A friend of a friend, I first met Rachel over 10 years ago, when I was living in, then visiting Montreal often. Her bubbly vivacious spirit and impeccable sense of style were the first things I noticed about her. It took longer to discover that she was a multi-talented artist as well. In fact, I have one of her custom made necklaces of a stylized Caribou antler and it gets constant compliments everytime I wear it.
Rachel Dhawan is a maker. She uses metal, wood, leather, woodburning, paper, paint, and any other material that interests her to make objects that are either functional or beautiful, or both. Her intention is to create objects that tread lightly on the planet by recycling materials and using sustainable art-making processes, and for those objects to be incorporated in people’s daily lives.
Not only does she have a sterling silver jewellery line, Brazen Design but she also has a line of eco home decor with her partner, Aaron Reaume, called Blisscraft and Brazen. Her most recent drawing and painting work involves painting on sheaths of birch bark from fallen birch trees on their property, an acre of forest in the Laurentian mountains of Quebec.
Please, discover more about Rachel’s approach to creativity in this interview!
What does it mean to be an artist? And when did you know you were an artist (aka intensely creative person)?
I think being an artist means respecting your desire to create. And possibly, though I respect the reclusive genius, to share the result of that process with others.
When I say that an artist respects their desire to create and share their creations, I mean that artists allow for the creation process – will prioritize, value and make time for it. This is no small task in our age of productivity and “Time is Money”, particularly when the creative process doesn’t seem to go well or produces less than satisfactory results.
I think more people are artists than will admit to it (just as I think there are more feminists in the world than those who will actually boldly claim the infamous term).
I don’t know a time where I didn’t feel intensely creative.
I was lucky, my parents and teachers always encouraged my “artistic talents”, a decision my folks may or may not have regretted when I dropped all math and science classes during high school and announced my desire to pursue post secondary education with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. (My father not-so-secretly hoped I would get into “graphic design” and make websites and become a coding whiz – perhaps still does!) However, for an immigrant Indian family, that’s some pretty liberal and out-of-the-box child rearing for which I will be eternally grateful.
When you consider the words luscious and soulful, what comes to mind? Is there anyone you know who embodies these traits? When do you feel luscious and soulful?
Authenticity comes to mind.
For me, luscious is a state of fully inhabiting the body and being truly comfortable in one’s own skin. This is a recurring challenge in my life as I have a few chronic health conditions that can make my own skin and body feel like a foreign and unforgiving land. It is my work in this life to learn to inhabit and love my body lusciously, no matter what state that body is in at each given moment.
Food has much to do with loving and being luscious in the body. Luscious food is nourishing, tasty, colourful, and beautifully arranged on the plate and table, and often my most creative act of the day is to feed myself.
I have many friends who I feel embody the words luscious and soulful, and I hold them as beacons for my own journey towards fully inhabiting my body in a loving way.
I feel more soulful than luscious, because the word “soulful” conjures up images of myself in my many moments of pain, where I have had no choice but to respond to the deepest desires of my soul, and my life as it looks now is due entirely to the decisions I made in those moments.
What do you love most about your body? And why?
I love that my body is a teacher. An intimate teacher.
Every day I learn lessons from it: about acceptance (learning to accept what at first feels like limitation); about our incredible power to adapt (learning to live with pain and feel joy and happiness despite it); about gratitude (appreciating the moments of health and mobility, and recognizing the wisdom found while lacking mobility); about listening close (learning to pay attention to what my body is telling me, respecting its limits and boundaries and giving it all the creative time it needs).
My body physically craves creativity. I am learning to recognize how healing creativity is to my body, and the symptoms that arise when there isn’t enough.
What brings you pleasure? What senses are involved?
The single most pleasurable act is being hit by a wave of inspiration, a visit from the angels of creativity, and sitting down at my work table to channel that visitation into a new thing that didn’t exist before.
I am drawn to beauty and stories in all things, and I love surrounding myself in it. My home is an important source of pleasure. I love that so many of the objects in my home are beautiful, hand made pieces that tell a story; the story of the friend who made it, the found object reconfigured and preserved, the souvenir of a time or place.
Food brings me immense pleasure – I use the above mentioned objects to make and serve colourful, nutritious and tasty food multiple times a day. The sound of sizzling veggies, the taste of spices and herbs and meats slowcooked to perfection, the brightly purple of cabbage next to intensely green rapini – it engages all my senses, and I feel a lot of love while cooking, which I hope subconsciously streams into the recipients of my meal.
If you had to throw a dinner and dance party how would you do it?
