Hey, it’s me, Leigh Anna.
You’re listening to episode 8: So why not… find what works for you?
Have you ever had the experience of being surprised about someone you’ve met and realizing they’re amazingly talented? That’s how I feel about today’s guest, Rachel. We knew each other several years ago but very surface level. I knew I enjoyed being around Rachel. She’s kind and bubbly and has a great sense of humor. After I had moved away, I found her on Instagram and saw that she is an insanely talented artist. This episode is jam packed with insight that will help give you motivation for finding what works for you. Whether you’re a painter like Rachel or not, she gives great advice for seeing the inspiration all around you, realizing the importance of the process, and pointers for getting started. You might want to take notes for this one. So here it goes…
L: So on today’s episode, I have my friend Rachel Kiser Smith here to talk about her creative talents. We were just chatting a little bit before that we knew each other from the same church congregation a few years ago and I was very overwhelmed and self-involved and a twenty-something and had a missed opportunity of getting to know her deeper so I’m really excited to learn more about her artistic side along with our listeners today so thank you, Rachel, for being here.
R: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m excited to catch up and I’m excited about your creative projects as well.
L: Yeah, thanks. So if you could, kind of give our listeners a little brief introduction about who you are and what you do.
R: Sure, yeah. So I’m Rachel Kiser Smith and I’m a visual artist. I live in Jacksonville, FL with my husband and our three kids. They’re ages 8-12. And I paint like abstract, really texture- and color-focused work and florals. I have some prints coming out with The House That Lars Built soon. Yeah, I’m excited about that. This month they should be coming out. And I’ve done some work for them. And I’m currently working on a picture book in Spanish and English. So that’s my passion project right now.
L: Nice. I’m excited to get into more of that. So since you’re an artist, can you paint us a big beautiful picture about you? About your life leading up to this? How you grew up, where it was, kind of about your family, what you were interested in at the time, that kind of thing…
R: Sure. So I grew up in a very beautiful place in the Pacific Northwest in Oregon and in the country so just surrounded by natural beauty. And also inside the home, my mom studied art and she did gardening and floral design and a lot of painting murals and sets. So we were surrounded by creativity growing up. I drew a lot. I didn’t have really any formal lessons. I think the only class I took in high school was my senior year. I took one art class. But then that summer after that I basically ripped off my teacher and used her lesson plan and taught like a little art camp outside of my home. So I felt pretty comfortable with my art skills growing up and enjoyed it a lot. Then I went on to Brigham Young University after high school. I applied for the art education program and really waffled between doing that and doing fine art. It was just kind of like my comfort zone to go into art. I don’t think I really felt drawn to it at the time. And then I went on a mission in Argentina for a year and a half and learned Spanish. When I came back, I started taking Spanish classes and just really fell in love with that. So yeah, it’s kind of funny because now I’m coming back to the art more. But that’s a little bit about my path before. I ended up changing my major to Spanish. I’d had so many art classes I’d already taken that I double majored. After college, my husband and I got married. We had our three kids. Art had been still a really important part of my life but I wasn’t pursuing anything professionally really at all or really sharing much. I don’t know. I feel like I’m blabbing on too much.
L: No, not at all. I love to hear stories about why people do what they do. That’s great. How did you really see yourself using your degree once you graduated?
R: So yeah, that’s the funny thing. I just really didn’t have a plan for it. And I know that feels really selfish but I just honestly felt like a ship without a rudder at that point as far as career. I had a career counselor say that I should apply to law school and I was like, “Okay!” Which I didn’t do. People are always like “Are you going to teach art classes and Spanish?” And I was like, “Yeah. No. I’m not going to do that.” But I think things are slowly starting to become more clear. I’ve learned to listen to myself better and honor my small preferences and just kind of follow the path slowly.
