The Chatham Arts Council is investing in artists through our Meet This Artist series, introducing you to 12 Chatham County artists each year in a big way.
The fine folks at Hobbs Architects in downtown Pittsboro are powering our Meet This Artist series this year. Architecture is art, and the Hobbs crew values art in our community.
Take a look. Meet your very inspiring neighbors. Meet This Artist.
Buffy Taylor’s art career to date has taken her on a long and winding road, and it includes a plethora of mediums, including web design, graphic design, murals, chalk, body painting, and photography, to name just a few! With her early career in graphic design, her art often begins on the screen rather than in the sketchbook, which gives her work a unique quality. Buffy is not just a passionate and multifaceted artist; she also is a deep empath, with a strong desire to give back to the community, to ultimately help young artists find their confidence and voice. We encourage you to read more about this talented artist!
Tell me about yourself.
As a kid, I was not the best academic student. I think it was third grade when I had to go to summer school. I was a daydreamer, always looking out the windows or staring into space. One day in summer school, I noticed a newspaper on the table with a “draw this character” activity. I think it was a turtle. I don’t remember any of the schoolwork that I was doing, but I remember drawing that character. It’s my first memory of connecting with art.
When did you start going deeper into your art? High school?
When I was in high school, a local artist came to my art class. After class, she started talking to me, and said, “You know, you could do a mural. You just have to create a proposal and submit it.” It got me so excited. I wanted to do it. I knew the two girls who I was going to do it with. But I had no idea how to price it or what equipment I would need; it all intimidated me, and I didn’t know who to ask for help. I was too afraid to tell the artist that I didn’t know who to ask. So I didn’t submit the application for the mural. Not doing so is one regret I’ve had my whole life.
After high school, I decided to go to work as a web designer. When I went to college later in life, I chose communication arts because I thought I was going to go back into web design. For one of my computer design classes, we had to create a storyboard. I didn’t need my hand-drawn sketch to look fully developed because my digital design would be more detailed. Since I’d already envisioned the design in my head, I used simple marks and stick figures with just enough detail to show what I was thinking for each action sequence. To me, my rough sketch made sense without needing to expend too much time and energy drawing. In that class, one of the students grabbed my sketch and ran over to show other classmates, who laughed at the stick figures. I remember thinking, “That’s it — I’m going to find an art class where I can learn to draw a better storyboard for my computer animations so they won’t laugh at me.” So I took a general art class, and I loved it. It opened up my heart as much as it did my hand and my mind.
By the end of that semester, I felt I had a great introduction to drawing but knew I needed more, so I enrolled in another art class. At the end of those two semesters, the art professor, who was also in charge of the department, pulled me aside and said, “I watched you come alive in my class. When you started, you were very closed off.” He then convinced me to add art as a minor. I did it for me, not thinking it was going to be a career. I thought it was going to be something that just made me happy.
While I was in college, I spent a semester abroad in Australia at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, in Brisbane. That experience opened up worlds for me; I was introduced to a global way of thinking and was guided through approaches to making art that were different from what I had ever experienced before. In those art classes, I was molded and reshaped. I began to realize that when it came to making art, there were limitless possibilities beyond my own imagination.
What happened when you came back from Australia?
I still had to graduate from Framingham State University (FSU.) Before my semester abroad, I was a photographer for the school, but they filled the role with someone else while I was away. When I returned to FSU, they wanted me to continue working for them as a graphic designer in the same office. So instead of taking the pictures, I was using the pictures that somebody else took and making posters for events. When I graduated in 2014, I became a freelance graphic designer. I guess I’ve had a very meandering artistic path. I think exposure to a variety of artistic mediums early in my academic and professional careers is why I’m so varied in my art now; my whole life has been a series of crisscrossing paths, using different mediums all the time.
I met my husband during my last semester at college. We got married a year after my graduation. A year after that, we moved to North Carolina. Two weeks after we moved here, I fell down a flight of stairs. Before I fell, I had planned to apply for jobs as a web designer or a graphic designer at a company. I had my resume ready and started looking for jobs in the area. But after my fall, I was doing physical therapy three times a week, plus going to doctors and getting scans. Given how much time I was spending on my recovery, I didn’t think it was the right time to seek an office job that would require me to be onsite full time.
During that time, I started doing art because I could easily sit at a table or in front of an easel to sketch or paint. I hadn’t done traditional art since graduation except for a few paint nights with friends, which reminded me of how much I love to paint. So between medical appointments when I couldn’t do anything else, I’d sit and paint. I posted those paintings on social media and started getting small commission requests like, “Can you paint me a picture for my kid’s room?”
By the time I healed from the injury and the surgery, and was ready to start working, thirteen months had passed. Instead of applying for jobs at a company, I channeled my energy into finding out how to turn my passion into a profession. I had invested so much time and energy into becoming an artist, it made sense to pivot.
What were some of your early commissions?
My first mural was in a bathroom stall at an art space called Imurj (which sadly didn’t survive COVID) in downtown Raleigh. One night, the manager of gallery exhibitions said to me, “Hey, would you like to paint a mural in the bathroom? We can’t pay a lot, but I’ll reimburse you for your supplies.” So I set up shop, worked on the mural, and posted it on social media. That led to a commission to paint a jean jacket for someone who was giving it as a Christmas present to a friend. No commission is too small for me.
My COVID project was rock paintings because I could use supplies that I had on hand without needing to leave my house or purchase new supplies. I called them “quarantine creations” and posted them on social media. When I did have to leave home, I placed many of them out in the world for free as part of the Kindness Rocks Project. After seeing my rocks, someone commissioned me to paint a boulder at a school in Raleigh. After my neighbor saw the painted rock garden that I have in front of my house, she commissioned me to paint a stone as a memorial marker to put next to where her dog is buried.
