Tips for properly framing watercolor art.

My Story.

Ove the past year, I have had more and more requests for custom watercolor paintings – whether it is a custom home portrait or a family memory piece, one thing that I always to try to communicate to potential clients is the need to properly frame watercolors. Unlike acrylics and oils, which have their own specific framing/preservation needs, watercolors are painted onto paper. This process allows an image to be painted in a soft & delicate unique way, but extra care must be taken so that the art can be enjoyed, without damage, for many years to come.

Here is a simple infographic with tips on how to frame your custom piece. Doing these 5 things will allow your custom art to be preserved for many years, allowing you to celebrate your memories the way that they should be- in beautiful, vivid color.

If you have any specific questions concerning framing or custom art, feel free to reach out to me thru the contact form on my website here: www.rachelalvarezart.com

framing

Want to see some of the commissions that I have been working on lately? Check out my Instagram feed for all of my most recent projects here: @rachelalvarezart

Have a beautiful day!

Rachel

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2017 Year in Review

My Story.

It’s April 3rd, and I am FINALLY getting around to writing about what happened in 2017. Funny thing is with tax prep, current art projects and LIFE, I just hadn’t made it a priority to sit down and reflect on what had happened, and what I would like to see happen in 2018. So, here we are!

Last year was a big, fun whirlwind. Being a small art business owner has it’s own unique challenges, but coupling that with being a full time stay at home mom makes the days & tasks all kind of run together. I’ve never been all that great at making time for reflection (as seen in this here blog post, ha!), but I am trying to be better about it.

Sometime at the beginning of the last year I read this article: 4 motivations that make artists successful. In the article, it talks about how there are 4 major things that inspire artists to succeed – people can either be motivated by one, or a combination of all of them:

  • financial success
  • social interactions
  • compulsion to create
  • the freedom of the artist lifestyle

After I read the article, I realized that my desire to paint every day is definitely linked to all four, with financial success at the bottom of the list and social interactions at the top, in terms of importance to me.

The one thing that sticks out to me the most about 2017 is all of the social interactions. I was blessed to be able to work on twice as many custom paintings compared to 2016. Each of those pieces offered me an opportunity to really connect with an individual- to see a glimpse into what they hold dear and see as meaningful in their own life. This is my absolute favorite kind of work. There is just something about being trusted with someone’s memories that really makes being an artist rewarding emotionally. Here are some of the custom pieces I painted last year:

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I definitely feel a compulsion to paint (although I really don’t like that word “compulsion” at all.) It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s almost like I don’t feel the compulsion, but more the absence of something when I don’t make time for art. Last year I made time for it, and that felt really good.

It’s true, there is great freedom in the artist’s lifestyle but, as it’s been said, with great freedom comes great responsibility. Unlike my previous “traditional” jobs, I have no one giving me a morning to-do list, setting up my meetings, or paying my taxes or contributing to my matching 401k. In 2017 it was a big learning curve for me to manage my time wisely but I am SO thankful that it was ME managing MY time. I had the freedom to say “yes” to projects that really meant something to me and “no” to ones that didn’t.

Here are a few of the highlights of 2017:

 

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  • participated in my first art fair, and a very dark photo to prove it. /\
  • successfully potty trained our daughter
  • got accepted to see on Handmade at Amazon
  • all 50 state paintings were formatted into decals:

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  • I made our bed EVERY SINGLE MORNING after watching this >video<
  • I was able to collaborate with The Maryland Citizens for the Arts on a project to help raise arts awareness in our state:

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  • I stopped feeding myself solely with the random food left on my kid’s lunchtime plates – ie. goldfish crackers and cold Mac n’ cheese….
  • 37 unique commissions were completed
  • first commercial rights art project completed
  • used colored pencils for the first time since college (15 years ago):

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  • first newspaper article was written about me concerning balancing being a mom and artist
  • successfully learned all of the songs from Disney’s Frozen and then subsequently performed them during my kid’s bath time every day (pro tip: bathroom echoes make for better concerts, let me tell you…)
  • first foreign country painted:DSC_2617

2016/2017 side by side:

Overall, It was a great year with many opportunities for personal growth. There were many “firsts” and even more “what the heck am I doing?!” moments.

So, what are my goals in 2018?