L: I think it’s so hard when you’re in your twenties especially to figure your whole life out. The more people I ask that question, the more it comes down to that that nobody really has it figured out when you’re that young especially. So you’re not alone by any means. And I think a lot of us are still figuring it out.
R: Yeah and I think it can and maybe is more interesting when it’s an organic path. You’re not just diving into one thing and just sticking with that. Finding the career fit maybe is more important than the skills that you actually learn.
L: That’s a good point. So what types of art do you enjoy creating the most these days? You talked a little bit about painting. Can you kind of go into detail about that?
R: So my creative process… I know a lot of artists that get a visual picture in their mind and then they create that. But I kind of like just start exploring. And I might have an idea of what I want to do but often I’ll just start making stuff. Like using my hands, moving stuff around, collaging, painting colors and then cutting that up. So I’ve had fun exploring in a sketch book to get ideas in that same process, like where I’m cutting and pasting. I’m also having fun right now with more florals, which is something over the years I’ve done. I’ve painted flowers quite a bit but I think it’s springtime. But also there’s a lot of beautiful flower arranging books and things that are inspiring to me so that’s something that I’ve been doing lately. But then also with my picture book, that’s really a different style so that’s interesting doing illustrative work. But it’s fun to explore that.
L: That’s cool. So how did you develop your style over the years? Did you start with something completely different that’s kind of morphed or have you kind of always kind of style?
R: I think that sometimes it feels kind of different but when I talk to the people who know me well it all feels like me to them. So I think I’m more just exploring different subjects. That might come out differently doing an abstract painting versus a floral. But I haven’t purposely set out to make a style, to make something appear a certain way. I’m just really trying to make art and so I guess that kind of makes it all feel like me. Not really trying to imitate something or make something new, per se.
L: What role does creativity play in your day to day life?
R: I loved on one of your episodes, I think it was one of your first ones, just talking… I really don’t think creativity is limited to painting canvas. It’s like infused in every aspect of my life right now. Now I’ve got kids that I’m home schooling. I use creativity figuring out ways to teach math so that they can understand and it can be enjoyable for both of us. I’m also teaching them Spanish. I love using creativity just in teaching in general is a really great way. But I think in my whole life, really. Like the way that I live is creative I guess, like trial and error, what’s working for us. In home design. In cooking, and I don’t even mean like making a really elaborate dish but what works for us to just get food on the table. That’s a creative process. Definitely like every day is creative.
L: I love that. I try to do that myself, too. So when I found you on Instagram, I don’t even know, a couple of years ago, I remember seeing a lot of your paintings and then over time I saw a lot of your involvement with the craft book “Craft the Rainbow” from The House that Lars Built, which is beautiful. I’d looked at it several times and then after I saw you were involved, I took the plunge and bought it. I love it.
R: Yay! That makes me so happy!
L: So how did you get involved with that?
R: So when I first got on Instagram, it was like back when there were no advertisements. It was just more of a community feel, you know? And I found somebody on there that was sharing art and some design and projects with The House that Lars Built. But she was somebody that I’d followed for years on Pinterest, just because I liked her taste and I liked the images she was pinning so I just commented and told her that. And we connected. So she was working with The House that Lars Built at the time and she, I guess, let Brittany know. I feel like it was kind of a fluke that I got to do that project because they thought I was in Utah and they needed something like really fast. So that’s how I got started through Instagram.
L: What a small world to make that connection.
R: Yeah. I was really happy that they kind of took the risk to hire somebody they’d never worked with before.
L: Can you kind of talk about the process? Like, how you were tasked with he paintings you did for the book.
R: Yeah. So it’s a craft book organized by color. So each chapter is like red, orange, yellow, green, blue purple. And it has a chapter opening with the background that’s the matching color. So red with beautiful craft items all in red, like feathers and scissors and buttons. So she wanted these backdrops to have a really old world textured, kind of interesting feel. Not just like something you could buy at the store.
L: Not just a poster board or something.
