By Rachel Ratcliff
Journey of an Artist
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I’m often asked how long I’ve been doing art. The truth is I’ve been making art since I could hold a crayon.
The earliest memories I have of creating art are around the age of 9. I lived on a farm in upstate NY surrounded by a plethora of wildlife and plants. I remember my mother teaching me how to break down the shapes of a morning glory flower in order to draw it. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion.
I would go out and draw everything I could see. Then I cut them out until I had piles of little pictures. There were geese, nasturtiums, sunflowers and bees. Even early on nature was my muse.
At the age of 14, eager for a little money of my own, I started my first art business, Rachel Rocks. With a little paint and some imagination, I would turn river rocks into art creations. Each faceless rock became a lifelike little animal under my brush. It was an exciting and monumental discovery to realize people WANTED my creations. I sold my work in several shops locally, as well as participating in a few art festivals. The tiniest inkling of the path ahead was dawning on me.
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All through high school I took every art class I could find. I loved them. As I made my plans for my future, for college, I looked at art programs to make my choices. I settled on VCU.
Then, at the age of 18, I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter. The dream seemed to evaporate.
But a dream is only just that, a dream, until you put in the hard work. So I continued to do exactly that. Juggling brand new adulthood, motherhood and all the challenges that come with that, I still kept taking classes. I branched out and took a variety of classes, but always the art stayed at the center.
Living in the first house of my own, a cozy little thing in downtown Fredericksburg VA, I couldn’t afford nice art to decorate my house. So, of course, I just made it myself.
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Over and over visitors asked to buy the paintings right off my walls. I started taking a few commissions and making a little side money. Despite everything I still didn’t believe I could ever be good enough to support myself as an artist. Somehow though, I was always drawn back into creating art.
An idea formed, a plan – a way to be able to focus on art while still keeping the lights on, and so we moved to Florida. The water, the beach, the wildlife there inspired me in new ways and I poured it out on the canvas. Life, however, wasn’t done challenging me. The ability to make art first and foremost continued slipping between my fingers.
Then I was in a car accident and herniated a disc in my neck. I couldn’t work my regular job because I couldn’t even lift a tray. During that time I was commissioned to do a painting, a commission that paid enough to cover my rent for that month.
A door shut, a window opened. I didn’t even have an easel big enough to hold the canvas, so I painted it on my kitchen floor.
That commission was a jumping-off point for me – it gave me the confidence to put together a body of work and attend my first “real” art festival.
That painting, a massive ocean wave backlit by the sun, was also the true birthplace of personal style. From there I continued to grow – in my skills, in my reputation, and in my faith in myself as a “real” artist.
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You can explore Rachel Ratcliff’s work at rachelratcliff.com