  1. learn to pump the brakes. A perfectionist by nature, I can sometimes try to take on too much at once. I’m learning to be intentional with my time, both as a mother and an artist.
  2. cultivate better friendships, especially with other artists. As much as I love the social interactions that being an artist affords, it can sometimes be a lonely place too. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best friend someone can have- not because I don’t care- quite the contrary- I am simply not very good at reaching out.
  3. grow the wholesale side of the business. There is something very special about the thought of having my work be a part of someone else’s dream to have a small business. It’s like we are in this together, and I love that.
  4. Paint things that make me uncomfortable and force me to flex my art muscles.
  5. Be better about book- keeping throughout the year so I am not writing my 2018 re-cap in April of next year… (2019, don’t quote me on this one. haha!!)

Well, there you have it. Lots of things happened, and here’s to setting (and reaching) some new goals in 2018.

Thank you so much for following along, everyone.

Your support means the world to me!

See more “real-time” art projects on my Instagram >here<.

Have a beautiful day,

– Rachel

8 tips for battling self doubt as an artist. techniques to increase productivity for artists, makers and creatives by Rachel Alvarez Art

8 tips for battling self doubt as an artist.

My Story.

True story. I am consistently battling self-doubt. As they say, we are all our worst critics, right? Self doubt is what kept me from using my art degree for over 15 years. It took me becoming a SAHM, after a long corporate career, to feel confident enough to try to paint again (mostly because we were going to be relying on one income anyways so, if I failed, it wouldn’t really affect anyone else but me.)

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After 2 years of painting every single day, I have had many opportunities to face my fears head on. It crops up in many ways, but here are some of the effects that self doubt has had on my art if I let it get to the best of me:

  1. Under-charging for my work. I’ve caught myself typing an email response to a custom painting inquiry and instead of putting my true prices and sticking to them, I typed a number- back spaced- and re-typed a lower amount. Or, something has been thrown in for free.
  2. I’ve said no to certain projects just because it wasn’t in my “comfort zone” and I was afraid of failing.
  3. Procrastination happens more often when I am not believing in myself.

8 tips for battling self doubt as an artist. techniques to increase productivity for artists, makers and creatives by Rachel Alvarez Art
During the last year or so, I have been really intentional about acknowledging these feelings and determining their roots. Here are some things that have really helped me to produce when I am not feeling the best about my ability:

  1. Having email templates ready so that I can respond to inquiries in the same manner every time. This takes the emotional ups and downs out of the equation. Doing this has helped me to have even more confidence in my work than if I had accepted commission work at a discounted rate (which leaves me feeling defeated for not allowing myself to get paid what any person should get paid for the amount of hours/effort I am putting in.)
  2. Making the decision to never say “no” (as long as I have time in my schedule to take it on). Last year, I made a personal decision to do my absolute best to take on all painting challenges- even the ones that tempted me to run in the opposite direction. I am a perfectionist by nature, and doing this has helped me to deliver quality pieces of art that are completely outside of my normal subject matter…like a rooster wearing earrings eating chocolate, or a Venus Fly Trap. In the end, I have found that the completion of art that utterly terrifies me actually encourages me to take on an even bigger challenge the next time.
  3. Deciding to produce every single day for an audience (even if there isn’t one). This may sound strange, but if I make a commitment to produce every day in honor of my followers, it helps me get past self doubt. It helps me focus on the process and get away from the hangups that are sometimes associated with it. It helps me to get outside of myself and give me hope that I might make someone smile that day- and that makes getting past that moment of doubt worth every bit of the courage that it takes to paint.
  4. Keep a journal of quotes from happy customers. Self explanatory, I’m sure, but remembering people who have previously trusted me with their vision and memories helps me to know that I am capable of doing it successfully again.
  5. Studying previous personal art and looking for times when technical improvements or better use of materials were developed.
  6. Going outside. There is just something really healing about getting fresh air and then sitting back down in the studio.
  7. Recording the painting process. Last year, I had many moments of self doubt when the image on my watercolor paper was still in the mid-beginning stages. By filming the process, and then speeding it up, I can study how elements like shape, color, contrast and texture develop over time. It helps me to understand the concept of growth in my art. Just like a seed, it takes many other critical steps of development before that seed becomes a flower, blooming out of the dirt.
  8. Never throw away an unfinished piece of art. This decision was born out of this 50 state watercolor project, which took a little more than 5 months to complete. For that project, I had personal deadline- November 1st. With limited time available to paint (literally during the nap times of my kids) I could not afford to fail. If I started something that I wasn’t happy with I set it aside, moved onto something else, and re-visited it on another day. Somehow, I managed to paint 50 consecutive paintings without throwing away a single piece of paper – and I finished the last one on, you guessed it, November 1st.

watercolor United States map - 50 state paintings celebrating America the Beautiful. by Rachel Alvarez

How does your self doubt effect your business? What do you do to combat it?

