Video: MCW x Mulga the Artist

MCW x Mulga the Artist

An emerging Sydney based artist; freelance illustrator, muralist and poet who designs fun, colourful imagery of tropical bearded men, animal characters with strange personalities ranging from lions smoking tobacco pipes, diamond sunglass wearing tigers to purple headed gorillas.

His unique style of intricate line work and bright colours has seen Joel create a successful brand (Mulga the Artist) that consists of murals in and around Sydney, apparel range, prints/originals and many other products.

We have the opportunity to chat with Joel on his creative beginnings, his technique and inspiration that strives him to carve out a successful career within the Australian creative industry.

Full transcript below:

“Whether it’s making music or making art, I like doing something where you start out from nothing; like when you start to write a song there’s literally nothing. It’s just a black hole. Then you make a song and you record it. Play it live and you have made something out of nothing and I like that. It’s kind of no rules you can do whatever you want.

There’s no one saying you can’t do that, you can’t do this. It’s the same as my art, there is a blank bit of paper and unlimited possibilities really, you can do whatever you want. It’s really up to you to decide how you’re going to do it. However you want to express yourself; however weird you want to get it or whatever you want to do you can kind of do it. I like having no limitations No glass ceiling. Just like the freedom.”

Mulga the Artist

When did the discover your artistic side?

I’ve always wanted to do a job that I loved, make an income doing something kind of cool, something I care about. I didn’t actually think it was possible for me to do a job that I loved. I always liked art; all through school. I was always doodling in my textbooks. 

Did you go on and pursue your creativity after school?

After school I thought about going and studying art. Maybe graphic design and then I didn’t do that cause I didn’t think it would be a good career choice. It’s really like money has nothing to do with art really. I didn’t have parents telling me I should go to uni. It was always myself.

My dad was a carpet layer and I used to go work with him in the school holidays. It was the hardest work ever. I was like ‘stuff that’, I’m not going to use my body for work, it’s too hard. I rather use my brain. So I went to uni and I studied economics instead. After that I ended up falling into a financial planning job and kind of got stuck there for 10 years. 

So your path into art wasn’t instant. When did you realise you were going to take the leap and pursue it?

When I was working in my finance job, I guess I felt like I was wasting my potential and chained to the desk. You had to be there from 9-5; even if you finished all your work and you still had to be there and pretend you were working. It didn’t make sense really. It felt like Groundhog Day every day. 5 o’clock came around, I used to run out the door pretty much. Didn’t really want to be there. So pretty much just felt like I was wasting my life. I knew if I didn’t do something I would look back in 10 years and still be doing the same thing.

Throughout that time I was always drawing in notebooks, drawing in post it notes on my desk, when I should have been working. Trying to not let the boss see me. During this time I started a blog and got a little bit of attention from that. In early in 2012 had an art show down in Cronulla. 

That’s when I first made t shirts and sold artworks. That was kinda the start of it. I think it was a easier way to make money off your art selling t-shirts. People understand t-shirts. People buy t-shirts all the time and there’s a set price you could make. There is some profit margin in there. You have to think about money; it’s a pretty dirty word especially when you talk about art. Making money is over here and making art is over here.

The key of doing it for an income; for a living, is to merge the two. So I did that by making t-shirts initially and I do other products and other things lead from that. You actually gain more exposure and you get more opportunities. Probably for about two years I had two jobs. I got my day job during the week and every night I would be drawing and then on a Sunday I go to Bondi markets and sell t shirts and art prints. 

Towards the end of the two years I kind of got so busy doing commissions. I dropped down to four days of work and then I quit. I figured I could make an income selling t-shirts. 

Probably use the other side of my brain; I think more strategic and analytical. So that’s why a lot of my original designs are like a bearded head. It’s just the head; so it fits perfect for a t-shirt pretty much. Once I went full time it took me a few years to get used to it. I’ve been full time now for about two and a half years. The first year I had to pinch myself. It’s pretty cool.

How did your unique style evolve?

A lot of my artworks have bearded dudes and animals. I kinda focus on bearded dudes and animals. Sometimes I like to draw fruit and skulls but usually its character based. I remember when I first started drawing beards one of my first beards was a sailor captain guy. When I drew that it had a raindrop pattern in his beard and that was pretty cool and I kind did a few more of those and then I moved on to something else. I narrowed it down and focussed more and followed that style a bit. 

So after I decided what kind of picture I want to draw; say I want to draw a lion. I find some reference images of a lion. I’ll sketch it out on paper. Then after that, I will add the colour and then all the black lines and details. 

And you incorporate poems into your works, which we haven’t seen before. How did this come about? 

Even before I was doing art. I used to write poems say like birthday cards; I would write a weird poem or on a wedding card, just to make it different.

“Hope you had a great birthday, love mum.” That’s kind of where it came from. 

Now when I do my poems, I draw the picture and do the artwork. Then I’ll sit down and write the poem. Sometimes it might be about the person who commissioned me to draw the painting or I’ll look at the picture and be inspired by that. When I draw animals I like to give them a human vibe. They might have a hat or a tie, sunglasses or a cape; I like to give them a character. When I write the story it’s kinda like they are a person really, not an animal. It’s some kind of person with a weird story. 

What advice would you give to aspiring, upcoming creatives?

When I started taking my art more seriously and did a bit of research, I looked at a lot of artists and stuff that really stood out to me. I kind of incorporated that into my art. I think if you want to get into the art side industry or really any kind of creative industry I think one of the most important things I would say would be to find your style. So I guess you can find your style by experimenting and doing lots of different things; making loads of art. 

What do you want your audience to take away from your works?

When people see my work I guess I want them to smile and brighten their day. I do lots of bright colours and my artworks are all a bit humorous. I had a fan recently who’s friends e-mailed me. She was diagnosed with cancer so they asked me to paint a cat; which was pretty cool. It was pretty cool to do something like that for someone. I just want to bring some colour into the world and have fun doing it. I guess I don’t like growing up, I like being a kid.

Finally, what is your creative way?

If I didn’t think about making money from my art I would still be working at a job I didn’t like. I just love the freedom of being my own boss and I guess the whole time I’m trying to make a living from my art and provide for my family. So that’s kind of my main inspiration. It’s worked really well. Sold lots of bearded head t-shirts. 


View more of Mulga’s works at

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