Tell us about yourself, who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
My name is Rachel Frankel. I’m an Oakland-based illustrator, fine artist and graphic designer. I’m originally from the San Fernando Valley suburb of Los Angeles and I’ve been living in the Bay Area for about six years. I’m currently freelancing and also working for a local stationery company called Paper Culture.
How did you get started doing what you do?
I was always sketching as a kid on any surface I could find (greeting card envelopes, the walls of my room, class notes, etc.), but I didn’t really start making art on a serious level until my second year of college. I originally planned to study music but ended up switching majors after my first semester. It took me another couple years to figure out that illustration was what I really wanted to do–it tied together my love of reading, music and doodling all at once.
How would you describe your style?
I work in a variety of different styles. My drawings tend to be very representational and tightly-rendered, while my graphic design work tends to be more focused on color and geometric shapes. Overall I lean toward natural imagery and the invention of narrative. I’ve recently been able to incorporate more humor and cutesy stuff into my work, and I think it’s been a great change of pace for me personally. I try not to take myself too seriously.
What’s your inspiration?
I really like exploring the interaction between humans and wildlife. I constantly draw interest from urban and natural environments. Ideas also stem from my current surroundings and the places I’ve traveled to (namely the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest). Musical and literary references regularly find their way into my work as well. I also source inspiration from other illustrators and makers on Instagram.
What does your typical day look like?
I try to get up early enough despite being the antithesis of a morning person. I’m currently in the middle of a 30-day daily project, so I usually illustrate something new for that before getting to anything else. After that, I’ll work on commissions or personal work for any set number of hours before nearly forgetting to eat lunch. I do try to force myself to take a walk around the neighborhood or to the library just to prevent myself from getting too cooped up. Then I’ll resume work until the evening, at which point I’ll either go to the gym or to band practice, depending on the day.
How do you keep motivated?
I try my best to keep an active sketchbook. I also have a list of running concept ideas on my phone in case I’m at a loss for what to work on next. I also happen to be a musician, which really helps as an alternative creative process when I’m feeling stuck artistically. On that note, I also try to listen to good music or podcasts while I’m working.
I try to constantly keep my big goals in close view. I set very high standards for my own work and constantly remind myself of what I need to do better going forward. I’m pretty hard on myself about being productive and tend to get antsy if I find myself without a new project to work on. I do try to balance that out with self-care (whether that entails baking or cooking yummy things at home or taking long walks through my neighborhood, making new animal friends along the way).
How have your surroundings influenced your work?
In myriad ways! The architecture here in the Bay Area often makes its way into quite a few of my drawings. We’re also blessed with some amazing natural parks and beaches here in California that are great sources for botanical and aquatic imagery.
What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
Keep your head down and don’t compare yourself to others so often.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
I think Ira Glass nailed it, so I’m just going to leave this here:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
Show examples of work in your portfolio that you want to be hired to make in the future, and don’t show work online that you never want to make again. (Some generously-bestowed grains of wisdom from Lisa Congdon.)
Have any future aspirations that you’d like to share?
I’m hoping to break into editorial and book illustration in a major way. Licensing is another area of illustration that I’d love to explore.
What’s your dream project?
Illustrating the cover of a Murakami novel (dreaming WAY big there). I’d love to design gig posters and/or album covers for some of my favorite bands (The National, Neko Case, Sharon Van Etten). Illustrating a cookbook would be a total dream, too.
What art supplies do you use?
Bristol paper, watercolor paper, graphite pencils, micron pens, gouache, watercolor, paintbrushes, Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop.
How could the art industry become better in your opinion?
The art industry I can’t really speak to, but I would say that art education needs to stop emphasizing style and aesthetic so much and start focusing more on succeeding as a businessperson and freelancer in the real world. I learned next to nothing about the illustration market in college and I felt pretty ill-equipped upon graduating. I think that it’s starting to get better out there as information becomes more widely accessible, so I try to stay optimistic for younger artists.