I’d like to introduce you all to my friend Rachel Dueck, one of the most kind and thoughtful people I know, who is also an amazing artist! Rachel has some great insights about art and creativity, and I hope you find encouragement from hearing a little about her own journey.
Rachel is a freelance graphic designer and illustrator based in Kansas City, MO. Her clients span a range of agencies and non-profit organizations and her illustrative work is featured on select products offered by Pinhole Press. When she’s not working, she enjoys photography and nature walks with her husband. You can find her on racheljoy.net and on Instagram @racheldueck.
- When did you first know you wanted to be a graphic designer?
I learned about the industry as a sophomore in high school. A friend of mine invited me to take a graphic arts course with her. She had heard we would make t-shirts in the class, and hey, that sounded fun! So I signed up and was instantly hooked on design. I loved the blend of art, science, technology, and problem solving, and I knew at that point it was going to be my career.
- What are your near and future goals for your art?
In the near term, I’d love to make some of my artwork available as prints. In the future, I’d love to create something that would be commercial… maybe a fabric line or a pattern that gets picked up for a product in Target—wouldn’t that be fun?!
- What other kinds of art do you draw inspiration from? Any specific examples?
I love looking at paintings in the art museum. It’s fun to see similar techniques expressed in totally different ways, or to see different styles from the same person. I have a ‘cutesy’ look to my artwork, but I like trying to change up the style to push myself creatively, and looking at other artwork is always helpful in doing so.
- What do you do to get past creativity blocks?
Just keep swimming. I am a huge fan of prompts—they’re a good base point when I can’t think of anything to draw. The lettering and drawing challenges on Instagram (there are MANY!) help me stay motivated because each day there’s something new, and the community that participates in them is very positive, encouraging, and supportive. Plus, you get to see what everyone else did with the prompt, which is always really fun.
- What does your process look like when you settle down to create? (Both physically and mentally)
Physically, I like to have a good workspace with all my materials at-hand. If I’m at the computer, I have to have a snack handy because I like to chew while I think. (On good days, it’s carrots… bad days, gummy bears). I don’t snack when I’m painting or drawing on the iPad, because…mess. Mentally, I like to have a clear idea of the end goal so that as I work, it’s a cohesive process toward that goal, even if I change things a lot before I get there.
- What is your favorite kind of project?
My favorite kind of project is one with just the right mix of freedom and limitations. I like the freedom to be able to come up with my own ideas for a design or art piece, but the limitations (size restrictions, accommodating some amount of verbiage, audience type, etc.) really help me form boundaries and zero in on how I’d like to solve the creative puzzle I’m working on.
- How do you feel when you finish a project?
Relieved! And proud…usually. Sometimes I need to make changes and adjustments based on what my clients want rather than what I want artistically, so it’s a bit of a give-and-take. But I try not to create anything I’m not proud of in the end.
- If you could give just one nugget of advice to beginning/aspiring artists, what would it be?
Try new things, or old things again. When I taught myself hand-lettering, it was the first time in 6+ years I had created something by hand, not on the computer. It opened the door to other creative ventures, and now I’m sort of a blend of all kinds of art and design, both digital and physical. The more you explore and pick up on the way, the more you collect building blocks to the type of artist you are becoming.
- What is one of the most important things you’ve learned in your artistic pursuits?
Something you create that seems very ordinary might be very meaningful to someone else. I sometimes underestimate the impact my artwork can have on other people, and it’s neat to hear from them directly. Audience size can be that difference. I’ve created designs that were seen by millions of people and never felt the impact of the design, but I’ve painted a family portrait for a woman who lost her dad, and I cried when she told me how meaningful it was to her. The reach might be small, but it can be very important.
- What encouragement would you give someone who wants to make a living off their art but don’t feel like it’s practical or that it could ever happen?
It can! But be smart about it, too. I’m a very realistic person, so I built my freelance design business while I still had a full-time job, and took the plunge into full-time freelance after developing a solid base of professional experience, clients, and business sense (you have to know how to create an invoice, for example, if you want people to pay you). But that is all learnable, and sometimes the best way to learn it all is to just dive in and ‘make it work.’
Know your audience, too. Who will be buying your art? Consider that maybe there’s an audience for your knowledge or skill or procedure. In high school, I got my first taste of entrepreneurialism (is that a word?) by teaching piano lessons. It was a great way to share the things I had learned and make some money doing it. Online courses are huge right now. Perhaps there’s a way to package not only your finished product, but also your process. I guess I’m saying get creative about revenue streams—the more, the merrier.
- Do you think art can bring about change? If so, what kind of change do you hope to bring through your art?
I do think so. The designs I create serve as visual communication, combining imagery with information to get a message across. Many people are highly visual, and a powerful image, chart, or graphic can explain in one glance what might otherwise take a paragraph to describe. I’d love to encourage more understanding on a variety of topics in this way.
- Have you ever felt like giving up? If so, what got you through it?
Sometimes the workload can be overwhelming, or a client can be particularly difficult, but I guess I just keep going because I figure tomorrow—or next week or month—is a new day—or week or month. Everything that seems unmanageable usually turns out to be manageable, and any given situation is only temporary.
- How do you move past criticism?
Be self-aware of my own ability to know what’s true and what’s false. If it’s true, I learn to find ways to improve on a weakness. If it’s false, I learn to let it go. Criticism is extremely difficult for me as a perfectionist people-pleaser, but it’s something I’ve grown in over the years, and I’ve come to appreciate honest feedback that can help me grow as an artist/businesswoman/person.
- How, in your view, does comparison and competition affect the artistic world? How can artists keep their passion alive in the midst of pressure?
There’s a healthy and unhealthy version of competition, in my opinion. Healthy competition allows you to see how others are excelling, using it as motivation to move forward in your own work, and pushes you to offer your best. Unhealthy competition is making a comparison (usually a skewed comparison) and walking away feeling defeated or ‘less than’—or the opposite: arrogant and ‘better than,’ putting others down to make ourselves feel higher. We each have something unique to offer, and our collection of artistic building blocks—life experiences, skill set, opinions, beliefs—is never the same as someone else’s. We can cultivate our own artistic talent while encouraging others to cultivate theirs at the same time. There’s room for everyone.
- What do you see the role of art to be in our culture?
To me, art is a way to express/convey our ideas and beliefs in a thoughtful and reflective way. I personally believe we were created with intention, and that each of us are given some degree of artistic capacity because we’re made in the image of God, the ultimate Creator. Whether creating or consuming art, I think it can connect us to each other as humans.
- What do you find most beautiful in the world?
Nature. There are some very gorgeous places on this earth!
What would your superpower be, and why?
Teleportation. I have family and friends spread out across the globe, and I’d love the ability to visit any of them whenever I wanted!
What is your favorite TV show, movie, or fandom?
I’m a huge fan of the Gilmore Girls. Just love their mother-daughter relationship and witty banter.
As a kid, what other things did you want to be when you grew up?
I thought I might be a teacher or a nurse. Nurse was quickly written off when I learned I hated the sight of blood! I still enjoy teaching others, so you never know what might happen down the road!