Let’s get in touch. I would love to hear about your work, and the art that only YOU can do.

-Rachel @rachelalvarezart

PS. Along the way, I have been greatly inspired by other fellow artists and entrepreneurs. Here are some links to some of my favorite speeches and podcasts on this topic.

Recently, I had the privilege of hearing Adam Lerner talk about the risk of failure at Maryland Arts Day in Annapolis. It was very inspirational. He spoke about his Failure Project- which was designed to allow kids the opportunity to fail- while trying. Students were awarded “biggest failure” based on how much of a risk they were willing to take in order to create. This speech is similar to the one I heard last week:

“Hacks to get more done” via Amy Porterfield’s podcast

“Keeping Real on Social Media” via Jenna Kutcher’s podcast

Read my latest blog post here: I didn’t get the art scholarship.

I didn’t get the art scholarship.

My Story.

It’s a time in my life that I will never forget. I was in my sophomore year of school, and I was deep in the trenches of my art studies.

For spring break that year, my mom and I decided to take a train trip half-way across the country to Topeka, KS. to visit family. On our last day, we arrived at the train station only to hear that our train had partially derailed somewhere west of us after hitting a cow on the tracks.

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Our itinerary was going to be delayed. As I’ve written before, it’s usually my preference to take the long, scenic way home, but this time I need to get back- I had applied for an arts scholarship, and I needed to be home to present my portfolio.

When our train finally arrived in Kansas, we were hours behind schedule.  Our route was taking us to Chicago and, there, we would know just how late we would be on our return to Maryland. After we all boarded the train and got settled in, there was an announcement: “Amtrack officials will be meeting with people in the restaurant car to arrange travel plans. Please choose a member of your party as a representative to speak with them.” My mom looked at me and said, “Rachel, you’re 19, you go and make a decision to get us home.” We settled back into our seats and, ironically, I continued reading a book for my sociology class entitled “Ain’t no Makin’ It” (a really fascinating study on social inequality that I highly recommend.)tom-barrett-328717-unsplash

After a few hours, someone came to our seats and said that we were up. I followed them to a train car quite a ways away, and went inside where two officials dressed in navy blue were seated, waiting for me. “Where are you going?” they asked. “Salisbury, Maryland by way of Baltimore.” I said. “What brought you to Kansas?” they asked. “My mom and I spent my spring break traveling to see our family.” “Is there anything we need to know about your travel needs?” “Yes,” I said, “I need to get back to Salisbury as soon as possible. I’m an art major in college, and I am presenting my portfolio for an art scholarship.” They took notes. “Ok, ma’am, we will determine the best course of action and you will be notified in Chicago of the decision. You may go back to your seat.”

After 10 hours of travel, our train stopped in Chicago. It was about 2am.

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Hundreds of people exited the train and filed into lines at the Amtrak counter. Exhausted and frustrated, they received news that the next trains were not leaving for hours and they were prepared for the long night ahead.

While we were waiting in line, someone discreetly walked up to us and said to me, “Rachel?” “Yes.” I replied. They handed me an envelope and quietly whispered not to mention it to anyone. Inside the envelope we found information about a Chicago hotel, taxi fare, and 2 plane tickets-  back home to Baltimore. My mom and I were pretty shocked. We ended up spending the night in a very nice hotel, and took our time getting to the airport the next morning.

Our plane landed and we drove back to Salisbury. Turns out that, after all of that, we still arrived home sooner than if we had never been delayed in the first place. The next day, I arrived at the Salisbury Wicomico County Arts Council with my photography portfolio in hand and never said a word about what we had just been thru. I didn’t get the scholarship.

19 years has passed, and I will never forget the amazing way that our trip ended. To this day, when I am going thru something tough, I think back on times just like this one. I didn’t get the scholarship, but the experience was even more rewarding.

