She was born in Newcastle, England, then trained as a nurse in London, and worked in Melbourne, Australia, for a large part of her life.
But Melanie Bayoud, an artist and designer who now lives in Malaysia, could probably tell you where to find the tastiest cendol and ondeh-ondeh, or the best foot massage in town, as well as any local.
Bayoud, who resides in Kuala Lumpur with her Lebanese husband of 20 years, operates her company Embee Designs from what she calls her “very tiny home studio”. But how did a nurse become an artist? “Doodling!” she replied without hesitation.
“I’ve always loved art ever since I could hold a pencil. I used to draw on napkins, books, anything really … I even drew on my mother’s curtains when I was a child, and she wasn’t too pleased,” said the “56-year-old who acts 16”, with a laugh.
A passion for creating things
“I studied nursing in the 1980s as it was considered a decent job, because I was told art school wouldn’t support me as a career. But whilst I loved nursing, my passion has always been in creating things,” Bayoud explained.
Bayoud – who specialised in psychiatry and postnatal depression –has already proved her critics wrong. Not only are her pieces available in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Melaka, she said, “My artwork has been purchased by international tourists and shipped all over the world.”
She even has elephant series hanging in the lobby of the Vivanta by Taj Hotel in Bentota, Sri Lanka.
“They are one of my favourites,” she enthused. “I also love a wings mural that I recently painted on the roof deck of the Nest House, a boutique hotel in Melaka.”
Bayoud, who understands Malay and Arabic, also conducts art workshops. She said, “Back in the 1980s, I taught my patients to draw doodles in a zen-like manner, and it helped them feel less anxious and stressed. It fascinated me that the simple act of drawing some lines and circles had such a dramatic effect on a person’s feelings.”
Thinking with ink
Since moving to Malaysia, Bayoud has merged her two passions: drawing and teaching people how to reduce stress in their lives. “That’s when I began my ‘Thinking With Ink’ workshops,” she explained.
When asked about her art therapy classes, Bayoud said, “My expressive canvas workshop is an amazing form of stress release.” She held a successful art retreat in France in 2017, and hopes to run the first expressive canvas workshop in Malaysia this year.
“I’m currently sourcing for a cool warehouse-like place to conduct it. It gets messy as you need to use your whole body to express your emotions on a huge canvas. As far as I’m aware, there have been no such workshops conducted in Malaysia yet,” she said.
“I studied art therapy under an art therapist in Australia, and my background in psychiatry lends well to this form of art expression,” she added. Besides helping to relieve stress, Bayoud said art can also help expel negative emotions and cultivate healthy ones.
“The brain is a complex organ,” she said. “Just look at the many different reactions of human beings during crisis situations. I was always fascinated why people reacted so differently to such situations – some people take it in their stride while others fall to pieces.”
This made her study stress and anxiety further during her psychiatric nursing career.
Giving your brain a breather
“When you’re engaged in making art or creating something with your hands, you’re focused and creating a distraction from your life. You can become so engrossed that you’re oblivious to what’s happening, even if it’s only for 15 minutes … and your brain gets a breather. You ‘flow’ into and enter a meditative state, which some people call going into the ‘alpha brain wave’ mode,” she explained.
Bayoud covers this in her workshops. “The recent craze of adult colouring books has been such a success because of this easily transportable calming activity. When I draw for hours, I forget about time – and eight hours could pass by without my noticing – and I ‘float’ out of my studio in a very chill mood after that.”
“In my quiet hours, I’ve always painted and doodled. It’s a passion that I can’t live without, and it’s my meditation, and my go-to thing to do when I get stressed,” she added.
Most of Bayoud’s artworks are in black and white. She said, “It’s funny how I just love black and white, I think it’s the stark contrast which gives such crispness. I’m always excited to put the first mark on a huge piece of good quality paper.”
When asked about colours, Bayoud said she loved all colours but orange the most. “As I get older, my preference has been for greens and teals. My wardrobe is a good indicator of my preferences. Natural tones like grey, brown, beige and black are my staple clothing colours.”
Where does she get her inspiration from?
Collector of patterns
“I’m an avid collector of patterns. I’m fortunate that I’ve travelled a lot with my husband, and travel has been a huge inspiration for the patterns that I use. I still have in my possession, one of my old school books, covered in patterns and doodles from the 1970s, some of the patterns I still use to this day,” she said.
“I’ve also been known to photograph people’s clothing, while walking through airports … and my husband is used to me doing this,” she laughed. “I love the patterns that a tree’s shadow makes on a building, and I can sit for hours watching it.”
The bubbly artist has lived in many countries besides England and Australia, but she says that she loves Malaysia, the food, the people, and the weather. “I know many locals are surprised when I say this, but honestly, it’s a beautiful country, and I’m proud to be able to live and be a guest here,” she enthused.
Bayoud goes on to say that she loves Malaysian food, especially beef rendang, but has since given up meat for health reasons. “It’s a nice memory … now, I’m fond of roti canai, banana leaf rice, and ondeh-ondeh,” she said.