Studio Visit

Leah Bartholomew

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
11th of May 2012
Beneath The Sun 'Girl in Flowers' cushion
Beneath The Sun 'shapes' cushions and 'The Sun Shines On' tea towel
Pillowcases by Beneath The Sun.  Cannot decide my favourite!  Maybe the 'My Only Song' ones!?  Tough call!

Leah Bartholomew is a quiet achiever.  After five years working in Melbourne as Beci Orpin's right hand woman, last year Leah decided it was time to move back to her childhood home - the tiny town of Bilambil.. half an hour north of Byron Bay in Northern NSW.  She craved the warmer weather, and the idea of getting back to nature.  It was also an opportunity to stop, reflect on her achievements so far and lessons learnt working with Beci (now one of Leah's closest pals), and take time out to plan the launch of her very own label.  Before long, Beneath The Sun was born!

There's something so totally cheerful and uplifting about Leah's work - her fabulous range of soft furnishings, homewares, stationery and art prints really do seem to capture some of that Queensland sunshine!  They just make you smile.  I love the combo of soft, watercoloury graphics with much bolder, hard-edged shapes, and Leah's playfulness with type.  It all points to such a free, intuitive design process... and somehow the work does seem to convey Leah's joy at being able to create her own work, under her own label for the very first time!

In addition to her range of sweet homewares, stationery and prints, Leah continues to work as a graphic designer, consulting to various likeminded brands - I love the simple but fabulous instore display she created last year for Arabella Ramsey (pictured below).

In a random twist, Leah is also an excellent potter!  Is there anything this lady can't do!?  Check out her blog for some pics of recent ceramic creations - I want one!

Massive thanks to dear Leah for turning this interview around at a difficult time.  She had a somewhat spontaneous pop-up last week in Melbourne, but annoyingly I couldn't cover it because we were on the whole Newcastle vibe last week. ANYWAY, you can buy beautiful Beneath the Sun wares online, and Leah's on the hunt for stockists in Melbourne and Sydney - retailers, pounce now!

Leah Bartholomew of Beneath The Sun - photo by Lucy Feagins

Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to illustration and design originally, and then on to launching your own label?

It started with a degree in Fine Arts from Brisbane College of Arts and Southern Cross Uni Lismore. Obsessed with painting and screen printing, I then moved to Melbourne to get amongst the incredible arts and design scene happening there. Upon arriving in Melbourne I discovered the work of PAM, Beci Orpin and Josh Petherick, and knew instantly that I wanted to pursue something along the lines of what they were doing.

I was a student for years and I loved it. First the degree, then diplomas in Screen Printing and Graphic Arts at RMIT. While still studying, my friend Amanda Maxwell was working with PAM and told me that Beci was looking for a right-hand person. I sent my folio to her thinking I would just be more than happy for her just to see it. Surprisingly she called me straight away and said we needed to meet. The day I was told I had the job is clearly etched in my mind as a VERY happy one. After five amazing years with Beci in the studio, I then made the full circle route back to my childhood home of Tweed Heads to start my homewards label Beneath The Sun, and pursue my art and design work.

Illustration created with Beci Orpin for Insight, when Leah worked for Beci

For many years you worked with Beci Orpin before going out on your own – how have you found the transition from working for someone to launching your own range and working for yourself?

I was able to learn so much from Beci about the art of self discipline and using your time wisely, that when it finally came time to set up my own studio the transition was made relatively easy. There are things I definitely miss about Beci's studio. We bounced off each other so well, and always had new things to show and ways to inspire one another. I always had crazy stories for her being a gateway to life without children. I also miss the clients we worked for, and getting to do textiles for people like Built By Wendy, Gorman, Jethro and Jackson, and loads of other fun design projects.

I really wanted to return to my home town in Northern NSW and get back to nature and warm weather. It all felt very right once I got back, I even managed to find the perfect house in the hills to set up my business. Funnily though, my first freelance project took me on a flight back to Melbourne for a job doing Arabella Ramsay's shop window. It was upon my return to NSW after this that I started writing my business plan for Beneath The Sun, and began designing and making art nonstop. It's all gone very fast in the last year and although I had lots of experience beforehand, it's been a very steep learning curve while simultaneously being a total joy.

Arabella Ramsey window display 2011
Leah installing Arabella Ramsey window display 2011

What have been some favourite recent projects you’ve been working on?

