Sunday, May 23, 2010

Artist to Artist: Rachel from Curls o Fred

Artist to Artist is a regular feature for still life 365. Through a dialogue about the creative process, grief, loss and art, the idea is to learn more about the art you see on still life 365 and the mother, father or family member creating it. In turn, we hope you learn more about your own art, creative process and grief. Artist to Artist a regular monthly feature of this blog space. If you have an artist that you would like to learn more about, or interview, please email me.

Rachel first submitted work to still life 365 in February. Her daughter Lyra had died only two months earlier, on December 18, 2009, from a cord accident. Both Rachel and I are both engaged in the Creative Every Day challenge, which encourages each participant to commit to doing something creative every day for the year. Through her blog Curls O Fred, I began watching Rachel's work through this challenge. I was in awe of the way she was expressing this grief experience visually. She captures what so many of us feel with her art. Rachel has been contributing steadily and regularly for the last five months and has been an awesome advocate for still life 365. I recently talked to Rachel about art, creativity and grief.

Hi, Rachel, thanks for agreeing to talk to me about art and grief. Let me just first say how sorry that Lyra is not with you.
Thank you Angie. I'm very honored to talk with you about all of this.

I always like to kick off these chats with just a brief overview of how art played a role in your life before Lyra died.
I have been creative all my life - from very young, through high school, and majoring in Graphic Design in college. Since being out of college, it had been more of a struggle to maintain a space and time frame to do art and be creative purely for myself. In the year before Lyra died, I often thought about doing something, but never got the materials out. I was often paralyzed by the concept of perfection. If it wasn't going to be perfect, then I wouldn't want to do it.

"Paralyzed by perfection." That phrase completely encapsulates the self-consciousness that I used to feel about my work too. Do you feel that grief released you from the idea of perfection, or is it something more like you felt a compulsion to explore this journey creatively?
I would lean more towards my grief having released me from the paralysis. I like to think that Lyra was a part of my reconciliation with my creative mind, releasing me from the holds of that "inner critic" who told me nothing was ever good. If in the process someone is encouraged by my work, then I'm terribly happy - but I'm not creating it for that purpose. Now, I do this for me. To remember, to grieve, to stay sane, to be me.

I have to say that we have been sharing your art for a couple months now. Your work communicates grief in a way that so many of us, those in this community for years to those newly arriving at still life 365, can relate. I often forget that this grief journey is relatively new for you. Lyra was born in December of 2009. Did you immediately begin exploring your grief through art? 
Technically, yes. Looking back it was mid-January when I started doing my art. It felt like a long time though. I realized that my art could be a way to work through my thoughts and feelings after Lyra passed - I couldn't really envision any other way that my grief would get out.

I first began looking at your work from the Creative Every Day project. You work in so many medium. Is that something you always did, or are you exploring more medium because of the call to create something everyday? Do you have a comfort medium you work in?
I laugh looking at all that I've done, because I really have been all over the place. I had to reorient myself in the artistic world because I had been so tentative since college for fear of failure. After Lyra died, I really just worked with what I could get my hands on at first, and then slowly remembered what I enjoyed. I'm learning more about mixed media, altered books, art journaling, etc. But as of now, my comfort medium would be my watercolors/pen combo. However, I want to try as many mediums as I can so I can look back and have a full understanding of various expressions and what I really like.

I have to say, your work is absolutely gorgeous. You have a style and look that is wholly your own. Of our work on still life 365, one of the most commented on was your piece Left Behind. Can you tell me more about that piece?
Thank you. It's all new to me - I never used to work in watercolor. I did this piece the week that Lyra was to be due. One of my best friends and I were pregnant at the same time, with our due dates the same week. I was so excited to experience all of this with her. And then it all changed.