Isn’t it funny how things all seem to work out in the end?

“Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip.
— Robert J. Hastings

art inspiration - never give up on your dreams

Want to see some of the art that I paint now? Look here <

Read more about my love of travel here <

Enjoy the journey, folks.

-Rachel Alvarez

7 things I wish I had known when I was graduating from art school.

My Story.

10 thingsI wish I had known before graduating from art school.-2

I went to a liberal arts college that offered a very advanced level of training in the fine arts. My painting professor was incredibly talented, and certainly still reigns as a huge influence on my art to this day. It’s been 2 years since I made the jump into a legitimate art business, and it’s been a bumpy learning curve to say the least. Although many of the technical skills of art were covered in my core classes, there were still quite a few things that were lacking in my college studies to prepare me for a career in painting. I do not blame my instructors- they were doing the best they could to teach their specialties to a room full of hopeful students. And, as we all are well aware: there are too few hours in a day. But, my hope is that this information may help someone else to be better prepared for the jump into a full time career in the arts.

Here is my take on the 7 things I wish I had known when I was graduating art school:

  1. business
  2. business
  3. business
  4. business
  5. business
  6. business
  7. business

Ok, that took WAY too long to type but you get the idea: BUSINESS!!!!

It’s funny that in art school the main focus is on the technical usage of new supplies, the studying of art history and the making of new work, while there is little to no emphasis on the fact that, once you graduate, you are going to be running a business. I can’t help but think that the lack of teaching in this category is what steers promising artists away from pursuing their dreams. I mean, who wants to graduate from an art curriculum, with all of that hope, just to get busy learning about taxes and inventory right away?

But, seriously, here is the real list of the ten things I wish I had known more about before graduation:

  1. business basics – taxes, inventory, profit margins- all of the boring stuff.
  2. marketing
  3. social media
  4. photography
  5. SEO (search engine optimization) and website design
  6. building a “brand”
  7. time management

Business basics: you are going to need a great CPA. Before selling your art, make sure that you are set up legally in your city & state. It is NOT a wise business decision to try to go “under the radar”. I’ve read many horror stories on this- just trust me on this one.

Marketing: In order to market yourself, you have to know who would be buying what you are painting. How old are they? Are they male or female? What kind of home may they live in? Do they like coffee or chai tea or both? (seriously, you do need to dream up your target market- and, be specific!)

Social media: no one will find you. You must be willing to be seen on a variety of platforms other than your own website…which leads me to my next point:

SEO: before registering my business I had never even heard the term “Search Engine Optimization”. And, to be honest, it’s still an enigma to me. In basic English, SEO is a methodology of strategies, tactics and technique used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking in search results pages of Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines. My introduction to SEO was thru my etsy shop. Where I had to try to think of specific keywords that my potential customers would type into etsy to find exactly what I was selling. I’m still working on this, and probably always will be. ha!

Photography: If the bulk of your sales will be happening online, then it is CRITICAL that your photography is color accurate and shows size/scale. Think of it this way- when you go into a shop and see a cute shirt- you pick it up, feel the fabric, hold it up to yourself, etc. Obviously, online you cannot do this, so you have to give your customer the most information possible to make their purchase.

Building a brand: This is a big one. If you are selling art, is it peaceful? Is it abstract? What types of emotions do you want to evoke?  Whatever the answer is, that SAME emotion should be mirrored in your logo, images, your bio, etc. If you are an illustrator of silly images and people follow your work to get a good laugh, it probably wouldn’t be best to have serious political banter on your Instagram feed, right? I mean, if I want to laugh I don’t want to be thinking of politics- agree?

Time Management: Oh, man. What a doozie this is. Good thing juggling class schedules and assignments has already helped you a bit here because, you’re going to need it. For me, I try to think of tasks that can be done simultaneously. For instance, one of my goals is to better my Pinterest knowledge. So, when I am painting, I am also listening to podcasts that talk specifically about this topic. Or, if I know that I will need to wait for paint to dry on a commission, I intentionally begin painting 2 pieces at the same time- that way, when one is drying, I can pick the other up and stay in my painting mood.

Ok, folks. That wraps it up. If you are an aspiring artist I hope this helps you know where to focus your energies- but, please do reach out if you have a specific question. If you are already in business, I would love to hear your thoughts. What are doing now that you wish you would’ve known back then?