I would have the party here at my home, invite all my loved ones, meal plan and make a playlist weeks in advance, clean my house from top to bottom, wear my favourite clothes and prepare as much as I could before my guests arrive in order to fully enjoy their presence.
I would invite everyone to stay over, and we’d have a campfire and crank the stereo full blast. I’d invite friends to bring their ipods and bake sweets because I can’t bake to save my life, and if it was hot we’d cool off between dance sessions by going down to the lake.
If it was winter I’d have little stations set up around the house to appeal to different pleasures – puzzles, lego, paints, skis and snowshoes, and the kitchen would be everyone’s domain.
Where/how do you find your inspiration?
I am inspired by wilderness; trees, animals, water and sky. Which is why I now live smack dab in the middle of it – surrounded by the forest and lakes and creatures of the Laurentian mountains in Quebec.
It is very rare that I am without inspiration, even when I’m not surrounded by these things. I have an abundance of inspiration and I am very grateful for that.
What does your ideal day look like?
I wake up at 7am and go for a walk through the forest and down to the lake. When I return, I do 15 minutes of qi gong followed by 15 minutes of yoga.
My partner and I make breakfast together, usually eggs and bread, with fresh tomatoes and bulletproof coffee.
In an ideal day, when I get to my computer at 9 am, I discover there are no new emails that need responding to, and a day of juicier tasks await me in the studio.
Studio tasks are wonderfully diverse, from carving rings and pendants in wax, to woodburning designs or handpainting rocks. Sometimes it involves an afternoon run to the post office to ship client orders, and an excuse to grab fresh bread from the local cafe and interact with other human beings.
By late afternoon, I have wrapped up my tasks and give myself a couple hours of unencumbered art-making, unattached to the businesses art production, which often takes the form of watercolour painting.
After a tasty dinner, we cuddle up under a blanket and watch nature documentaries, followed by an hour of reading before bed.
What advice would you give to your younger self? How old is she when she needs this advice?
Be yourself, guilt free. She needs to hear this over and over again from birth onwards. I still need this advice!
What is your most treasured possession? Tell a little story about it.
I left this question for last, thinking maybe I would think of something… I left the interview questions sitting, all answered, save for this one, for a week… and nothing.
I think it is because nothing is permanent, and if I value one thing above all others, there is the risk of losing it. And I don’t think we can truly possess anything. I love and treasure my body, the art in my home, the pieces of birch bark my partner saved and flattened with my joy in mind… but I can not choose a most treasured possession, and I’m not sure I really possess any of those things.
Perhaps my creativity is my most treasured passion, as it has brought me so much joy and so many interesting and profound experiences.
Inspired resources: please share any heart-moving soul-shaking artistry or experiences that have moved you. What made it so powerful?
When I was 17 years old, I spent a semester in Italy, taking art classes. I had saved up for four years, and had my very own apartment in Florence.
Despite my extremely tight budge, it was a dream; like living in a cloud of inspiration. The food, the art, the architecture, the way the city is laid out, the epic sunsets over the ancient bridges crossing the Arno river, the wine, the…men. (tee hee!)I was in bliss, and I fell into a deep depression upon returning to my teenage existence in Toronto.
I have as of yet never returned, but I plan to, and just thinking about Italy, and my brief glimpses of Sienna, the Adolphi Coast, Capri and Sorrento… seeing Boticelli’s Venus with my own two eyes, LIVE!…swimming in the mediterranean, and eating fresh seafood while watching gondoliers in Venice… it gives me goosebumps and a rush of adrenaline and my face flushes with excitement.
I think Italy (perhaps not modern Italy, but its ancient roots) is a luscious and soulful place where beauty and love and passion are highly prized.
Who are your favourite artists? And why?
Frida Kahlo has always topped my list of favourite artists.
I have an entire room in my home dedicated to her and her body of work.
For me she represents the courage of the artist to tell their story, and to find beauty in pain. Her work speaks to me in a deep and cathartic way, and the colours and foliage and self representation are aesthetically pleasing to my eyes.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you and your art?
I don’t yet know where it fits in, but I’m obsessed with photography.
Not fancy digital SLR/tripod/photoshoot kinda photography. Just iphone pics, framed and shared via instagram. It’s one of my most prolific ways of being creative, but I never really think of it as art, but it kinda is.
My instagram account is @blisscraftandbrazen
ps – to see more great interviews, check out the Lusciously and Soulfully interview series.
pps – if you know of any amazing artists I can profile in this series, send me an e-mail with their info – I’m always excited to connect with interesting amazing creatives.