About Rachel Kiser Smith
Rachel Kiser Smith is a visual artist residing in Florida. The layered textures and simple lines of her artwork are a playful pursuit of beauty and joy.
What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?
I remember a home video of my dad asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. My answer was, “a mommy!” I honestly still don’t have many ambitions beyond being a great mother but I’ve leaned into making art more and more over the years. It’s the slow process of discovering and honoring what brings me joy.
What sparked your interest in painting?
When I got accepted into the art education program in college, I figured out that I could sign up for junior and senior level art classes. So early on I was shirking my education courses and taking figure drawing and oil painting. I took a materials class where we made our own paint by slowly mixing oil into ground up minerals. We made gesso and boards to paint on. I loved the process of getting into the materials and trying new things.
What did you study? Did you go to school specifically for what you do?
I didn’t stick with the art education program. But I didn’t ever commit to fine art either. After learning Spanish as a missionary in Argentina, I took a Hispanic American literature class and it felt like the perfect match. I ended up graduating with a degree in Spanish and visual arts. People always asked jokingly if I was going to teach art lessons in Spanish. I haven’t done that yet, but both skills are coming into play in unexpected ways in my life now.
What is your workspace like? Has it changed at all since the pandemic?
We have a room off of our living area that the whole family can use for creative mess making. We brought in a big table and painted it white. Whenever it gets too stained, we just slap on another coat of paint.
Since the pandemic, it’s become the homeschooling room as well. I’ve actually loved having the kids home, working on their own pursuits alongside me. But I needed somewhere I could leave my projects out, so we squeezed in another table. It just got its inaugural coat of white paint.
Where do you find inspiration for your paintings?
I rarely get ideas for a new painting unless I’m in the process of working on one. So I’ve learned to just start making stuff—sketching, painting color swatches, moving paper scraps around. It creates visual cues that I can follow, and ideas start to come. The work creates the inspiration.
Now that you live in Florida, does its lifestyle and culture influence your work?
Jacksonville is on the coast, but it doesn’t have the same vacation or retirement vibe of cities further south. It’s a pretty hardworking port city with immigrants from all over the world, as well as all the cultural complexities of the South. And it has a different kind of beauty than the Pacific Northwest, where I grew up. Living here is teaching me to see differently, which is always helpful in art.
What is your favorite part of painting (i.e. conceptualizing, actually putting the brush to canvas, finalizing, etc.)?
Mid-process, most of my paintings feel like they’re not going to work out. But after some struggle, there’s often a moment when everything comes together. It’s a feeling of finding something I didn’t know I was looking for, and it keeps the process endlessly interesting.
How would you describe your artistic style? What makes it distinctive?
Layered, textured, a lot of attention to color and negative space. I hope it comes across as being a bit playful and still a bit sophisticated.
What is a typical day like for you?
I’ve found that anything important but not urgent has to happen before 11:30 a.m. or it doesn’t happen at all. For me right now that’s a morning routine that fills me up emotionally, physically, and spiritually; reading great books aloud to my kids; doing some math with them; and spending at least 10 minutes on a personal creative project (it adds up, I swear!). Afternoons are more flexible—errands, appointments, caring for my home, and making art.
What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you?
“Use more paint.” A professor once told me that during a critique. It reminds me to not be afraid—of the materials, of waste, of messing up something I’ve already made. And it’s a bit of a metaphor for living an abundant life.
What advice would you give to someone who dreams of pursuing a career in a creative field?
Take opportunities that light a spark within you, even if you don’t know where they’ll lead. Ignore all others.
What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historically and present?
I’m drawn to artists whose work has shifted over time and has a bit of playfulness to it. Alexander Calder’s scrappy circus and his giant mobiles. Matisse’s early cubist paintings and his simple line drawings and cutouts. The conceptual art of Mary Blair and the creation of the Small World ride fascinate me. Kaya Doi is my current contemporary artist obsession.
What has been inspiring you lately?
Flowers! I’ve been foraging, arranging, and trying to grow my own flowers. So fun to dabble in something new. I’ve also been looking at floral motifs in folk art and vintage appliqué quilts lately.
How has COVID 19 affected your work and aspirations? Are there additional personal or professional interests you’d like to explore?
At the start of the pandemic, a children’s book publishing house that I love (Enchanted Lion) ran a kickstarter campaign to keep their lights on. It hit me hard that it might not always be as easy as it’s been to make and share art. That motivated me to get working consistently on a project I’ve had on my mind for a long time, a bilingual picture book in Spanish and English. It’s a full circle moment with my college majors.
Is there anything more you would like to “become?”
I’d like to finish my book and become a published author/illustrator! And I hope to be someone who accepts others as they are while helping them see and reach their potential, and to be that same advocate for myself.
For more inspiration check out more Becoming interviews on the blog.