Have a great week chasing your dreams, everyone!

Want to see some of my work or get in touch? see my website here: www.rachelalvarezart.com

5 hidden gems on the Delmarva Peninsula

My Story.

When I was 13, living in rural Ohio, I didn’t yet know that I would eventually develop a love affair with long, winding back-country roads and abandoned barns. In fact, I dreaded small town living.  I distinctly remember daydreaming about where I would adventure to when I was old enough to explore.

One day, my dad received a letter from his best friend who had moved from Ohio, and been living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for a few years. In this letter he wrote that, “you can throw a rock in any direction and hit water.” Soon after, my dad was planning a move for our family to a new place.

It was the summer before my freshman year of high school, and we had packed all of our belongings into a U-Haul and moved to Salisbury, a small town on the “Delmarva” peninsula on Maryland’s eastern shore.

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It wasn’t easy moving into high school without any friends. I spent most of the weekends exploring the area with my mom, getting to know this small stretch of the state (about 170 miles long and 70 miles wide). We found cool little thrift shops and small towns. Little did I know that these moments are the same ones that I would treasure for a lifetime.

When I got into college, I knew that I wanted to be an art major. Initially, I took photography classes- mostly so that I would have a way to document these hidden gems along the backroads that I had come to love. Later, I chose a double major in photography/painting.

In the years post graduation, I spent most of my days off getting lost on winding county roads. With my camera in hand, I was able to meet many interesting people and step back in time.

Since then, my family and I have done the same…searching for abandoned beaches and local ice cream shops.

Here are a few of our favorite spots:

  1. Elliotts Island, MD. To get there: turn south in Vienna, MD. off of Highway 50 and just keep driving and driving. (make sure you have lots of gas) Home to about 70 locals, apparently, this part of the shore is not one to miss. Make sure to bring your camera and, if you’re hungry, check in at Upper Store- they may just be serving up Muskrat and Chicken dinner…DSC_0736
  2. Deal Island, MD. To get there: drive south on US 13 towards Princess Anne, MD. and turn right onto Deal Island Road…just keep going. – Made up of a little over 5 square miles, over 40% of which is made up of water, Deal Island offers stunning views of wildlife and waterways. Make sure to check out Deal Island beach- pack a bag to carry home some beach glass treasures and some rubber shoes to protect your feet. Keep driving to get to Wenona- you can get a craft draft beer for $3 at the local “hot spot” Arby’s.fullsizeoutput_1bd
  3. Onancock, VA. To get there: drive south from Salisbury on US 13. Turn right onto VA- 126. With an adorable downtown full of good restaurants, bed & breakfasts and galleries, you won’t have any trouble finding things to do. Go kayaking or take the Tangier Island Ferry to get to another really amazing do-not-miss stop on the peninsula. Or, drive up the road a bit to watch a sunset in Chincoteague- the drive over to it is worth it alone. DSC_2550
  4. Rumbley, MD. To get there: Drive south on US 13 from Salisbury towards Princess Anne. Take MD- 413 towards Westover and turn right onto Fairmount Rd./Frenchtown Rd. Stop by The Hideaway Grill for a meal on the water. DSC_1642
  5. Cape Henlopen State Park. Cape Henlopen, DE. To get there: google map it on your iPhone. (just kidding, but really- there are a lot of fun back road ways to get here!) Okay, okay. Locals might get mad at me for calling this place a “hidden gem” but, let’s be honest, in the off season it feels like you are in the middle of nowhere enjoying God’s un-touched country. Take your bike and pack a lunch. It will be a good time. (I couldn’t find my personal photos of Cape Henlopen, so I’ve attached a painting I did of it last year as part of a 50 state watercolor series.) delawareamazon

Have you ever been to the Delmarva? What special places have you discovered?

Want to see more photos and art celebrating this unique part of the US? Look here.<

All photographs © Rachel Alvarez Art

travel plans

My Story.

I don’t want to go on a cruise. Crazy, I know.

I can’t tell you how many people I know that have come home from a cruise and spoken so highly of their experience:

“Rachel, you just HAVE to go!”, they would say. “It’s SO relaxing and- well, the FOOD is AMAZING!” “Did I tell you that the food was amazing?!” And then, inevitably, they would share about the fancily carved pineapples and melons and the dolphin ice sculpture on the buffet table.

