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After graduating with a diploma in graphic design and briefly working in that field, Buhle Ramalepa took a leap of faith to earn her way as an unknown artist. Five years on she's painting walls...

Building on her portfolio of bold, large-format surface patterns, she was commissioned to paint murals for the chic urban Black Brick Hotel in the city. A recent collaboration with the South African firm Veld Architects has seen her create mural overlays on promotional images of projects. It may seem that going it alone as an artist was an overnight success, but the 26-year-old had covered rocky terrain to arrive at this point. Diagnosed with kidney failure at eight, she was on dialysis for three years until she received a kidney transplant.

In Her Own Words 

“From being in and out of hospital for treatment as a child to today, art has been the main constant in my life. The transplant isn’t what defines me. I may not be as strong as the next person but I am an artist. I create art regardless of how I feel. Art for me isn’t a hobby or something I do when I have nothing else to do. It’s my whole, entire life. No day passes without me drawing or sketching or painting something even if it’s on a small space, and I’d like to think I have something special to show the world through the art I create.”

“I had a brother with kidney failure as well. He was on dialysis for 10 years, so his journey was a lot longer than mine. He inspired me to keep going with the art. Unfortunately, he has passed away. Even though everyone around me didn't understand, all I knew was that I have a passion and love for art and creating art. I had faith that it would work out.”

“When I started drawing again in the traditional sense with markers and pens, my love for patterns, design, and line work overpowered the graphic design career I thought I wanted. As I kept drawing and creating it took me a year to transition from graphic designer to artist. Being a full-time artist meant money didn’t come in, unlike being a graphic designer where there are jobs with the comfort of getting paid at the end of the month. I won't lie; it was hard to be drawing and painting with no one knowing me or getting any ‘likes’.”

“When the Halls Mentorship Program with South African illustrator and street artist Karabo Poppy came along I applied, not thinking I would get in because I'd gotten so used to the ‘No’s' and rejections after deciding to go full time as an artist. I was accepted and from there a lot of things changed. I was exposed to a new world of art and it changed me. I grew as a person as well as an artist.” 

“Within just a few months I did my first-ever mural on the streets of Johannesburg. I got the further opportunity to do murals for the hotel, which was an experience I can't describe. That gave me the drive to do more large-format art, so I went into painting on fabrics because canvases and art materials in general are expensive. The benefit of fabric is that I can get long metres of fabric, which allows me to create large mural-size work with my patterns.” 

“I do fabric art, canvases, murals on buildings and surface pattern design. I’m inspired by African and Indian symbols and colours. I usually use strong colours or just black and white, similar to that seen on mud cloths and Ankara fabrics as well as sarees. I have an unorthodox way of creating my patterns. For example instead of the traditional ABC  ABC that can be seen in pattern design, I flip the script and go CAB ABC or ACB CAB etc but still maintaining the consistency and flow of what can be seen as pattern design, which I’d like to think sets me apart from other artists.”

You use the phrase “One line at a time” a lot on social media. What’s that about?

“From a young age, I was very anxious and shy. As I grew older I started seeing a counselor who would tell me to breathe and take each day one day at a time. That helped me and I soon realized that when I was drawing I was at my calmest. When I felt anxious I would draw and remind myself to take it one day at a time. I changed it to 'line' so now my mantra is 'One line at a time'.” 

Current Work

“I’m trying to develop my pattern design and to experiment more using colour and different mediums, such as different types of fabrics. The goal is to start my own line of homeware and interior design products like tablecloths, placemats and bed linen. I am continually growing and finding new inspirations. I get excited when I find an image or palette on Pinterest or social media, an interior or fashion that makes me want to create a pattern in that colour scheme or inspired by that image. My current state of mind is to create for myself and draw what I want to draw and not listen to the many voices, like on social media or family or friends, and just create beautiful art for myself."


"I usually watch series or movies. I think it’s because I’m a visual person so podcasts aren’t really for me, I tend to want to see the people talking (giggles). Series help when I’m working on large-size fabric art which takes a long time. I finish the series season while also finishing the artwork. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Korean series like Under the Queens Umbrella, Alice in Borderland, and Attorney Woo."

A Proust(ish) Questionnaire 

What one superpower would you choose to possess and why?  

Teleportation, because I would love to travel the world at any time.

Which two habits would you most like to develop and why?

I have a bad habit of procrastinating, I’d like to develop the opposite of procrastinating.  

I always analyze and think too much before doing things, so I’d like to do something spontaneous or for no reason.

What three essential elements does your ideal day include?

Food. Painting. A good movie or series. 

Four people you'd love to invite to a party and why?

Kate McKinnon. She is an incredibly talented comedian and I think her humour would make a party better.

Dave Chappelle. I would like to hear his wisdom and perspective on life.

Bernie Mac. I think he was one of the funniest people alive and I think he would have been the life of the party. 

Jamie Oliver. I have a passion for cooking and would just like to hear his insights on food from around the world. 

Name five things you adore about your home and why?  

My bedroom because it’s where I find the most peace. 

The garden view from my window. I like nature so I love gazing the garden to think or draw.

The stove. I love cooking. It’s the best part of the day when I get to cook.

The dinner table. During Covid I developed a strange habit of taking a walk around the table. I couldn’t leave the house because I have a kidney transplant and had to be safer than the rest. Now I find it calming and it helps me get new ideas.  

My iPad. I do most of my work on this and spend an unhealthy amount of time on it.

What are your most marked characteristics according to your closest friend?

Reserved, creative, resilient.

What sound, scent and texture do you most love or loathe?

I loathe the sound of styrofoam - that stuff appliances are boxed with.  I like feeling the texture of different fabrics. When baking I like the feeling of dough in my hands. 

Do you think it's necessary to do things one is afraid of, or is this idea a modern, pop-psychology nonsense designed to burden us with achievement anxiety? 

I think it’s a bit like a group of mean girls forcing everyone else to jump off a cliff without parachutes just to prove they’re cool or part of the club.

And since we're on the topic, what was the last frightening thing you did?

I don’t take a lot of risks so the last scary thing I did was go on one of the biggest rollercoaster rides because my friends peer-pressured me into it. Let’s just say I’m never going back there or I’ll just carry the bags of those going on the rides.

What gift or attribute - other than your artistic talent - do you wish you naturally possessed?

I wish I was a numbers person and good at academics. I’ve always been good in the creative field but academically I slacked. 

How would having this improve your life or the way you see yourself?

I think it would help me improve my business skills in the art industry and become a better entrepreneur.

What single word of advice would your Inner Mentor give your 11-year-old self?

Don’t worry. Take it one day at a time. 

…Twenty-two year old you? 

Breathe. It’s gonna be all worth it in the end. 

…Thirty-three year old you?

You’ve come this far, keep going, you doing better than you think you are.

What's your most overused phrase or word?

No problem. 

What is your idea of earthly happiness?

Living at peace with everyone. Minding my own business. 

Do you have a personal quote that you steer by?

A Bible verse that especially helps me get through life is in Mathew 6:34

“Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself, today has enough troubles of its own.”


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