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Inspiring Artistic Space With Tayla Broekman

Tayla Broekman is a studio artist, muralist and illustrator who has had artistic inklings since her early years, long predicted by teachers, family and friends to go on into a career as an artist.

Following the path she was born for, Tayla has pursued her passion from day dot and was blessed with success from the moment she first put on an art show.

As she tells us, however, early success led to great pressure, and she has had to work hard to find a balance between creating for the love of it and creating according to expectation.

Today, Tayla has painted walls across Australia, as well as Berlin and Bali. She’s had three solo shows, innumerable group shows and manages client work in addition to it all.

With a unique perspective on the importance of living in a way that feels free of routine and structure, Tayla Broekman joined us on Street Art Unearthed to discuss how she operates within traditional structures in a way that feels anything but structured.

Check out the podcast with Tayla Broekman, or read on for excerpts from the chat.


Tuning in From Lock-Down Melbourne

Look, the restrictions, they definitely suck, but I have lived my life like this before, so it’s not too much of a drastic change for me. I’ve just spent time, in my early 20s and stuff, when I didn’t have a job and I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was trying to keep my money, so I wasn’t going out much. I can handle staying inside for a while.

I don’t have much of an art space at the moment, but I tend to sit on the floor in front of the heater a lot. I can’t do any painting really, which is kind of annoying. I’m actually looking for a studio, so hopefully, I’ll find something. But, I’ve just been drawing a lot and doing a little bit of digital art.

Rebelling to Find the Perfect Style

I think it fits into pop surrealism. I guess I focus on colour a lot. Not necessarily really bright, vibrant colours, but just colour palettes that feel good. That’s probably one of the main aspects of my work, my colour palettes.

I think I found it probably when I was about 25, towards the end of studying illustration for a couple of years. I’d been working with lots of different mediums in the course, and towards the end, I think I just was tired of putting heaps of effort and hours and lots of sessions into the paintings. I was like, “I’m just going to do this little one. It might not be good or anything, but I want to get away from that stuff and just do this quick one,” which was just quite minimal and simple. Nothing in the background, just a main character and lots of flat colours and stuff, with gouache.

I painted that, and I did it pretty quickly, and it ended up just being the one that I liked the best and the one that everyone else liked the best.

It was almost a bit of a rebellion against all these other mediums that were just taking too much energy out of me. So, I just did something that felt good, and then that happened to be the one that was the most successful for me, and what everyone else liked and what I liked and what felt nourishing to me.

Self Portraits

I’ve never used like skin colour or anything. I never use natural colours… in that way, they don’t look that human. And maybe they have a bit of, like, not being human.

I think somehow they’re always just like a part of me that’s coming out. I used to wear these fangs every day when I was in my early 20s that were just natural-looking little fangs. It’s just little accessories and stuff that my characters wear, are usually a part of me as well. Like sometimes they have a little cut in their eyebrow, and I had that for a little while, and like a side of the head shaved, which I often have. It’s just sort of like in a way, a lot of them are like a mirror of me, whether I mean to or not, it just happens.

Everything I draw is a self-portrait actually. Even the guys and the animals and stuff, it’s somewhat like a self-portrait.

Trial and Error in the Merch Game

I love stickers too, but I always get the feeling that no one else really cares about them. I love how they’re neat, little concise images, because I kind of do that with my work anyways. I like to keep in a little tight composition. So, I love making something into a sticker and just having this neat little image that you can just put up. I like that as well.

I actually just recently made one just a couple of weeks ago, and I was going to release it with a mask design that I was doing. It was going to be a little package with the mask, and the sticker and a little backing board thing that was a little artwork.

The mask didn’t work out because I couldn’t figure out the website, and then they weren’t helpful through email. Eventually, I was just like, “Fuck you. I’m not going to do it then.” Then, I just had these stickers, and I was like, “Well, I don’t know how to release these because no one’s going to just buy a single sticker.” But I ended up just posting on my Instagram and putting on my store.

I made a new design for a mask when I was trying to make one a few weeks ago, and I was trying to make it in time for when the new laws came in with the masks. So, I kind of rushed the design, and then I didn’t get it out in time because the website was just hard to use. Then the emails back and forth and stuff with them were taking ages, and they weren’t very clear.

A couple of weeks later, after the new law, and I was like, “Oh, it’s not even going to work anymore.” But, I ordered a sample anyway, and I just got the sample last week, and they suck man. The quality sucks.

I would have got people to order them straight from their website, so I wouldn’t have even known what they were getting.

Early Artist in the Making

I guess in Kinder… I have some photos of me with all my paintings. One of them is particularly awesome. It looks Andy Warhol or something. It’s pretty impressive, I think. The teachers there would be like, “Oh, Tayla’s going to be an artist.”

Through primary school, I just was always the one that was drawing borders, taking ages on the borders and stuff instead of the writing. So, I was always known as the artsy kid in the class. Then, that just continued all the way through high school. I think I was about 13 when I realised, “Oh, I think I want to be an artist.” I didn’t really know what that meant, what the life of an artist is like. But, I just remember realising like, “Oh, I think this is my path.”