I remember being in Key West one time when a cruise ship had arrived at the dock. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people filed off of the boat to arrive at an already busy tourist trap. They hurried thru the streets, perhaps to find a poorly made Chinese keychain to remember their visit and, 4 hours later, they answered the cattle call to arrive back at the dock to board that huge boat again.

There is certainly value in being able to relax and literally do NOTHING, but I don’t personally feel that getting waited on hand and foot is at the top of my wish list. If I were to describe a perfect day, it would likely include getting lost while having nowhere I needed to be. Accompanying me, would be my husband and kids with no definitive itinerary, a full tank of gas and nothing “pressing” except the shutter button on my camera.

shop.rachelalvarezart.com

Yesterday, was Christmas, and I started day dreaming about what kinds of adventures our family might get into in the coming year (and thinking about some of my favorites from times passed.) The most memorable trips that we have taken usually included of the following: Simple accommodations, PB&J sandwiches, hanging with the “locals”, relatively-un-touched-nature, guilty-pleasure-iPod-playlists and beach chairs. Some day I will share about the fun experience of going to the dentist in Dominican Republic, but I will save that for another post…

It’s funny that we sometimes feel the need to fill our time seeking luxury when simplicity can be just as mentally rewarding.

With the new year quickly approaching, one of my goals is to look for adventure right here at home. Drive the backroads more. Pay attention to the birds. Feel the breeze. Be present.

What have been some of your favorite adventures? Were you near home or far away from it?

 

 

 

shop small Saturday

My Story.

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Shopping small is a way to support someone’s dream. I know this first hand! By supporting my art, you have allowed me the amazing blessing of staying at home with my two babies. That is what it’s done for me, but don’t just take my word for it.

Here is what some of my fellow artists, makers and dreamers said when I asked them
“why do you love running small business?”

* “It allows my schedule to be totally flexible to adjust to things that come up so I can be there for my family. (ex. field trips, helping out at school, sporting events, etc.) I get to set my schedule!!”
* “My boss is so kind, he feeds and buys me everything I want at the time.”
* “It allows me to stay at home with my 9m old daughter on weekends and pay bills, without the need for a second “full time” job.”
* “It helps me build self confidence and feel a sense of accomplishment.”
* “We can live in the country and I don’t have to go to work in an office.”
* “I have a son with autism, so I can be there for him.”
* “It’s providing a piece of my heart to others. I love hearing back from others of the joy it brings to them ❤️. ”

I am so incredibly thankful for your support of my art. To express it, I am giving all newsletter subscribers on my website a special coupon code to use this Saturday.

Want to receive one? Sign up HERE.

Thanks again for all of your words of encouragement, shares, likes and purchases.

Thank you so much for supporting my dream,

Rachel

www.rachelalvarezart.com

 

Nothing is ever a waste.

My Story.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how so much of what I had done BEFORE I started an art business had been preparing me for what I am doing now. So, here’s my story- from seasonal worker at a music store, to Starbucks manager, to university store employee–and just about everything in between…

When I was 27, I put my 2 weeks notice in at Barnes & Noble, and took a job in Baltimore at an educational center for kids. I packed my things, moved away from my hometown, and landed in totally unknown territory— all because I couldn’t take the retail management world anymore that had sucked me in after art school.

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the best little apartment in the world.

 

Just 4 months after relocating, my boss, three co-workers and I were sent to a region meeting in D.C. There, we met over 300 other young professionals with bright eyes for their futures. Little did we know that the men standing in the back of the room were there to hand us our severance packages, and that we had just 2 weeks of work left, right before the holidays, before we were going to have to start our job searches all over again.

So, here I was back in the game just as fast as I had gotten out of it.

I vowed that I would NEVER, EVER work retail again. The long hours, and hard, physical labor just weren’t what I was hoping to be doing when I graduated from college. I applied to over 100 jobs- avoiding anything that even smelled like “customer service”.

I remember it well- that one day, about 2 months into my job search (think economic depression of 2008…),  when I had called my mom and broken down into tears. It had never taken me so long to find a job before, and the pressure of life was really starting to weigh me down. She reassured me that all of my previous experiences would be helpful to me now, and that my job was right around the corner.

Later that same day, I found myself at a Starbucks for an interview with two women who were starting an art school for kids and were considering me as an instructor. “Finally, something art related”, I thought.

