The Skate Artist
Kayla Buium’s distinctive, colourful street art gained extra traction when she discovered roller skating; we discover how her two passions collide
By Amy Sedghi
Illustration by Kayla Buium
It was a purchase in the first week of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown that transformed Kayla Buium’s waking hours: a pair of $99 sea foam green Candy Girl roller skates with white laces to be exact. “I spent around four to five hours every single day in my basement trying to roller skate,” she reminisces. When she was able to, the 25-year-old illustrator would meet up with a neighbour who skateboarded and they’d go to their local park to practise. “I didn’t think anyone else in Toronto roller skated. I thought they were all in LA,” she says with a grin.
Now though, she’s fully aware of the rich history and popularity of the sport, not to mention the benefits it has brought her. “I feel powerful,” she explains. “It makes me feel really confident in myself – larger than life. I have a lot of anxiety but when I’m on my roller skates, I’m not anxious.” Simply put, she says: “as soon as I put on my roller skates, I become a different person.”
Originally from Toronto, Canada and now living in Montreal, Kayla has an impressive portfolio of art work. Known as Milkbox (a moniker she thought would be funny due to her lactose intolerance), the street artist gained recognition early on for her talents whilst studying at OCAD University in Toronto. Although she only graduated from art school in May last year, a roster of big name clients, such as Tim Hortons, Uber Eats and Hilton Hotels & Resorts were already under her belt. “I think I definitely had a bit of an ego because of that,” she says candidly. In an unexpected way, failing at – and then ultimately nailing – tricks in the skate park, has also progressed and grown her attitude to her artwork.
“I feel for a long time I was striving for perfection and I was afraid to make mistakes with art. It stopped me from making a lot of artwork because I was afraid of producing something bad. But when I’m roller skating, sometimes it takes me three months to learn a new trick. I keep on falling and getting back up, [so] I actually see that progress over time.” It’s a discipline she’s started taking into her art, she says, which has resulted in her experimenting, taking risks, pushing out more work and taking the time to learn from other artists.
Primary influences in her designs are her mental health, personal experiences and an interest in interpersonal relationships. “I have ADHD and I’ve been learning a lot about it recently. I’m so fascinated by people’s interpersonal relationships because I’m neurodivergent and I don’t understand why they’re like that. I’m trying to draw artwork to make sense [of it] for me.” Romantic relationships are also reflected in her pieces. “If there’s a break up, there’s going to be a break up piece,” she says laughing, before adding: “But now I’m in a healthy relationship so I make some healthy relationship art.”
It’s not just the mentality and discipline of the sport though that has had a lasting impact on her work. Kayla is a fan of incorporating her roller skates into painting murals when possible. “A year ago, I assisted an artist called Birdo on a big ground mural and I could wear my roller skates the whole time. It was so fun… I felt so iconic,” she smiles, describing how she’d whizz across the car park to grab buckets of paint. Blending her passion for roller skating and painting murals is something she hopes to do more of in the future.
Assisting internationally acclaimed street artists, such as Okuda San Miguel, Alfalfa and Ola Volo, has led to her developing her skills as a mural artist. In her own work, she likes to add hidden messages referencing one of her favourites: a beautiful and vibrant painting of a man, framed within a gold mirror adorned with strawberries and flowers, which was inspired by a close friend. “He’s beautiful but so insecure. I just wanted him to see the way I see him when he looks in the mirror.” It’s also an image advocating self-love, she explains.
Falling in love with roller skating seems like a natural progression for Kayla. She’d long loved the culture of skateboarding and longboarding, had a background in gymnastics and was a fan of the fashion element of roller skating. “It was like all these different parts of me came together when I found roller skating,” she acknowledges. “Skateboarding never came as naturally to me, so now I feel like I can go to the skate park and participate. That feels really cool.” She also finds the community to be open and welcoming. There have been some memorable interactions outside of the skate park too when commuting to the grocery shop or whilst en route to catching up with friends on her roller skates.
“There’s always middle-aged ladies stopping me to say their piece about how they used to roller skate and I see little kids tugging on their parent’s arms and pointing at me. That makes me feel so good.” “I feel like… whatever it feels like for a runway model,” she says with a big laugh. “I’m in the middle of the street, wearing my roller skates, doing little tricks, jumping on and off of the kerb and people are looking at me. I’m blasting my headphones. I definitely feel like I’m in a film. It just feels super empowering.”
One look at her dedicated roller skating Insta account: @addictedtoskates, and there’s definitely evidence of an aesthetic that wouldn’t look out of place in a movie. Then there are the roller skating parties that sound like they’re straight out of a ’90s film. “It was super DIY. We messaged on a group chat and then just showed up with some speakers and lights from the dollar store.” Sparklers, glowsticks, retro shorts and crop tops, along with a big dose of fun and mischief added to the vibe.
After the fun of the first party, Kayla and her friend Hannah decided to organise roller discos for the wider community. “We found a local ice rink and brought in a DJ and speakers. I think 80 or 100 people showed up,” she explains. Some of those who attended had been roller skating for 30-40 years: “A lot of people say ‘oh, roller skating has just come back’ but it hasn’t. There are people that have been doing it the whole time.” She remembers one older couple in particular, who had skated together for years and danced romantically in circles on their roller skates. Meanwhile, a young girl of seven or eight years old, was practising on her new roller skates with her mum in tow. “It was really beautiful,” recalls Kayla. Combining her two passions, she’d create the artwork for posters advertising the event and design a bespoke sticker for each party.
For Kayla, there’s been a real synergy between her passions of roller skating and art, but the gains have also spread out further into her life. “I think a lot of people struggle with confidence, especially [when] having difficult conversations with clients or putting yourself out there. I get so much confidence from roller skating because I’m learning new tricks, building a new foundation and getting all this validation. I can come home feeling really great – like I’ve done something – and that feeling transfers over to other parts of my life.”