R: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Like a children’s craft project. It was really fun because I got to see all of her Pinterest boards and that was really inspiring, like her secret pin boards for her inspiration for the whole book to get an idea for what she wanted. And it was really fast that she needed them. The funny thing is, I think I took a few days because I was like, “Does she really want me to do this?” And then she’s like, “Do you have the backdrops?” And I was like, “Ahh! Um, I will tomorrow!” So I just like bought canvas. If I was doing it there in person, I would have used something stiff. But anyway, I bought raw canvas at Joann and paint and plaster of Paris. I got cheese cloth and pressed it in and did some texture stuff. Anyway, I sent those and a lot of them were great and then their photographer used a ton of light and it washed out some of the color. So some of them didn’t work and that was tricky being long distance. I would just would have loved to be there for the week and make everything they needed and make the adjustments, you know? But yeah, we did some. And then they were like, “We kind of want to do this rainbow page and it might be for the cover.” So I did a big color wheel—rainbow. So these backdrops, some of them were 4 x 8 feet. So they were huge. I had backdrops drying all over the house. The rainbow, it’s like a color wheel but not just the regular colors kind of. So yeah, I painted that and that was kind of the process with that. That one didn’t end up on the cover but it is like a really stunning image. The cover is also my backdrop. It’s pretty much white but that’s fun, too. And they still use the backdrops—it’s really fun—with their backdrops occasionally. So I’m like, “I painted that. Yay!”
L: That is so neat to hear all that went in. I wouldn’t be able to tell the perspective of being 4 x 8 from what it ends up on the book. That is really interesting.
R: Right? Yeah. Some of the images you can tell because it’s a big spread but some of them are much smaller. They look a lot smaller once you get all of the objects on them.
L: So did that spur your interest in writing your own book or had you already had that interest before?
R: No. Yeah, I think that was disconnected. I definitely love collaborating with someone that has a creative vision. But doing my own thing is really different and that’s a little bit harder to get motivated to do. But that’s been more of just tapping into what I want to do. And that’s kind of just seeing a need that there’s not that many really beautiful, with like a really good story, books in Spanish and English together.
L: I would agree. We have a very limited little library in our house. I’m excited to get your book one day.
R: I’m working on it.
L: Is there anything else big and exciting you have in the pipeline that you’re working on?
R: Yeah, I do have one other thing I’m very excited about. Well other than my prints coming out. Those are finished so I’m excited to see those. Because, again, that was something that I wanted to make something that I would want to put in my house. I’m pretty picky. I don’t have a lot of art on the wall. So people are always like, “Put your art up!” Yeah, I’m excited for those prints. My younger sister is coming out with a music album. It’s “Music for Children and Their People” and it’s beautiful and inspiring. I love it so much. And fun and playful. She just let me hear a song, a sneak peek. She had a question about it. And that night, I was so inspired. I wish I could tell you what the song was about. But I just visualized the whole thing. Like I told you, I don’t normally do that, too. But maybe it’s a creative skill I’m starting to practice with working on my picture book. I just started painting it that night with ink. I told her the next day, “If you would want me to illustrate this for a music video or something…” And she said yes. So I’m very very excited.
L: That’s very exciting. You’ll have to let me know when that comes out.
R: Ok. I will. They’re Rosie and Biff. (http://www.rosieandbiff.com)
L: With The House That Lars Built, I read an interview you did afterward that you had hidden your art for years before putting it out on Instagram. What gave you that final push to share it with everyone?
R: That’s interesting. I don’t know if I hid it so much as not really finding the right audience. Because I tried some local things but it’s really interesting. It’s just a lot harder when your art isn’t super mainstream. And for Florida, that would be like beach art, you know? So if you’re not doing beach art, it’s kind of hard to sell. Find a hundred people that want to buy your art here like at an art market here, right? So I think just getting to share online, it was like a hurdle for me for sure. I had read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Did you read that?
L: I haven’t but I need to look into it.
