RACHEL NATALIE RAWLINS
Name: Rachel Natalie Rawlins
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Bio: Rachel Natalie Rawlins is a Canadian visual artist and illustrator, born in Montreal to Trinidadian parents. She prefers to use deep, bold and earthy colors in my paintings. Her work is also heavily influenced by her love of music. Similar to a musician’s ability to tell a story on their instrument of choice, every song is a color and/or particular movement to Rachel. She doesn't shy away from creating digital artwork either. In recent years, her work has been seen at the Royal Ontario Museum and ARTA Gallery in Toronto, ON, and at Cheri in Harlem, NY. She has also conducted painting workshops for children with Raising Artists and painted live at various events. Essentially, Rachel loves drawing and painting people, capturing their personalities, attitudes and emotions with her pencil and paintbrush.
Describe your experience as a current as an artist.
I am currently working as an artist full-time, however I may take on other work (such as transcribing) now and then when the art side is slow. In one form or another, I have been pursuing art since 2001. Since then, I have worked as a production artist at a promotional items company and an advertising company. However I chose the fully freelance artist path nearly ten years ago and haven’t looked back.
What was your occupation/education prior to becoming an artist?
Before becoming a full-time artist as I am now, I was working as a production artist, first at a promotional items company, and then at an advertising company. While at these positions, I worked on drawings and paintings on the side, mainly for myself. I would also create digital artwork for others as freelance assignments on the side. I didn’t exactly wake up one day and decide to quit my job, but I think this eventuality was building up in the back of my mind. Some people really enjoy the corporate environment. However, even in the more creative part of that world, I am not one of those people. And so when I did quit my job, it wasn’t after months of planning and saving. Remember how Rochelle, Chris’ mother on Everybody Hates Chris, would quit a job? That’s pretty much how it felt for me when I decided to quit. And since I already had a good savings, it was not at all a difficult decision to make. Since I love drawing and painting, I decided that I was going to do what I love for a living. The transition required a different form of discipline and having more hats to wear, and it is one that I am happy I made. Those closest to me supported my decision and cheered me on along my new path; they still do, in fact.
What was your biggest challenge in pursuing art and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was getting out there and networking, at various types of events. That part is not at all the easiest for artists, but it is a necessary part of meeting, and building relationships with, potential clients, which leads to getting work. I learned to get over this by going to such events by myself. See, when I would go to such events with a friend, I would end up spending the most time with that friend. But on my own, I was more likely to notice another person who was on their own and strike up a conversation. And vice versa. The next step was making a goal to give out a certain number of my business cards, and collect a certain number of business cards from other professionals.
Describe your biggest milestone or project/series achieved since pursuing your art.
Being invited to have a solo art exhibit in Harlem, New York in 2016 was huge for me. Some years before this, I had been there and really liked the vibe there. Up until this particular exhibit, most of my exhibits had been group shows here in Toronto. However being invited to have my own month-long exhibit in what I consider an art mecca itself was a big deal, because it meant a whole new audience for me, as well as the potential for more and bigger opportunities. I sold some of my work because of that exhibit, which also was great.
How does your personal style and identity translate into your artwork?
If a person looks closely enough, they can see that my personal pieces tell my story. What music I listened to growing up, how important family is to me, how my culture plays a part in my life, what I find beautiful and inspiring, my goals. I’ve always loved the deeper shades of each color, and that comes out a lot in my work. I also do pencil drawings, but I work on more paintings lately than drawings.
How do you maintain your mental health and inspiration?
I try my best to keep prayer, study and meditation in first place in my life. My relationship with God is most important to me. Exercise is also important. Put on good music and move, whether it’s dancing, walking, running, or even deep stretching. Great way to release stress and tension. For me, exercise early in the morning is very energizing. There also definitely has to be time to relax and recharge. I also find being able to see the work and processes of other artists to be motivating, to see how other artists tell their story or solve their creative problem. This is positive reinforcement, because one thing artists in general hear is how hard it is to make a living as an artist – usually from people who are not pursuing their own dream or labor of love. So to see other artists overcoming obstacles and really doing it is motivating. That’s why platforms such as this one are important.
What is your favorite art technique and why?
I generally tend to use blocks of color in my work, for no real reason other than that is what feels good to me most of the time. I started doing this while I was working on my painting of a mother and child, entitled Love. I liked how it turned out and that is the technique I have been mostly using for a long time. I’ve recently gotten into doing a bit more mixing of shades as I go along, and in time this may well become my dominant technique. It all depends on what feels good to me at the time. I love painting people, but I am branching out with my latest series to include animals as my subjects. As I mentioned before, I tend to stick with the deeper shades of colors for my work. I have been working solely with acrylic paint for a long time now. I find it gives great coverage, you can change your mind with it, and you can build slight texture with it.
What is some advice or tips you would give to a fellow BGWP interested in further their art goals and/or business?
Don’t compare where you are with where others are. We each have our own unique and individual journey, and comparing might steal your joy. Don’t view other artists as competition. We each have our own gift and style, and there is enough room for all of us. Don’t worry about whether or not anyone else will like what you create; just create from your heart and people will feel it.
What is next for you?
I plan to do another painting series or two. I would like to participate in more shows, and hopefully some live painting and live art competition events as well. I definitely want to increase my client list and use my art more in my own community. And I would like to begin a new and more involved art project, a book.
What does being a "black girl who paints" means to you?
Being a “black girl who paints”, to me, means that I can have a positive artistic contribution to the “black pool of genius” (thanks to the late soul music legend Donny Hathaway for introducing me to that expression). It means being able to express myself and tell our stories from my perspective as a black woman with my paintbrush; our view and perspective is a unique one, as a group and individually. It means using my artistic expression to build up, enhance, and inspire. Being a “black girl who paints” means being a positive example and sometimes mentor to young black girls coming up who themselves want to be “black girls who paint”.