She and her husband came to see us the day after I delivered, and attended Lyra's burial. They never shied away, or pretended to understand. They were just there for us, and loved us. But the week we were both due, it was just really hard not to feel left out. To know that I shared in half of the pregnancy and labor process, but not the part where you bring your baby home and fret over breastfeeding and sleeplessness. Everyone moves on with their children, while we stand in one place, tending to Lyra's grave.

My husband and I went and saw them the week their son was born. We were happy with them. We didn't have to pretend we were ok though, like we would with others...they knew we were sad. Their son is the only baby we've intentionally seen since Lyra died.

How do you think your art has changed because of your grief? And how do you think your grief has changed because of your art?
I suppose Lyra is my muse. Her short little life has given me the spark I needed to really dive in deep with my art, and silence that nasty little inner critic I have. I'd rather that spark have occurred in some other way...something healthier and more life giving than my daughter dying. Now I do something creative on a daily basis, and my mind is always mulling over something I plan on doing.

As far as my grief and how my art has changed it - I don't know where I'd be if I didn't have this outlet. Actually, I'd probably still be in bed sleeping, like I did in the early days after she died. It's given me a healthy outlet for the pain and confusion I have. It doesn't solve everything, but it allows me an expression of my inner most feelings.

As much as creating art has been part of your grief, viewing art becomes part of this journey too. How has connecting with other grieving artists helped you?
I am continually moved by the artists who submit on Still Life 365 - the poets, writers, and artists. Viewing their art gives such a deep connection to the soul, and an understanding of a shared experience even when they're halfway around the world. I'm so glad for this blog, and especially the community challenges each month. I can submit my art, and know others will see it - but to engage in a process that is intended to actively engage a community of artists...I just love it. I sincerely hope for Still Life 365 to be as deeply meaningful and helpful for others as it is for me.

I am continually moved as well. But thank you for saying that. Community is such an important part of what I wanted still life 365 to be. I am glad others are getting that out of this project too. Thank you so much for talking to me. I love your work and look forward to seeing what the rest of this Creative Every day year yields.
I'm appreciative for your vision of this space, and for the work you do in maintaining and encouraging others to be a part of it. Thank you, Angie.

Thank you, Rachel. 

Rachel lives in Kansas with her husband of four years and a gray cat. They lost their first child, Lyra, at 30 weeks due to a cord accident on December 18, 2009. Rachel maintains a blog called Curls O Fred. Rachel recently opened an Etsy shop called Curlsofred where she sells her watercolor paintings.


  1. Thanks for sharing more about yourself with us, Rachel. I have loved your artwork in this space. You're certainly very talented.
    I think we all agree your piece Left Behind was just incredible. Captures the shittiness of the situation perfectly. It is precisely how I felt for the latter part of 2008 and most of 2009, and even with Angus here now, it is still how I feel a lot of the time - left behind.
    Thanks again and keep up the great work.

  2. Thanks Angie for featuring Rachel here...

    Rachel, I truly love your work too. I always had a problem with drawing humans in a simple but capturing way and I admire the way you draw the human figure. I love your choice of colours and the compositions... all of it! Since I have seen your paintings I started to pick up my pen and try out a little more than before. Because my inner critic has become easier on me - but not silenced.

    Happy creating! xoxo

  3. Oh Rachel, it's lovely to read more about your process.
    I'm interested in how you say Lyra is your muse and has helped you overcome your paralysis of perfection. This is something I understand only too well, and something I'm struggling to overcome. You have inspired me here and on your blog.Thank you.x

  4. hi rachel and angie, you are both wonderful and inspirational by what you do, rachael you , by your dedication to expression through art and angie you by your dedication to bringing us all together, thanks girls xxx anne

  5. It is so nice to learn more about you. I love these artist to artist conversations!

    Rachel, your art is so unique and very touching. I am always moved by your creations. And as Angie said, I sometimes forget you are so new into your grief and loss of Lyra. I am glad are gave you a way to let your grief out and honor your little girl.

    This community is special and I'm grateful to be a part of it.


What do you think?