Beneath The Sun has been pretty full-time for me lately. In the last two weeks we have absolutely loved doing The Finders Keepers market in Melbourne and the pop-up shop at Harvest Textiles. Also coming up is Paper Runway magazine's art show The Paper Trail in Byron Bay, which I have artworks in, that is going to be fun!

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I wake up really early up here compared to the cold mornings in Melbourne (Beci would be shocked!). Tim and I will then go for a beach walk/swim, pop into mum and dad's for a tea, before heading back home to write the daily to-do list on the deck. It's a pretty nice morning ritual really. I'll always begin with a read of TDF, check emails, 'research' blogs, pack orders, and run around to screen printers, fabric wholesalers and makers. If I'm extremely lucky I'll get to make art and designs all day long.

Textile designs by Leah Bartholomew and Beci Orpin
Textile designs by Leah Bartholomew and Beci Orpin

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media (i.e. specific websites, magazines, blogs or books) you turn to when in need of a bolt of creative inspiration for a new brief or new project? 1. I have obsessed over Graphis books for years, specifically editions from the late sixties and seventies and was lucky enough to find a pile of them in Slovenia a few years ago. These are my go to resource when I need to be reminded of how great design is done. 2. My time gets chewed up easily with my favourite blogs. I read them nearly every night, which is probably why it takes me so long to update my own! A few favourites include Scout Holiday, Marcus Walters, Ensuite, Peaches + Keen, Hélène Georget, Emily Hadden, Color Collective and blog champions Fine Little Day and Hello Sandwich.

3. The area I live in. Northern NSW is so lush and light, full of pastel coloured skies, greenery and the best beaches around. 4. My collection of Eastern European children's storybooks. I study the techniques used in the drawings. I carted these books around Europe to bring home and they are the first thing I would grab in a fire. 5. Lot's of magazines (old and new), collected paper, postcards, lolly/food wrappers , basically anything that catches my eye to go into my inspiration box.
Illustration by Leah Bartholomew

Which other local designers or creative people do you admire?

My good friend Jae Copp (incredibly skilled artist), Archer and Archer (garage sale pros), Daydream Lily, Paper Runway magazine, Art Park, Comb Art Space, The Village Market girls and cute local makers The Sentimentalist.

What is the best thing about your job?

Living the dream! Working side-by-side with Tim and our cat Skeds in a timber loft studio that looks onto a view of green hills and the sea.

Pillowcases by Beneath The Sun

What would be your dream creative project?

For a few years now I have been attracted to the idea of working with a design studio based in California, something just keeps drawing me to the relaxed, sunny, surfing vibe, and there are a bunch of designers/artists doing great work there. Someone like Steven Harrington would be a treat to work with!

What are you looking forward to?

Well I just sadly lost an old friend, which throws your perspective on life into another direction, so at the moment I'm appreciating sitting in the sun and absorbing my surroundings.

Illustrations by Leah Bartholomew
Illustration by Leah Bartholomew

Northern NSW Questions

What/where was the last great meal you ate in your local area?

Larb Gai from Thailand Restaurant in West Tweed. Certainly nothing fancy about this place, just great Thai food, and it's quickly becoming a local favourite.

Which are you favourite local shops/markets or fossicking spots for beautiful homewares and design?

My number one place to find incredible treasures is the Chinderah Bay Antiques and Museum, a shop that specialises in seafaring antiques. I was completely amazed when I discovered this place, it is choc full of maritime and nautical wares and pieces that are used in films and sets. My favourite village for shopping is probably Bangalow, just out of Byron Bay. There is a rug shop there called Milton Cater that stocks the best collection I have seen…anywhere! The rugs must be seen in person, it's overwhelming how many great ones are available. There are cute shops all the way from Byron Bay to Brunswick Heads, Kingscliff including Raggedy Anne and the Gold Coast is home to another favourite, the very cute Little Love and Happiness in Burleigh Heads.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Cooking up some fresh eggs from the shed up the road, heading to the beach for a swim or surf then fossicking about at local garage sales. This area is a goldmine for retro treasures and antiques, lots of oldies live in Tweed. If it's not that, then you will find me waking up at a friend's property from the night before, everyone has to have a spare bed or great lounge around here, it's too far between places!

Northern NSW’s best kept secret?

Fingal Beach rocks, it's one of only two places in the world with naturally occurring hexagonal shaped rock columns. This place is a must see! All the waterholes and rock pools in the hinterland, and of course, the beautifully restored art deco Regent Cinema in Murwillumbah.

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