“It revolves a lot around self-love, mental health, vulnerability, and trying to always stick to the positive side of things.”
If that sounds like something you need right now–Hayley O’Mara, creator of Cheeky Palm, might fast become your favourite digital artist.
Cheeky Palm has quickly evolved into a beloved safe space of encouragement and emotional understanding on social media. But despite this, O’Mara is a picture of humility. Someone who found an avenue to creatively publish their inner thoughts on getting through each day. And in the process, organically struck a chord with a 100 thousand+ audience and counting.
With bright colours, simple characters, and beautiful poems (or what O’Mara might call odd thoughts), Cheeky Palm radiates comfort and an almost child-like familiarity. Combined, O’Mara’s art and words can be uplifting, emotionally affecting, laughter-inducing, or a simple reminder that feeling either silly or sad is okay.
Despite understanding the reach of those thoughts and the impact of their art, Cheeky Palm is still, at its core, a personal release for the Sydney-based artist.
“If I’m feeling down myself or feeling super anxious, I’ll try and make something that’s really bright, or I’ll try to write something quite positive so that it flips even my own brain around,” they tell me. “It’s definitely huge self-care for me, which could be a bit selfish–but it is very ‘my mood’ oriented.”
Cheeky Palm has only existed online for about 18 months. But O’Mara’s “doodling”, which often originates in the sketchbook they carry with them, has been part of an important self-care routine for the better part of the last decade. “If I have any kind of poems or someone says something to me that I like, I’ll always write it down or draw a little person that I see,” they say.
In fact, O’Mara’s artistic expression long ago became a unique form of personal journaling. “I do have journals, but when I go back over time, they’re 80% little scribbles and sketches anyway. So, I think that is how my brain processes things.”
For the self-professed overthinker, regularly sitting down to spend time with themselves, and slowing down to release thoughts onto paper has become vital. “If I don’t draw in a two- or three-day period, I can get quite anxious.”
Outside the ‘studio’, you might spot the Inner West local capturing a particular tree for its diverse shades of green or some inspiringly colourful flowers with their iPad. Fully utilising the “very cool, exciting, and nerdy” technological ability to create a palette of real-life colours from an eye-catching moment on the street–a far cry from the OG pack of 12 pencils.
Cheeky Palm’s universality and natural sense of inclusiveness also stand out amongst joyful messages and colourful tones. Generally, the works are quite gender-fluid–something which the queer artist explains happened organically. “I am non-binary. So, I think I probably artistically realised it before I mentally realised it, then changed my pronouns a few months ago and came out as non-binary.”
“I probably was feeling it and not living it. That’s definitely how my art process happens.”
As for understanding the importance of self-love and forgiveness–that came from a rather unique place of formative learning for O’Mara. From the age of 18, they spent seven straight summers at Alford Lake Camp in the appropriately named US town of Hope, Maine. They credit that time for not only showing them that being a flawed human with lots of feelings was okay, but that vulnerability was something worth appreciating.
“It taught me that you could admit you’re wrong, or you could admit that you’re sad or down, and that was fine,” they explain. “You just have to be honest with yourself and who you are. And be the best version of yourself and help other people be that.”
That sentiment perhaps most appropriately encapsulates O’Mara’s art and its purpose–helping friends and strangers alike accept themselves.
Cheeky Palm is a reminder that sadness, affection, anxiety, sexuality, laughter, weirdness, and everything in between, should be embraced. And that the most important person to fall in love with is yourself.