R: It was so inspiring. Like at the time, it was just what I needed. I read a lot of creative process books. I actually pulled out the other day some notes. I feel like I typed up half the book. I feel like she helped me, as I was reading that, just get over the idea that my art doesn’t need to be really important or life changing to have value. Or to begin, you know? I think I had this feeling: it has to be important, it has to be amazing, it has to… I don’t know. Save the world? But I’m going to read this one quote that she shared. She said, “Human artistic expression is blessedly, refreshingly non-essential. That’s exactly why I love it so much.
L: That’s good!
R: Yeah, I feel like I was like, “Yeah, it’s ok. I can just do this because I want to. Just for the joy of it. It doesn’t have to be anything big right now. And I can start sharing online.” And then, like I said, just being online, there’s a bigger audience to pull from, right? So it felt more… It wasn’t hard once I just started. It was so much easier than some other avenues I tried to pursue in person and it was just not a good fit. Another quote from her: “A good enough novel violently written now is better than a perfect novel meticulously written never.”
L: Oh, I love that! Seriously!
R: I know, right? Yeah, what are you waiting on? So are you just not going to do beautiful creative things? Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it’s got its ups and downs to share. Like, it’s heart wrenching sometimes. You see the ugly. You see all of that. But at the same time, are you just going to…
L: Sit on the couch?
R: Yeah, exactly.
L: It doesn’t have to go in the Smithsonian just because you made it. Enjoying the whole process—ooh, I love that! Very good. I’ll have to pick up that book.
R: Yes! Yeah, it’s a good one. And it’s kind of like, you can’t read too much without feeling like you’d better get up and start making something.
L: Definitely need that! What other sources do you have of inspiration?
R: Inspiration. I like looking to… I guess I like a lot of current things on Instagram, but I also like to purposely, since that comes to me without trying, I like to purposely look for things that are older. Right now, for my picture book, I’m looking at folk art, like folk appliqué quilts. There are a lot that are archived in museums online, which is kind of fun. Or like older artists. Not just looking at their art but getting a book and reading essays they wrote about what they did is something I really love doing. I don’t do that very much but I want to do it more. I love doing that. I also love keeping a playful creative attitude alive by doing things that tickle my fancy, like wandering. We’re not traveling very far this year but just like new areas of town or an old broken down building or finding wildflowers. Just stuff like that just really keeps me creatively thinking. There’s inspiration everywhere.
L: Oh, yeah. For sure. Do your kids like creativity? Do they do art and creative projects? What all do they like?
R: Yes. Poor little darlings. I feel like they’re going to have the typical artist hang up because they are so immersed in it. I don’t like… And this is when my daughter was really little. She drew her first person and I was so excited that I started telling her to add a nose or do you want to put hair on or do you want to put ears? Or how about a smile? And everything. She did everything I said and then she didn’t draw a person again for several years. She wouldn’t draw a person. And then I said that I’m never teaching my kids again. But they’re surrounded by materials. You know as soon as I start painting, they’re all like, “I want to paint, too!” There’s lots of stuff for them that they can just join in side by side. They’re always so amazing. I’m like, “Can I just monetize on your projects?” Because they’re so much better than mine.
L: There’s a market for that.
R: Maybe I should make an account that’s just really amazing kids’ artwork.
L: That would be a good one. I would follow.
R: My daughter just made, like I just walked into her bedroom. It’s covered in dirt. Like, literally dirt on the carpet, and leaves. She’s 12. This is not like a 3-year old project. There’s a cardboard box and it’s filled with a jungle scene made out of like real leaves and dirt. She’s like, “Can I borrow your camera? Because I need to get a picture before it wilts.” And then she had dressed up her sibling in this nature boy gear and photographed it and cut it out and made like a little puppet for her scene. Anyway, that’s just a sampling of the creative things that go on here.
L: Wow! Very creative!