Everyone was just really supportive and loved it and thought I was doing really good. So, I was like, “This is awesome. I feel good when I make this, and other people feel good when I make these things.”

I took it pretty seriously from then I guess, or I just had it as my identity, I suppose. Then, I just always had support from teachers and my family. But, I think if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be an artist honestly.

Study and Travels Abroad

I guess it was through my 20s, I studied visual arts for a couple of years and then illustration for a couple of years. In between those, I was just travelling on and off.

I went to South America when I was like 20, then I studied, and then I think after I studied visual arts, I hated art. It just wasn’t the right kind of art world for me, I think. I’m probably closer to some kind of hybrid of illustration and art, and they were full conceptual art. My work at that point wasn’t very conceptual. It was more aesthetic.

I just don’t understand their techniques. I don’t know what they would achieve by being dicks and stuff. Like the painting teacher had to be a dick. It’s almost a requirement in visual arts that they are so tough on you. I just don’t find it helpful.

I think the idea of what they’re trying to do, maybe they’re trying to make us rebel, or they’re trying to… I don’t know. I don’t know what the deal is. After that, I didn’t really do art for like a year. I just worked at JB Hi-Fi. Then I travelled in Southeast Asia, and then came back and studied illustration. Then, I went to Berlin after that.

Painting Walls in Berlin

I was there with a graffiti writer called Knock. I think he’s originally from Perth. He was over there being a cool guy in Berlin, being a cool graffiti writer, and so I followed him.

We just went to some cool abandoned places. I think the first place we went to was an abandoned orphanage. So, they’ve got heaps of cool abandoned places, like old building and old theatres and stuff. That was a pretty, pretty awesome introduction into painting on the street because it was also an adventure into a really cool looking place.

I have no interest in breaking the law, honestly. It doesn’t give me thrill to be sneaking past security or anything like that. I don’t care about it. But we also didn’t want to be… It wouldn’t be good to be seen in some of those places. Some of them were super accessible, as well.

I think I got a taste for not only seeing my work on a larger scale. I guess I was excited to use a different medium. I was excited to use a different canvas pretty much, just odd-shaped things that have texture on them and have colour on them already, falling apart, that have a history.

I got into the excitement of being in that environment because it’s just so unusual. Well, for me, it was really unusual to be in places like that. I just love abandos anyway.

Quick Success and Artist Block

I think I was really trying to be a professional artist because I’d just finished uni and I’d started exhibiting, and I had a lot of success just straight out of uni with exhibiting.

Yeah, it was pretty good. But, I had this idea in my head that I was like, “Okay, I’m a professional now. I need to get work, and I need to have a certain standard for my work. This is how it is now,” which in hindsight, it was the wrong way to think because it ended up taking me to a bad place. That’s around the time when I started to get artist block.

I was just working on my gouache pieces, and they were looking really good, most of them, and I was selling pretty much every time I was in a show.

I felt pretty great that it was working out like that, and I was really excited about the new shows that I was going to be in with all these people that I admired in Melbourne. But, just as I went on, it just got harder and harder to put work out. Actually, I don’t know how long after uni it was, maybe like two years or something. I just got to a point where my sketchbook was empty. I had opened a white page, and I just couldn’t draw anything.

Because I told myself that I was a professional now and that I had a standard, I couldn’t even do a sketch because it had to be perfect. It had to be good. So, I couldn’t even start it, because I felt like I was going to fail from the start.

I guess it became like a job. It just wasn’t intuitive, and I just wasn’t present with it, I suppose. I think I felt like people were watching me as well because I had had that success early on. That people were watching my Instagram, and they were watching what I was putting out, and they had expectations.

It’s just ironic that the better I was doing, the harder it was for me to even make stuff.

Removing the Pressure to Perform

I think it’s common. I think that’s the kind of thing where artist block can come from, is self-pressure. I know that a lot of it was… Well, it was in my control. All of that stuff, it was all in my head. Even if people were watching me, I had the choice to care about that or not care about that.

I actually got to a point where it was so hard to get work out that I just thought I have to just give up on being an artist. Maybe it’s actually not for me. Maybe it’s not going to work for me. So, I ended up just deciding that I was going to have to do something else, and art wasn’t going to be my thing. Pretty much as soon as I did that, my work started flowing again.

It was so stupid. But, because I had no pressure anymore. I could use anything I wanted. I could do any kind of drawing I wanted. I didn’t have to stay in the same style. It didn’t have to be anything, because no one was watching me. I didn’t feel like anyone was watching me, because I just gave up on being a professional artist. I was just like, “Well, I can just do what I want now.”

I think for me, and probably for a lot of people, where my art originally came from was just me just being present with what I like doing. Then, when it becomes something else, it’s just not its natural course I suppose, when it’s about something else.

Tricking the Mind

Sometimes when I’m getting paid for something, well, I actually get a bit of artist block every time I do a job for a client. I get through it, but I have to try it like a few times, and I’m like, “Fuck, this is not working. What do I do?” So, I have to try and create an environment that makes me feel I’m just doing it for myself. So, I have to trick myself into feeling like it’s all just my normal, natural flowing thing that I like to do for myself.

