Current Issue #486

Support South Australian stories Contribute

Drawn to the City:
Ausma Balodis, the artisan

Leo Greenfield

Ausma Balodis isn’t afraid of life changes. In fact, she knows firsthand how to stare down a challenge and follow her instincts.

Balodis was working in administration for an ophthalmologist when, by chance, she was asked to manage renovations to the surgery. Observing the tradespeople during this project, Balodis had an idea: why couldn’t she do this work, and possibly even make an art out of it. So Balodis began researching her career change and life as a woman working as a tradie.

“I’m a decorative painter,” says Balodis. “I specialise in applying and creating bespoke paint and plaster surface finishes.” For Balodis this specifically involves the artisanal skills of gilding with gold or metal leaf, Italian Venetian plastering and creating aged finishes in homes and businesses. Developing these skills has been a 10- year journey for Balodis, who began her craft via a TAFE course and then an apprenticeship in house painting.

“I wanted to bring back the mastery of painting, something that builds on heritage and makes it contemporary,” says Balodis, who felt from her observations that there was a definite gap in the Australian market for such commissions.

Fuelled by her inspiration to breathe new life into an age-old craft, Balodis began to develop her skills in the very male world of building and renovations. During this time and not without sacrifices, Balodis worked for numerous painting business before going out alone and creating her own business, Azu Bespoke Finishes.

“It took years to get myself to a point where I no longer needed to subcontract to other painters to fill in the gaps between jobs. But my passion was always creating new life in tired spaces while giving the client a positive experience through the process, and that kept me motivated to keep going.

“My business started as a general painting business, but with every job I secured, I told clients I also had decorative skills. I had to spread the word as most people had no idea what I was talking about. Over time I’ve met with artists, designers and architects and slowly the business has grown,” says Balodis, who now has clients across Adelaide and interstate.

Social media has also helped spread the word, showing firsthand in video clips and images exactly what is involved with traditional gilding and painting. Balodis’s posts also document her inspiration: moss-covered ancient trees, aged neighbourhood fences or layers of paint chipped away by weather and sunlight. “I am constantly looking at surfaces everywhere, and seeing how time has affected them, and then I let these ideas influence my work.”

Of life as a woman in a trade Balodis says, “To be honest, there were very few lady tradies 10 years ago. We were a rare breed. It had its challenges being a female in a male-dominated industry – and still does – but I think over time it will become even more accepted and the norm.

“I made it my mission when I began this career to be treated equally to the men in my industry, which often meant working twice as hard. I also made a conscious effort to ignore anyone in the industry who I felt judged me. I decided to focus on being the best I possibly could be.”

Balodis stayed true to her goals and built up her own resilience by drawing on the inspirational women in her life. “I grew up close to my godmother who was a colonel in the army reserves and a business owner. My mother was also a single parent to four children. I believe that their examples as powerful women definitely had a subconscious effect on me.”

Balodis’s day begins at 5am with her meditation practice, then it’s time for coffee and going through the checklist for the approaching day. Packing her ute, an impressive Mazda BT 50, is the next step before heading off to meet clients onsite, dropping off her four-year-old to childcare on the way.

When it comes to the most vital tools of her trade Balodis says, “I try to buy the best of everything and don’t skimp on materials or products. For me it’s really important to offer my clients the best product possible in order to achieve the best results. A lot of my decorative brushes come from Europe and I’m constantly researching and keeping on top of the latest products and materials used in the decorative world. My favourite tools would have to be my trowels and festool set up. Some women love clothes and shoes, I have a problem with trowels and decorative paint brushes!”

Balodis’s artisanal skills have recently won accolades at the 2019 Master Painters Awards Night, where she took home numerous honours. She was particularly proud of her ‘Special Project’ award for a bespoke wall created in an inner-city bungalow. Most of Balodis’s work is completed for private homes, however projects for Chateau Tanunda, Bank Street Social and Sweedy Homes showroom on Henley Beach Road can be viewed by the public.

As for the most rewarding element of her career Balodis says, “It is definitely the happiness on my clients’ faces once a project is completed. Nothing compares to the journey of seeing a project start as a blank surface and be transformed into something completely unique.”

Leo Greenfield

See Profile

Leo Greenfield is freelance illustrator. His work can be found at leogreenfield.com.

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox