There’s something special about spending time in place where the locals love where they live. You feel it in New York, you feel it in you feel it in Paris, and you feel it in the coastal paradise of Byron Bay. Apart from the region’s exceptional beauty and beachside lifestyle, many move to the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales to be with their kinfolk. As a people, they choose good health and happiness, always reverent of the natural beauty that surrounds them. It’s no surprise then, that many of these qualities have found their way into the heart of the Bubbles at the Head business (now known as Ink Object, operating out of Creative Base, Byron Bay) and each of the designs produced by the Bubbles creator, Carla Dawes.
For the past three years, Carla has created a range of cushions that mirror the area’s character – bold geometrics, printed by hand on organic cloth, scream both softness and strength. Choosing to print on cushion sized panels, rather than yardage, means Carla can print solo. Without the need for a 10 metre printing table, the small batches she prints are easily made to order in her small but spacious studio in the Byron Bay Arts and Industrial Estate. Once dry, Carla sews each panel from her home.
Each step of this process is simple and fuss free, an equilibrium most businesses fail to ever achieve. As she talks, it becomes clear that her choices are backed by over two decades as the owner of busy cafes, and loving single Mum to two surfing boys. And each step pays. Efficiency in her process has given Carla room to live and breathe creatively, allowing her time to dream and enjoy the space she has created. “This is my happy place,” she said with a satisfied grin, “I just love walking in here – I am productive as soon as I walk in the door.”
Setting up the space was “just a natural progression”, one that drew a line between her busy time in hospitality and a Fine Arts degree completed at Southern Cross University in Lismore. “I’ve had a café and it is a place of business and I think that when you step into a place of business, you mean business. You are not hanging stuff on the washing line. You are not doing all the household chores; there’s no distractions. I am just coming in and printing. I teach people screen printing here, so I think it is really important to have a space. Because this is just dedicated time – to yourself and what you do and your business,” says Carla.
Just like her approach, the space is simple and uncluttered. With light streaming in, the Bubbles studio feels open. Many small and thoughtful touches hint at the personality of its creator, while still giving plenty of room for occupants to dream.
Which makes sense. For the name Bubbles at the Head is inspired by a Parisian bookshop named ‘Bulles en tete’, literally translated as the little thought bubbles at the head we see in book characters. Finding the store on a trip to her favourite city, Carla was immediately drawn to the “Paris quirkiness of the name,” entertaining the notion that her own 'head bubbles' would be “be filled up with endless daydreams about creativity, pattern and design.”
“A big part of the Bubbles at the Head studio is for people to tap into or connect with their idea bubble hovering over their head. Maybe it’s a daydream state, or maybe it’s visualising wonderful ideas. For me I like to think of it as a creative bubble of thought, just like the comics, that everyone can access and express. Creativity for me is the freedom of expression and nurturing, connecting our heart and soul through our hands to make something unique and purposeful so we can fill our lives with beautiful handmade objects (the best kind!) This makes a happy home filled with love,” says Carla.
As well as handmade objects, Carla’s home is sure to be filled with the bounty of her travels. Her one true love, she prioritises an overseas adventure each year for her and her boys, explaining that “travel is my total inspiration; my one thing that I really make sure I do – I save for it all year.”
Starting with small trips to New Zealand when her boys were little, the loop widened as they grew, taking in places like Kyoto, Baritz, most recently Hawaii and, of course, Paris. "Travel allows to me to put my creativity, home life and family into perspective. The anticipation that a new adventure awaits is always something to look forward to. The actual act of travel intrigues me – airports, culture, people, food, art and new and exciting places to explore. Two to four weeks away each year, just letting go of the weekly routine, to go and experience a journey of different culture," explained Carla.
"The coming home is just as important – happy to see my family, sleeping in my own bed, getting back to the studio, brimming with loads of inspirational fabric ideas and my love for my beautiful coastal home. Travel keeps me present and content in work and life," she added.
The approach is one she shares with her neighbours, so this lone operator is never really alone, saying, "I really do believe moving to Byron was the best move for my business, because I am just surrounded by the most incredible creatives. This whole arts and industry estate is just mind-blowing when you start knowing who your neighbour is. Everyone travels. And everyone creates and loves where they live".
Photos taken on such adventures form the basis of new drawings upon each return. Inspired by the architecture and feel of the destinations she visits, Carla works line and texture into simple shapes, slowly building or paring back with indian ink or black pen, depending on the thickness of line she is seeking. Using A4 paper each time, and a fine red calligraphy pen from Florence gifted by a friend, Carla draws and redraws until the balance, “just feels right. I’ll keep working it, bringing it back down, going over it and refining it right back, until it resonates.”
Leafing through preparatory works for a new series on the table before her, Carla showed how each artwork progressed. “These two designs are a merge of the tiles, architecture and just the feel of places on our travels. These designs over here are coming from the images I have drawn from my travel photos. And then, I think about the trends happening now, because I do believe trends play a big part in selling, and I think that people relate to what they see and what they like in magazine pages. So I kind of start merging in either a triangle or fine lines or something, and just play with the patterns until they evolve,” said Carla.
All drawing and their complete counterparts are simply filed and accessed, because they are all completed on the same size paper. Each A4 sheet is easy to scan and email to her printer, who transfers the image onto transparency film before exposing it onto a silk screen. As well as creating ease in her process now, this standardised compilation is sure to read as an absolute treasure in time to come.
Gold, blacks and deep reds are printed on organic linen and hemp, a family of colours and textures that are likely to stay. They are her colours, and they suit her local area, and together unify what will become a collection of strong monochromatic designs.
They are her work, and a complete reflection of her life and home. Where her journey has given her decisiveness and business acumen, the path now leads to a creative exploration of everything that she loves. As life becomes more complex and nature takes more of a back seat for many, it’s the sharing of this process that Carla believes people are drawn to, saying “there is a story behind handmade. We all have our lives and our stories behind things – there have been wonderful papers written about handmade and our connection to it – being centred, being connected to one another – it is just one of the things that we are coming back to because we can feel so disconnected in a churned out mass produced world... We all feel like we need to feel treasured and connected again. This is just part and parcel of it – this is our handmade mark – our individuality”.
Images by Threadbound