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

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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.

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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?

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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

summer’s breeze is a blowin’

My Story.

I can still remember it like it was yesterday… ripping up tiny pieces of a 3×5 card and shoving them into the pages of a book that I had just bought called “America’s Most Beautiful Road Trips”. I was in college, and my best friend Danny and I had decided that we were going to spend the summer of our freshman year of college sleeping in hostels and finding beautiful places to get lost.

He bought a new truck.  I wrote the list of what to bring.  We had a great plan.

With almost 2 months before we needed to hit the road, I picked up additional shifts at my waitressing job…stashing away the loose change and singles that I used to count on the living room floor of my parents house after I got off of work, making their house smell like one big pepperoni pizza.

The countdown had begun. The plans had been finalized. The cigarette-lighter-operated-cooler had been purchased.

Then, the most totally unexpected thing happened. It was catastrophic, and sudden. There was no way to get out of it. It was a sign of adulthood. It was a real dream crusher.

Danny had JURY DUTY.

….seriously?! Are you kidding me?

nope.

He had jury duty.

I couldn’t laugh about it then but, as an adult, it makes me giggle now. What terrible timing for something that probably everyone in the world dreads- well, maybe not EVERYONE, but probably not the kind of people I would be planning a cross-country road trip with.

When I was in my 20s I travelled as much as I could afford. Well, that is, after going to as many concerts as I could afford first. I never did get around to doing that cross country trip, but I did get around to painting it.

www.rachelalvarezart.com

Watercolor U.S. Map

For over five months I day-dreamed about where I would go if I could finally make that journey as I painted 50 states. I flipped thru the pages of that same “best road trips” book and made another, updated, list of mental notes.

Last month, my husband and I were driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on our way home from Annapolis. It occurred to me that nearly every 3rd car on the road had a Maryland crab sticker plastered on the back. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Maryland- and, I love eating some blue crabs but, I just don’t want a crab on my car. I decided then and there that I would somehow figure out how to make decals out of my watercolor state paintings.

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thank you for the cool pic, R&M

 

I started with Maryland (only natural), and then moved onto the others- releasing about 10 new states every 2 weeks:

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About a month ago, I was nearing the end of formatting them all and I had a thought: “what if there are people living in places all over this beautiful country that would like to participate in my “virtual” adventure?” By going to places in their local states and taking pics of one of my decals, I could live vicariously thru their travels and, shoot, maybe they’d even have a really fun time exploring, too.

Last week I received the first pic- taken on a coastline in Maine by Ranissa Finch of A&H Photography:

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Next, I received a pic from Melissa, a customer who was traveling thru the mountains of North Carolina:

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Finally, I was tagged in a post over on instagram (@rachealvarezart) with this awesome pic taken by Libby Hackett Photography in Wooster, Ohio:

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To date, I have shipped decals to 10 states but I am planning on doing all 50. It will be so fun to see how each local wants to celebrate their home state for this project.

Wanna get in on the fun? Follow me over on IG, and send me a PM here. We c an talk about where YOU live and where you wanna go on your adventure.

You could say that painting has become a fun way for me to explore- even if that only happens from my studio desk, painting during my kid’s nap-times.

I’ll take it.

#priorities.

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Love is in the air.

My Story.

This weekend, my husband and I will be celebrating our 5 year anniversary. Time sure does fly when you are having fun. I am so blessed to have a partner who supports my art. He’s simply the best.

It’s funny how life can put two people together. He’s Dominican, I’m a Maryland girl. We had very little of the same interests when we first met, but we both just knew.

I would’ve traveled the world to find a man like him, but I sure am glad that he was in Florida when I was.

What’s your love story?

www.rachelalvarezart.com

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I’m leaving’ on a jet plane…

My Story.

This past month has been so fun in my little world of watercolor.

I am now 80% done with a project that I have faithfully worked on, daily, for the past 4 months. Over 150 hours of painting and endless hours of sketching, planning, scanning, editing- repeating.

I still have a ways to go but, in the process, I have visited some of the most amazing places in my wanderlust imagination:

South Dakota

Massachusetts

Indiana-coming soon

Missouri

Kentucky -coming soon

Nebraska

Oklahoma

Illinois

Lousiana

Ohio

New Hampshire-coming soon

 

This project has afforded me the opportunity to be increasingly astonished with the amount of natural beauty that I have within road-trip-travel-time of my home. My mind is swirling with daydreams of a summer cross country trips to all of these amazing places. I’m using this project as a virtual bucket list for my vacation plans. So, in reality, I am not painting- I am handwriting a HUGE map of places I’ll go – but with a paintbrush instead of a pen.

Someday world, someday.

Interested in seeing the rest of this series or some of my other work?

Please check out my website www.rachelalvarezart.com