Local artist Steph Boutari is being paid to make art in public places, but that wasn’t always the case. She is the woman behind some of the best and most badass murals at our favourite downtown Kitchener spots. You may not know who she is, but if you live in Kitchener or Waterloo, chances are you’ve seen her bright, colourful, super geometric mural in Goudie’s Lane.

Boutari actually started out as an architect after immigrating to Canada from Bahrain, off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, to complete her undergrad and master’s degrees at the University of Waterloo before taking on full-time work in her field in Toronto.

Five years into working on major architectural projects in her regular 9-5 Toronto architecture firm job, she stumbled upon her love of painting murals.

“I started painting a lot of paintings — so I started to do research on street art, and just the idea was kind of a new topic for me. I didn’t really know anything about it,” Boutari said.

Boutari discovered an empty wall near her campus and reached out to the owner who gave her carte blanche to use the space with full creative freedom. He even agreed to cover all her material costs.

“I saw this wall and I really wanted to paint it. I had no experience, but I wanted to use spray paint — which I’d never used — and do something abstract. I had never done anything like this before and it was scary but I actually like dealing with the fear. It helped make other projects less scary,” Boutari said.

Her first project gave her a taste for creating art in public spaces. Gradually, she started creating more and more murals for private commercial spaces like Abe Erb and Settlement & Co. in Kitchener. It wasn’t until years later, in 2017, that she decided to launch her own art and design studio and completely dive into her own independent work.

“Being an artist is something I’ve always wanted to do, even as a child actually. But I had this idea in my head that being an artist wasn’t a viable career and I wouldn’t make any money,” Boutari said.

From large-scale murals, paintings, and illustrations, to designing commercial interiors, 3D art objects, and furniture, her creative business is thriving. Most recently she created a mural for Shutterstock’s office in Toronto.

Although Boutari has done projects for private commercial spaces, she’s most passionate about public art.

“I feel like people get to see it or stumble upon it without necessarily expecting it. And it’s truly the most accessible type of art. You don’t have to spend any money to see it, and that’s my passion.”

Public work has given her the most exposure as an artist, she says, and helped her get more jobs. Her process is to first meet with the client and go over ideas and sketches for what they want it to look like, but she’s mostly been given a lot of creative freedom.

“I do appreciate that, you know, the clients I’ve had so far have taken that risk with me. And also when you’re paying an artist, you don’t necessarily know whether you’re going to like what they come up with.”

Boutari’s inspiration comes from interesting colour combinations and geometric patterns. She describes her art as abstract geometric, with the goal of creating an optical illusion for the viewer.

“Looking at patterns, or the kind of rhythm of buildings or illustrations and graffiti and that sort of fantasy whimsical style and abstract geometric shapes, it’s just a huge inspiration for me. Colour affects me physically. It’s one of those things I need,” Boutari said. “I think colour affects your mood and emotions so directly.”

When Boutari isn’t creating murals, she experiments with her art — exploring abstracts and the relationship of colours to each other — with the hope of selling in galleries one day.