and I noticed that I loved drawing women more so, because of the shapes and the flow. I was seeing the beauty in all of those people that I was painting and drawing and then I noticed that I couldn’t quite get to that in myself — couldn’t see that beauty in myself.

Being all about aesthetics, how I looked physically was such a big thing in my life for some time, and I just wanted to move on from it, so I guess my art is a way of moving through that. I didn’t want my whole life to be focused around feeling less than, like I didn’t fit in or feeling like I had the wrong body shape or whatever. If I can help people move through this as I have then that’s kind of where I want to be. And now this project around being my mother’s daughter, who knows what’s next but surely being a woman will always have some influence.

So, its been a way into embracing your own body and shifting the way that you relate to your body.

Yeah. It has.

What does International Women
s Day mean to you?

I guess the day itself hasn’t always been a huge day in my life, but it’s important — and this shift is happening slowly in the world anyway — to bring the feminine forward a bit more. When I say “feminine” and “masculine” I don’t necessarily mean men and women. We’ve been in a world that’s run by the patriarchy and capitalism and go-go-go, do-do-do. The feminine becoming a bigger part of this world would be great. We’d all be able to breathe a little deeper, I think. Everybody’s worn out — and so is the planet. If we keep on pushing ourselves so hard it’s not going to be good. Rather than the rise of women, let’s go for balance. To accept both masculine and feminine in everything and everyone, both men and women.

And if we look at it through that lens, your work is a form of rebellion — even though its so beautiful and soft and gentle and flowing — because its making a case for the feminine in the world.

Yeah, yep. Someone saw my art at an exhibition once and said that it made the feminine all around them much more visible. It’s so great when people can articulate what you’re doing. To hear that was really beautiful because whatever he was seeing around him, it just kind of accentuated the feminine aspect of those things, and showed the importance of the feminine in the world.

It made visible something thats not usually so visible. I love that. - @leylabulmer 

Purchase your very own print of "The Surf of Venus"