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.

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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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