I think I just actually don’t do very well with pressure, in general, which I just realised really recently. But, I think when someone else has an expectation, that’s one kind of pressure. If I’m already sure I can do what they want, I feel pretty confident about that; then it’s usually good.

Then, I think another pressure, well maybe not pressure, but another thing that sort of changes it for me is putting a monetary value on it. I find that it actually devalues the work because you can’t… I know it sounds really cliche, but you can’t put a money value, a monetary value on emotions. That sounds wanky as hell.

But, it’s like once you… Money doesn’t have an emotional content. It doesn’t have anything deep and genuine, real about it. I find when I’m trying to price my work or something, I just can’t do it. I just don’t know how. I don’t know what price it’ll be, because money doesn’t have an emotional value like the work does.

Becoming a Professional

I went full-time freelance last year. I’ve thought over the last few years, “Man, I wish I had just got a normal job for maybe, I don’t know, four years or something,” so I could have something in being professional and understanding structural stuff, and understanding working with clients and things that you can learn in the corporate world that are actually really valuable, that are transferable skills into a business.

I can’t say that I’m… I actually don’t feel like I’m that much of a professional, yet. I don’t know if I ever can be. But, I suppose the things that I’ve learned, I think client contact was a really big thing for me — being able to talk to them in the right ways, and even just learning how to write an email properly.

The language in the corporate world is so interesting like that. I think I learned pretty early on how to structure emails and how to speak appropriately. But, when I was at uni, they were teaching us that as well because some artists, they just don’t know how to do that kind of adult stuff. I think it can… That sort of stuff, if there’s too many things that are out of line, it can be a bit of a make or break. If you’re sending an email that has lots of typos and no grammar and no full stops and no spacing and stuff, it’s kind of like, “Oh, do I… This person seems a bit untrustworthy already.”

Communication is Critical

I think you’re on the money there with communication. Communication, in general, with the client, has got to be on point. Well, it’s got to be good because, I think for me when I was in my early 20s, I had so much anxiety with clients, that I wouldn’t read the email properly and I wouldn’t respond properly. I wouldn’t take in the information properly, and I’d forget dates and stuff, just because I was so anxious.

I had so many bad experiences because I couldn’t communicate properly. So, I reckon that’s a really good one actually, is just communicate and take your time with it. Just be calm, and don’t respond impulsively. Just take your time to calmly read it, maybe read it a few times, maybe read it out loud.

I think in some places, you’ve got to email or you’ve got to communicate through four people as well. There’s artist, there’s some kind of director, and then there’s another person ahead of them, and then there’s the boss, and you have to communicate from the artist to the boss, like through all these people. It’s so hard sometimes to get something done and clearly understood by everyone. So, I reckon phone calls shortcut that as well.

Manufacturing the Space to Relax

What I’ve been doing recently is, I’ll just come over to the guy I’m seeing, his house, and he’ll be at work, and I’ll just take up the house as my house. So, I put a movie on, that I probably won’t even really be watching that much, and I’ll sit on the couch and have all my stuff all over the coffee table, and I’ll just really casually, calmly, just draw something and just not set up an environment that’s too tense or too controlled.

Even though it is controlled because I’m manufacturing this kind of relaxed environment, but I’m trying to get my brain… I guess into a calm place, where I just feel I’m on a holiday or something. Isn’t that funny what we have to do? Our brains are so sensitive and fragile. Not fragile, but we can so easily manipulate them ourselves.

On top of creating that environment for myself, what I’ve started doing when I get artist block with clients is, I just disregard all the things that they’ve asked for, and just draw what I want. Then, once I’ve just drawn what I want, because that flows better, after that, I’ll start to change it into what they want a little bit more.

Sometimes they even just like… Because what you make for yourself is usually then what you’ve been told to make, sometimes they like that anyway. They like what you’ve done. That ends up winning.

What’s On Now for Tayla?

I have had a few clients since COVID actually, which is strange, but just a few random things like painting someone’s garage. I did a little garage door for a florist recently. I did someone’s home. I did their pool room, the wall in their pool room. I did a bomber jacket design for Fortress. It’s like a new gaming venue. It’s like the first gaming venue in Melbourne, I think. So, I’ve had a few things like that going on, and they’ve all been pretty smooth, so that’s good.

I have been super into murals at the moment, so I haven’t really been small scale that much recently. But, I’ve just started drawing more and more, and they’ve got lots of potential to turn into paintings. Especially over this next few weeks when the lockdown is really strict, I’m not going to be able to go and paint murals or even just to be asked to paint a mural.

So, I’m thinking I might either just turn these drawings into maybe like a little book or something, or maybe turn them into digital paintings, or maybe I’ll turn some of them into gouache paintings. I feel like I’m way overdue to be putting out some gouache paintings. So, hopefully, that will happen.

Written with excerpts from the Street Art Unearthed podcast with Tayla Broekman.

Be sure to follow Tayla Broekman on Instagram and Facebook, and check out her website for more on her work and her store where you can get prints and rad stickers.



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