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Conversations with Rachel Dickson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachel Dickson

Hi Rachel, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
2020 was the first year I could call myself a full-timer career artist, and I am really proud of that. It has taken a lot of grit, resilience, and behind-the-scenes work, along with major support from a few important people in my life. The events that have happened in my life over the past six years have absolutely carved the way for my career, and while it has been challenging, I am grateful that I have the experience and empathy that has been a huge driving force in my work. I grew up as a creative, always drawing, painting, molding clay, anything I could get my hands on. My first memory of having the “itch” was 3rd grade when my artwork won a contest for the design of my elementary school’s yearbook. That’s when my curiosity really peaked regarding art and what role it could serve in my life. The validation that I was actually talented – it went a long way. I attended a high school that offered the IB program. I majored in studio art and art history in high school, most of my formal education came out of that really wonderful program, I got to work with college-level professors for critiques and training. It shaped my style and methods that I still use today. Coming from a lower-middle class family and not having financial support for college, I ended up majoring in psychology- my dream to be a painter seemed out of reach and the idea of being a ‘starving artist’ scared me away from pursuing a legitimate career in art. Following college, I worked with professional athletes in marketing and painting became something I did on the side, as gifts for people or just to pass time as a hobby.

Meanwhile, I moved to Austin in 2012 and fell in love with this city – my career working with professional athletes was taking off, and in general my life was pretty carefree. Then, in late 2014, my brother took his own life. It rocked my world in the worst way, I had a hard time focusing on day-to-day activities, my relationship with my now-husband took a hard hit, and I lost all of my creative energy. On the outside I was functioning well but, on the inside, I was in ruins. My then-boyfriend had a two year old son, and that kid was one of the very few lights I had in the months following my brother’s death. His hugs, and genuine love for me would make the darkest days feel better. Kids, like dogs, can sense pain and that little boy did all he could to make me feel better.

In October of 2015, eleven months after my brother’s death, just as I was pulling myself out of the trenches of grief – we received the worst news imaginable. My partner’s ex, the mother of his child, was tragically killed in a boating accident. In an instant I became this boy’s only living maternal figure. I was 25 at the time and I essentially became a mom overnight. Not only was I still dealing with the grief of my brother’s death, now I was parenting a child who has lost the most important person in his world. In the months and years that followed I found myself trying to pull meaning from what had happened to our family. There were great moments sprinkled in – we got married, I was so much enjoying being a mom, I got pregnant with our second – but between the good moments there was always the grief. It really does come in waves, and it never goes away. I was shocked after working with my son’s therapists that there aren’t many picture books that deal with death in a way that young children grasp.

So in 2017 I set out to write one. I started working on the book with help from a few different child psychologists, and began to slowly work on illustrating it as well. This was my tunnel back into the art world. A few months after starting the book I found myself not only working on illustrations, but other art as well. My painting became an important part of my personal healing. I started to share my work. First just to friends, and after a lot of support and validation – I started an Instagram page just for my art. It was a long process, and it’s still something I work on constantly, but within a year I started to sell my work. First to people I personally knew, then to people I’d never met, and now I sell my art all over the US. I found so much joy and meaning in creating work, and I have been able to share my art with many people who are able to deeply connect with my grief journey. I feel lucky to be able to give some sort of meaning to the tragic circumstances of our past. It is not lost on me how fortunate I am to call myself an artist.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Absolutely not! I still struggle with sharing my work. It can be a really terrifying experience to post a new painting and wait for people to like it or comment on it, the anxiety of it can be crippling. Also, in general starting a successful Instagram page is really, really hard. Especially if you do it authentically. It is a constant struggle to balance actually CREATING the work and keeping up with all of the admin stuff. It becomes five jobs in one, and it requires a lot of late nights and early mornings and learning new skills all the time. Running my own business I am an artist, a photographer, a web designer, a content creator, and on top of that I still have to carve out time to be a good mom. And let’s not even get into the struggles of COVID and what that looked like for our family and work dynamics. I am just happy to still be standing after this past year!

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am an abstract painter. I specialize in inks and acrylics, though I do often use watercolor in my work. Recently I have been working on raw linen, which gives my work a really unique feel. My favorite pieces are on larger canvases but I do all different sizes – both on canvas and paper. I am very proud of the series I did this past year for the Artist Support Pledge. I would create 15-20 small works on paper and sell them below my normal cost. However, for every $1000 I made, I pledged to spend $200 on work from another artist. I was able to support so many other artists in this past year during struggles with COVID and that made me very happy. I did 5 rounds of this series and each time all of the pieces would sell out with 15 minutes. I cannot describe how grateful and validated that made me feel. I think because I put so much emotion into my work – people can feel it. I would say that’s what I hear most about it setting me apart from others. There are so many talented artists in Austin, I don’t think my work is any better than any of theirs, but I do think sometimes collectors can connect with my work on a deeper emotional level.

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
I love living here! I am in Clarksville and I honestly just adore this neighborhood and walking around and how friendly everyone is. I love that it feels like a big city but still like home. I hate, hate, hate the hot summers. It is so hard to want to do anything active or be creative when you literally can’t cool down.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Gaby Deimeke
Charles Reagan

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