R: Yeah, she cleaned it up. She vacuumed. It’s good. It’s a lot of fun.
L: It sounds like you’re nurturing their creative abilities and giving them that freedom in their environment to express themselves. That’s really cool.
R: Like it or not, I am.
L: So it sounds like you have a lot to juggle between home school and your own creative pursuits. What kind of advice do you have for someone who wants to invest more time into being creative?
R: I would say keep exploring different things until you find what works for you. There is not a one-size fits all. One thing you could start with if this seems like it might work for you is 10 minutes a day. At the beginning of the pandemic when we all got sent home, I started having my kids weed with me outside for 10 minutes outside after breakfast. My yard is like a Florida jungle and it’s something I never thought we could tame, you know? And I tried like hour or two-hour long sessions in the yard once a week or not that much really, probably but I was so shocked. Like after a couple weeks, like we actually made progress. And then I started applying that to other areas of my life. Just 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes. Like with my picture book. Things that are like emotionally challenging to bring out, like things that you’re drawn to do, but I feel like for me, just 10 minutes. There’s value in having it connect from day to day, your subconscious is working on it overnight. Like the different things that you see, like you may be going on a beautiful walk but if you haven’t been working on a creative project recently, that inspiration might not connect towards your project. But if you just get your feet wet every single day, then that inspiration can work for you as you problem solve. So that’s my thing that’s been working for me lately but I also just really think that everybody’s different. Don’t think that the way that somebody’s doing something is the only way or the best way. You’ve gotta just find what works for you.
L: I love that. That makes it just seem so much more doable and not like you have to, I don’t know, paint the Great Pyramid all at once, just little efforts.
R: For sure. Yeah. And I’m actually amazed somedays. Like I can’t believe what happened in 10 minutes. Somedays I only have 10 minutes that I work on things. But it really can add up because it’s like compounding over time.
L: Yeah. That’s great advice. So where can we connect with you?
R: I’m on Instagram, @rachelkisersmith, and that’s it. Yeah.
L: Yeah. We’re excited to see all of your prints coming out and definitely following up for your new book. So thank you so much for all of this advice and hearing more of your story. I really enjoyed it.
R: Thanks. It’s been fun. Good to catch up, too.
I don’t know about you but I feel so motivated to keep going and being more creatively adventurous. Rachel had so many great ideas for finding what works for you. Some of my favorite highlights are how to organically make your own path, to putting yourself out there like she did with The House That Lars Built and being involved with Craft the Rainbow, being true to your style, realizing that not all art and creative pursuits have to be life changing, that it’s worth trying. I also loved her ideas for investing more time into creativity by taking small bursts of time, starting with just 10 minutes, to work on your projects. What a great way to think about your creative ideas being in your subconscious when you’re able to connect those dots day to day. Make sure to give her a follow on Instagram (it’s linked in the show notes) and see the beautiful art she has created.
Like Rachel mentioned, if you haven’t already listened, or even if you have—it’s a short one, I have an early episode, episode 2, about being more creative. I talk about finding creativity in unexpected ways and discuss my creative process. Don’t forget to grab the free PDF on my website to plan out your creative projects. You don’t have to sign up for anything, just download and go. You can find it on my website (www.sowhynot.me) and look for podcast episode 2: So why not… be a little more creative? or search for “CREATE PDF.” With summer coming up, I want to invite you to think of some ways you might want to bring more creativity into your life—whether it’s planning a memory you want to create like a family vacation or a new skill you want to work on, or new habit you want to form, I know that planning it all out will help you reach your goal.
Thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate all of the reviews on Apple Podcasts and for your feedback and messages over on Instagram. Make sure to follow @sowhynot.podcast so you can see more details about the show. You can also subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode.
As always, I hope you can use these ideas as tipping off points to channel the ambition, curiosity, and desire to create the life you want to live. Thanks so much for listening. Our time is so important and I am so appreciative that you spent some of it with me.