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An Interview with Artist Rachel Hawkes Cameron

1)  What post-secondary institution did you attend and what did you study there?

My education is a bit all over the place! After attending 5 different high schools, I moved from Toronto to Halifax to attend Dalhousie University, where I started in a General Arts program. After second year, I applied to the Architecture program, which required 2 years of an undergrad to be considered. The program was small and competitive, so I took Calculus and Fine Arts courses to boost my portfolio and was accepted! I completed that program (officially a Bachelor of Environmental Design) and took a year off to work and live abroad. I later returned to Halifax to complete my Master of Design at the Nova Scotia Academy of Art and Design.

2)  How did you get into your industry and land where you are now?

I worked in architecture for a while but did not find it to be as creatively fulfilling as what I had imagined. The house, the rigor, and the technical aspects just were not a good fit for me. So, I took the design still I had and the experience and education in the field of architecture to start working as an in-house designer for an architecture firm in Toronto. When I moved to Hamilton to start my family, I was so lucky to find an amazing roll at IKEA, as a designer at the Head Office. After my second child was born and I experienced the loss of my little brother very suddenly, I sort of fell into painting. But truthfully, my education and work experience have always had a thread of creativity, so perhaps it was all leading to this!

3) Describe your process - what’s it like? How long does a typical painting take?

My process starts with a lot of water and washes of colour, which I let dry and layer to create energy and movement through the piece. Then I go in with sharper lines to “clean up” those organic shapes and create conversations between the shapes. I paint on porous, watercolour paper (the more the colour is able to bleed, the better) and canvas. The final steps, of course, are varnishing and packing up the painting - sometimes for shipping across the country. All the while, I try to communicate with my client, maintain my social media presence, and I find that people love to see the process behind my work.

4) What do you love most about what you do? What do you find the most challenging?

I love painting so much. It’s just so calming to me. It allows me to clear my head and channel my emotions. I also love that my paintings give joy to others, it’s so flattering when people express that they are moved by my work. I do find the business side of it challenging sometimes! When all you want to do is paint, but you have orders to pack and ship and invoice, it can be frustrating. But I’m just forcing myself to enjoy it by putting on a podcast or starting a painting and waiting for it to dry while I go about my work. Having two little kids at home during this lockdown, it is also obviously really challenging to find the time to get up to my studio and paint without interruption.

5) What’s a recent project you worked on that you’re really proud of?

I recently “took over” an Instagram account called @carveouttimeforart, which I have been following for years. I put a lot of work into demonstrating the story and spirit behind my work and being honest and vulnerable about my life as an artist. I was proud of how it looked, aesthetically, and I was happy with the response it got from others!

6) What’s your single greatest lesson in your career so far/advice you have for university/college students?

Don’t be afraid to go towards something you might not feel is your best strength — there’s probably a reason you’re being drawn to it and it’s going to teach you something. Architecture was not the best fit for me, and I certainly was not the best student in the class. But it taught me discipline, hard work, attention to detail and most importantly; that my failures are not a step back. It was all leading me to here.

7) Favourite quote?

“Trust the process”

8) Who do you look up to?

I’m really inspired by another woman that I went to architecture school with named Rubeena Ratcliffe, who is also an artist and parent. I think being able to see yourself in someone you admire — even in a small way — is such a motivation. Social media can give us that opportunity.

9) What are you reading right now?

I’m reading Little Fires Everywhere! And my Earth to Table cookbook.

10) What skill (besides painting!) would you say is most important as an artist today?

You have to be prolific in order to maintain a presence and engage with your community. Luckily, that works really well for artists; I actually read a quote this morning by Andy Warhol that I love: ”Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art”.