Enter the world of Bobbi Rae and you’ll never want to leave. Everything is bright, bold and non-judgemental; you can swear if you want to swear, fart if you want to fart, and most importantly, be whoever you want to be. Her bouncy, carefree illustrations breakdown the traditional ideals and expectations of women in a way that most girls can relate to, from dancing around naked to sticking two fingers up to the patriarchy.
Above anything, the characters that Bobbi create make you smile. Each one is in their happy place, untroubled and not letting societal conventions bring them down. Using art as an escapism, Bobbi explains how these positive characters were born from a relatively negative place: “I was working in a job that I really hated,” reflects Bobbi. “I’d come home and draw, because that’s all I ever really wanted to do. All the stuff I’d draw would be to make myself laugh - to make myself feel less shit about the shit job that had to go back to tomorrow. I realised those same things made other people laugh as well, so I just thought, ’fuck it, share the joy!’”
With Western art having a long history of depicting the female body as nothing more than an object of the male gaze, Bobbi’s women are both refreshing and empowering. Her characters exude confidence and self-love in a way that inspires you to give less fucks about what people think. “I wanted to make a cartoon version of reality,” Bobbi explains; “It doesn’t make you any less valid as a woman if you don’t want to stand there in a dress with your shoulders back. It’s just about representing that side of things in a way that’s funny and relatable, but also poignant and rings some truth.” The traditional expectations of women and femininity are in desperate need of reversal, and Bobbi doesn’t hesitate in admiring the women who deliver a similar message with their own art; “Tara Booth does cartoony self-portraits about her experience of being a woman and living with anxiety. None of the people in her drawings are polished or pristine, they’re very, very real. Like doing all the weird Tetris positions you do trying to do shave your legs. I love how real they are.”
Despite being cartoons, Bobbi’s relatable characters reflect the experiences of womanhood in a very real way. “Sometimes they’re a little based on my friends,” Bobbi says with a grin. “My friends are just funny; I seem to have collected a bunch of great people in my life. They just come out with the funniest things, and none of them are artists but I find them just as equally as inspiring as working with other artists.”
Bobbi certainly surrounds herself with good people. Together with her friend Emma, Bobbi runs an art workshop called Modes of Expression. “Emma’s really awesome. We started Modes of Expression around 2015, doing little workshops for people where we’d do all sorts; we made cushions, and plant pots and macramé hangers,” lists Bobbi. “Then we applied for a mural that was in town and we didn’t get it, but we had spent ages on our proposal and we were just like, ‘we should try and get it somewhere else.’ Emma met this guy who worked for Armley council, and they ended up hiring us to do our mural. After that we got more and more commissions to do various murals. It’s a really fun thing.”
The workshops that Modes of Expression have done with school-kids have been eye-opening for Bobbi; “It’s really interesting when you’re working with kids and you do things that they wouldn’t have done at school,” she elaborates. “Recently, we did a workshop with kids making things with a jigsaw cutter. It came out better than if I had done it, because they really took their time. They were super creative; it makes you wonder what you could do if people would just let you.”
We all have those things that we love to do but don’t admit to because we don’t think we’re good enough to deserve recognition. Whether you love to sing but just keep it to the shower, or love to draw but only on napkins that you’ll immediately discard, it’s a sad fact that we’re pressured to pursue things only if we think we can be the best. “I think it’s important to let people know that art isn’t necessarily this prestigious thing where you have to have done a degree or studied at an art school to be an artist, because that’s not the reality of it,” expresses Bobbi. “I can’t remember who said it, but I read a quote a while ago that was like, everyone’s born an artist and it’s just the experience of life that chips away and tries to tell you what you’re not. But art is for everybody.”
While we chatted at Short Press, an art and plant haven in Burley and the shop where Bobbi works, customers frequently came in to peruse the art on sale, including many prints by Bobbi herself. We ask her how it feels knowing that her art is on people’s bedroom walls; “It’s really weird- it’s so weird!” Bobbi laughs. “When people come in to the shop and say that they love my art and have a print I want to hide; I just get really bashful. If the person’s come in here to buy my art and they aren’t aware that it’s me behind the counter who’s done it, I won’t mention it at all and I’ll refer to myself as ‘the girl who made this artwork’. It’s very humbling,” she says with a smile that can’t repress her gratitude. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do; it’s really weird that it’s actually happening and people actually like it and want it. It’s a bit like imposter syndrome where if you’re doing quite well you don’t believe that it’s you that’s done it.”
We end our conversation with some advice Bobbi would give to an aspiring artist; “Just keep doing it. Never stop. Keep telling people about your work, which I didn’t do because I was nervous. No matter how supportive people are they still critique you as well, and it’s only ever the bad stuff that sticks in your head. I think for anyone who just wants to do it, you need to take anything negative anyone’s ever said to you just put it in a box aside and just crack on anyway. You can go back and reflect on it but you need to just separate yourself from anything anyone’s told you and just do it. If I had drawn flowers at uni as I would have drawn them now, I wouldn’t have passed. They would have all had smiley faces in the middle. Just do it and put it out there. And even when no one responds, keep doing it.”
That’s what Bobbi did, and looking at her illustrations on the cover of our first issue, we're glad that she did.
All images used by kind permission of Bobbi Rae.