'Everything has a spirit'
The spooky-cool creations of local artist Stephanie Bayles
“I’m really inspired by nature. I love nature. Have you ever heard of earthships? There are these houses that they build out of recyclable materials, but it’s kind of like a living house. There’s gardens inside and they recycle their own water and everything. So I was really interested in going back into nature and being sustained off just your house and the environment within. “I’m obsessed with houses … Finding a purpose or a place to belong.”
The artists in Stephanie Bayles’ family go back generations.
In fact, she’s currently looking for the right spot to hang the fine, intricate illustrations from her great grandmother at her new garage apartment.
Bayles is an artist like her great grandmother and her two grandfathers. “Ever since I was little, I was always drawing,” she says. “My family’s really artistic, so it was in my blood, you know?”
But even with the right genes, she’s overcome her fair share of self-doubt. “I kind of stopped for a little bit because I didn’t feel like an artist,” she says. “I was really discouraged. But I had ... a teacher [in high school] who was just kind of—he didn’t make me feel bad about what I was doing. He just really encouraged me. And then I was like, ‘OK, maybe I can do this.’”
She participated in a tech program in high school that gave her foundations for graphic design and rounded out her education with an art degree from Tulsa Community College. Now she shares her work with more than 47,000 followers on Instagram.
Inked images depict conjurings from her head—detailed houses she’s dreamt up, little ghoulish creatures that creep into peripheral view when you’re falling asleep. The spooky illustrations float between eerie and sweet, the perfect combination for Halloween.
“I’ve always just been a fan of really creepy things,” Bayles says. “Halloween is my favorite season. Ever since I was little, I was just drawn to kind of dark things. I don’t know why.” That’s why Bayles was the ideal choice to illustrate the cover of this issue of The Tulsa Voice.
For her, drawing is intuitive. It’s less about technique and more about instinct. “I’ll have an idea or emotion and I’ll start sketching ... adding to it whatever I feel like it needs at the time,” Bayles says. “I’m not really thinking too much about the mechanics. I’m just thinking of emotions and feelings. And then it just comes out that way.”
Just in time for Inktober, Bayles broke down some of her major themes and inspirations for Tulsa Voice readers. Find out what makes this one-of-a-kind local artist tick, and follow her work at @guild_of_calamity.
* * *
“Both my grandfathers were photographers. So I still have some of their cameras. And I used to shoot with them when I was in college.”
Just last week Bayles’ cousin texted her a picture of a fresh tattoo of this piece. Sometimes it still surprises her that people like her work enough to get it permanently inked on their bodies. She doesn’t mind if you use her artwork for a tattoo as long as you credit her if you post a picture on social media.
“I’m not really in for the money. If someone likes my work, that’s awesome. You want to get it on your skin? That’s cool.”
“That’s how I feel about myself,” Bayles says. “People ... a lot of times misinterpret me. And I’m just like, I’m not mean, I’m just misunderstood [laughs].”
These creatures are ghoulified versions of everyday objects. “I believe that everything has a spirit or an emotion behind it,” she says. “Like a house: It’s not just walls. It actually has memories and things attached to it. So I often think, what if that spirit manifested, what would it look like?”
Jack and Lola
Bayles has been drawing this dynamic duo since she was in high school. “I made a whole story about them,” she says. “It’s Jack and Lola, and they’re haunting this house. They’re just always up to no good.” She hopes to do something else with these characters in the future, like possibly featuring them in a graphic novel.
Curiology Ltd., a jeweler from the UK, contacted Bayles for a collaboration project. “[They] wanted to do limited-edition Halloween jewelry using some of my designs, so they made them and send them to me.” The pendants are for sale online at curiology.uk.
Last summer, Bayles experienced a mental health crisis. “Previous to that, I was telling people how down I was and just like, not in a good place. And all I kept hearing was just, ‘Oh, no, you’re just an alcoholic’ or ‘Just be happy.’ When I was in the hospital, the only thing I had to do really was sketch,” Bayles says.
“I’ve been around so many people in my past that [said] don’t talk about that. You have to put on this face and be happy. And I hit a wall or some type or realization a few years ago like, no, I’m not going to pretend to be this happy person. I’m just going to be me. I’m going to put it all out there.”