When did you realize that you wanted to focus on mural work?
When we were visiting South Carolina, where my husband’s family is from, I got a request to do a mural on a building in town. Unfortunately this was when my shoulder was still really messed up. I couldn’t even lift five pounds at that point. But turning that job down became a trigger; it awoke a dormant dream. Even though I was not physically able to paint that mural in South Carolina at the time I was asked, I told myself that I was going to make sure I would paint a mural someday. It became a pivotal point. I started taking more art classes to learn how to be a better painter so that when the next opportunity came up, I would be ready, willing, and able. Still to this day, I’m constantly learning.
Tell me about the mural you worked on for the town of Benson.
The artist I partnered with on that mural, Jennifer Wood, is from Raleigh. We met at Imurj. We used to do the drink-and-draw on Tuesday nights every week. When I found out that she was a muralist, I knew I wanted to connect with her. She knew that I wanted to do murals, and asked if I wanted to collaborate with her. We both created art concepts, but she was the more experienced muralist, and as such, was the primary artist on the project. It was the first time I collaborated with another artist so I kept an open mind and worked with her in the ways she directed.
It was a learning experience, both in theory and in practice, to work with someone who has different ideas about doing things. But being at that wall, in front of the community and the building, made me feel like I was part of the town. The oldest mule barn in town was only a block away from where the mural was, and the owner of the barn stopped by to talk. I think it was his grandfather’s place and was passed down to him. When he stopped by, he said, “You should really put the oldest mule barn in your mural.” Unfortunately I wasn’t in control of the design; it was chosen by a committee and it had already been agreed upon. However, through conversations with the committee, it turned out that they were okay with us making a few changes from the original design we submitted. I remember going over to talk to the barn owner and taking some pictures of the barn. He was so excited. He brought me in, and he told me about all the history. I can’t describe that feeling in words. There’s this outpouring of love and connection that I get with people sometimes. That’s what I love about murals; no matter where I go, I get that from everybody who passes by. It just feels like my heart is overflowing.
I’d love to hear about your work with body painting.
At Imurj, I met an artist named Molly, who was into body painting and face painting, as well as other art mediums and murals. Back in my corporate life, when I worked at a hospital, I used to paint kids’ faces at holiday parties. When I saw that Molly was offering classes in face painting, I got excited. I learned more about face painting and about Halloween makeup. I started doing Halloween makeup for people in my community in Raleigh, where I was living at the time. Then I took full body painting lessons and painted a model for the SPARKcon CircusSPARK Fantasy Showcase in downtown Raleigh.
I would imagine body painting has some interesting challenges.
Oh, yes. I have high respect for tattoo artists because skin is a difficult canvas — the challenges of the contours of the body, the creases, sweat, and sensitive body parts. I’ve learned some things along the way, and many times I learned the hard way, like how painting over a body suit can sometimes suck up all the paint. So you learn things as you go, but I absolutely loved it. Thanks to Molly, I also started learning more about costume design, which was often needed to accompany body painting for events.
How would you characterize your style?
It’s kind of a mashup of pop art and modern contemporary. It’s usually very bright. There are a lot of imaginary characters. I like to give human characteristics to animals or just paint them in a cartoon-y flat graphic way. I think the computer animation courses I took in college and the years I spent as a graphic designer shaped my style.
I would imagine it’s hard to go freestyle after you’ve been a graphic designer.
That’s something that I’m fighting within myself lately. I would like to draw better from my mind because when I start off on the computer, I start off as if I’m doing a graphic design project. I’m trying to train myself to just sketch from what’s in my head. I got into such a flow of doing things by graphic design first. It’s where I go instinctually. Maybe someday I’ll evolve, but for now that is my process.
It seems like you’ve made so many turns in your art career so far. What do you think is next for you?
I think everything that I’m doing and have done — photography, graphic design, web design, and painting — is shaping me for what I’m going to do.
I’m seriously considering becoming a YouTube artist at some point. I’m working my way up to it, anyway. Right now, for example, I’m painting a mural in my garage as a portfolio piece. That kind of project would be perfect for YouTube since nobody really sees it otherwise. For now, I take and post simple time-lapse videos, but someday I’d like to do robust videos in real time where I narrate as I work. I like to share my art with people.
I know I want to get out there and put murals in public spaces. I’d also like to collaborate more with other artists.
Someday I would like to have a studio here where students can come in. I want to be able to become a mentor and give back to the next generation because I get so much joy out of creating, and I’d like to give that joy to others. I’d really like to have a place to bring in students from economically vulnerable communities where they can come in for free for a week of “art summer school” and connect with other art students.
I would also love to work with high school students on murals because I want to foster a belief in them that they can live their artistic dreams. I want to do what that woman from the local artists’ guild did for me back in high school, except I want to make sure that I follow up with them because I don’t want fear to stop them from achieving their goals.
I recently went back to Massachusetts to visit family I hadn’t seen in two years. When I was there, I took pictures of the building that I wanted to paint the mural on back in high school. I currently have two goals: to get my portfolio and website updated, and to become an established muralist here in North Carolina. Then I’d like to go back and paint that mural in my hometown, with help from local high school students. After that? I would love to paint the world.
Photos of ~buffy and her work by Selbe Bartlett.
You can see more of ~buffy’s art work displayed in the Pittsboro Welcome Center in downtown Pittsboro as part of the 2021 Chatham Experience Featuring JumpstART artists on Sunday, November 7.