Picture this:

We meet outside, all dressed in business attire, portfolios/resumes in hand, and go in to order our coffee-

“What can I get for you?”

me: “tall black coffee, please.”

woman #1: “I’ll have a medium half-caff, extra foam, sugar free caramel latte.”

woman #2: “Medium Pumpkin Spice latte, 4 shots, extra hot.”

We sit down at a round table, and awkwardly begin the interview process while we wait for our drinks.

Barista arrives and delivers all three at the same time. I pick up the small cup.

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The two women I was with sat there, confused as to which coffee was theirs. I picked one up, slid the sleeve down the side of the cup, and said: “this is a half-caff, extra foam, sugar free caramel latte.” They looked stunned. One woman reached for her drink. “How did you know which one was which?! That’s amazing!”…..”I used to be a manager at a Starbucks”—

Right there, in that very moment, I realized that all of the times that I had scrubbed the cafe floor on my hands and knees, daydreaming about a different career, those moments would lead me up to this day. It was, and still is, a clear moment of clarity: wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, you could be preparing yourself for your dream.

I had been tricked- I’d wasted way too much time thinking that the grass would be greener. It wasn’t until almost 10 years later that I went out on a limb and applied for my business license.

What does this have to do with being an artist, you ask?

Things are different now.

When I do the mundane boring tasks, such as taxes and inventory, I think: these things wouldn’t have been available to do if I had not had any customers this year.

When I package my boxes to ship, I use tools that I learned to use when I was packing books, cds and college merchandise in my previous retail jobs.

When I get a great product review from a customer, I think of the people who used to ask me  (in a sarcastic voice)  why I was in RETAIL instead of being an “real artist”. To which I would respond: it’s an art to help customers, and I really do enjoy doing it.
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When I write my thank- you notes for customer orders, I think of all of the times that I wasn’t able to help the customer find that one “book with a blue cover”, but went the extra mile trying. (bookstore people, you know what I am talking about).

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photo from Pinterest (oneillibrary) to prove that this happens.

When I set up for art shows now, I think about the overnight shifts I worked to get the tables merchandised and ready for the holiday rush.

I still drink coffee, lots of coffee.

I still LOVE helping customers, and get to do it from my own home.

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So, wherever you are right now- whatever you are doing- enjoy the moment.

You are still an artist, even if you’re not painting.

A (summer) day in the life of…

My Story.

During the summer, more than ever, our family gets in our minivan for last-minute impromptu road trips. It’s not unusual at all for us to get lost on back country roads and end up 2 states away without even planning on it– to be fair, two states isn’t all that far since we are on the eastern shore of Maryland and everything is within easy access. Still, it’s always fun to see what kind of new adventures we can get ourselves into.

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We’ve stumbled upon bald eagle nesting grounds. Collected antique pottery shards that have washed up onto beaches. Eaten ice cream on the bay at unknown hole-in-the-wall-perfection.

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I think one of my favorite things about living here is the fact that we can go in almost any direction and hit water. Something about the fact that all of it meets at some point, in a variety of ways, makes me smile. I may not know where I am going, but the water sure does. Water is a very common theme in my paintings- it’s particularly challenging to paint because of it’s ever-changing color and shape, and I love a good challenge.

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There are roads near our home that make you feel like you are literally about to drive off of the face of the planet. No other people- no other homes- no other cars: just the birds and the bugs. I love it.

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My good friend Tim once pointed out that the further you drive into the country, the less fingers a person uses to wave “hello”. I like those pointer-finger-only kinds of hellos. You know, the kind that only the locals give to each other.

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My camera is a close friend during those trips.

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I read a quote the other day that really hit me:

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”   Dorthea Lange

When I was in college, I was initially a photography major. There were many times when I used my camera and a whole new world opened up to me. I noticed things in detail that I never would’ve even paid any attention to without that shutter click. Colors were more vibrant. Pattern more visible. Texture more tangible.

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My encouragement for you is to grab your camera. Don’t go somewhere to take pictures. Go somewhere to discover beauty. Enjoy the unexpected. Get lost, and in the process, find out a little bit more about yourself.

Want to see more of what inspires me as an artist? See more photos, read stories and see works in progress on my Instagram: www.instagram.com/rachelalvarezart . Tag me with YOUR new adventure. I’d love to hear about it!