November 2020

Bobbi Rae: Bringing colour to the streets of Leeds

Image credit: Tim Dunk

Artist and designer Bobbi Rae (Textile Design 2013) is using her talent to brighten public spaces in Leeds. 

Alongside fellow sign writer Kieran Hadley, Bobbi has been painting media boxes as part of a project to make local areas more inclusive and child-friendly.

“We were commissioned to bring a little joy to the streets and I hope that’s what we’ve done,” says Bobbi. The council project follows consultation showing that residents wanted to take more pride in their surroundings, and Bobbi’s murals set out to achieve just that.

Bobbi’s work is distinctive. She creates bright, bold, colourful illustrations, which are then used on all kinds of products – from prints and scarves, to comics and handmade soaps. “Alongside drawing and selling my work online, I also paint murals, teach workshops and design custom graphics and bespoke artwork. Every day is pretty different and I like it that way; that’s why I wanted to work for myself.”

Bobbi’s step into a full-time freelance role hardly began in the easiest of circumstances, given she started in January, just before the pandemic took hold. It followed years of preparation and dedication – since graduating from Leeds, Bobbi has worked as a graphic and poster designer, saved up for and undertaken a Masters degree, worked as part of a creative duo painting murals, and worked part-time in a gift shop whilst selling her work online and to local clients.

“I held onto the safety net of a part-time job for a long time while working long hours and always bending over backwards to make sure that I could get everything done. All that over-preparation has put me in a position where now, eight months into a global pandemic, me and my little business are still afloat and we’re clinging on!

“Back in March, jobs got postponed, cancelled in some cases, and opportunities have since become much fewer. I was due to launch my second solo show – TAKING UP SPACE – this year but that has obviously been postponed. Things are still very uncertain, but I am hopeful for the future, and to find a silver lining, I think that my new-found adaptability and resilience will serve me well for whatever life decides to throw at me next.”

The new project provided further positives in trying times, not just for Bobbi, but for the people of Leeds. The completed media boxes have proven popular with the locals, thanks to the combination of Bobbi’s design work and Kieran’s typography. “We have two more to paint. We met some interesting characters on the job and plenty who liked to tell us we’d missed a bit! Overall, though, the response has been really great.”

It has also given Bobbi the chance to lift spirits in a city she has called home for ten years. Bobbi credits her time at the University as giving her the skills she needs to succeed as a freelancer. “I had a great time whilst I was at university. I got to learn from some brilliant professors, access facilities that I didn’t even know existed, and it gave me the space, the knowledge and the mindset to build my business as a freelance illustrator.

“For any budding artists, my advice would be to practise every day, value your skills and prepare to do things you don’t enjoy in order to do the thing you love. For example, maintaining another job alongside your work, or processing the orders and invoices if things are going well.”

For Bobbi, this approach has set her in good stead during trying times. And for the people of Leeds, that might just mean a few smiles as we enjoy her art in and around our streets.

To see more of Bobbi’s work, alumni can visit her website and Instagram.