By Michele Brittany, a West Coast Bleeding Cool Correspondent
I could use several adjectives – colorful, whimsical, fanciful, beautiful, fantastical, mythical – to describe the art work of illustrator Rachel Walker, whose Edge of the World Art Studio booth filled with her prints, pendants, and usually a framed original painting, grace many of the comic cons held in Southern California. At the Long Beach Comic Expo held this past May, Walker was advertising a gallery reception in Pomona, California’s Mosaic Gallery in mid June. Having enjoyed perusing her prints and buying a few of them too, I was anxious to see more of her original paintings as well as show my support at her first gallery show. After the show, I caught up Walker via an email interview below.
Michele Brittany: Rachel, at what age did you start drawing? And, did you have a favorite subject matter you liked to draw?
Rachel Walker: I’ve been drawing and creating since I can remember … Pencil, chalk, paint, sewing, embroidery, knitting, sculpting, borrowing my grandfather’s video recorder and making stop motion films… I was into everything. I’ve always wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember.
My grandmother used to read to me every night (or make up stories) – all sorts of fairytales, old Grimms, Aesop’s Fables, old Russian Tales, old Japanese Folklore, old Greek Myths, Geoffrey Chaucer, Shakespeare, biographies of people like Ben Franklin and Abe Lincoln… I loved all of it and still remember them.
MB: It sounds like your familial relationships influenced and supported your artistic endeavors…
RW: My grandfather was a mechanical engineer and high-level designer for General Dynamics and was a huge influence in my life until I was 10 when he passed away. He would tell me all the stories of Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon and how they discovered King Tut’s Tomb in 1922 and some of his travels through Germany during WWII. He was a mathematical genius and really taught me my love of building stuff, which I’m sure translates to my love of pattern drafting and corset building. My grandmother and mother were the more artistic side of my childhood. My grandmother was a history buff and loved cooking and my mother loves animals and runs her business with my dad – “On the Spot” Mobile Dog and Cat Grooming as well as being in the top 10 in the nation for breeding champion Bullmastiff show-dogs.
I continued to live with my Gram until I moved out to go college and marry Dave [Cone]. We very close since it was just she and I for many years. Sadly, she passed away a few months after my college graduation. She left me her house, so in many ways it was sad and happy at the same time to move back home. She was always incredibly supportive of all my endeavors, and I think she would be very happy with all my work so far.
MB: I remember you mentioned learning costume design as your course of study, so how did you end up painting and when did that happen?
RW: I’ve always been painting and drawing. In high school I got into the AP Art class and Theater and took both all 4 years. One of the first plays I did was Frankenstein and help was needed for Costumes and Makeup so I signed up and loved it!! So I kept going with it and when I graduated from college, I did a number of stage shows as Costume Designer. I realized I enjoyed the research and design was my first love, so I switched focus to Fine Art.
MB: Can you tell me what artists and styles inspire you?
RW: I love Art – and love looking at it, collecting it, talking about it, and creating it! All the greats inspire me – Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, John William Waterhouse, Frida Kahlo, Hokusai, Hiroshige. And modern artists like Jasmine Becket-Griffith, Melita Curphy, Mark Ryden, Tim Burton, Colleen Atwood … along with a ton of others I know I’m forgetting…
MB: Yes I see a heavy Asian influence from Hokusai and Hiroshige, in style, color palette, and mythos, such as the cats with two tails…
RW: Japanese folklore is one of my favorites – I love lots of cultures – but Japan has always held the most sway. When I was little I read a book by Lafcadio Hearn titled Kwaidan. Hern was an Englishman who moved to Japan at the turn of the 1900’s and traveled the country collecting and recording all the regional ghost stories and folklore. There were no pictures of these strange monsters and I always thought it would be fun to illustrate all his stories.
MB: You had preliminary sketches hung alongside your finished painting in a couple of cases at the show; can you walk me through your creative process?
RW: I usually I work on a piece for about a month. I read and research an idea. I do some rough sketches then I start the finished painting. Sometimes I get to a point where the painting is not what I was hoping for and I start over or put the idea on a back burner for better inspiration. Sometimes I pick up the idea again a year or two later and look at it with new eyes. Sometimes I never get back to it.
MB: Rachel, you sell prints of your originals. Are the prints limited? And what has been your most popular print to date?
RW: Right now most of the prints are open edition. I start at number 1 and each one matted up gets the next number up. Alice is the favorite currently at #465 and Beautiful Death at #418.
I may eventually retire the prints and if I do then I will add that section to our website with the date and number we retired them at. Right now most are open edition. I have done a couple limited editions of our anniversary cards. I only print 500. And I made a special print for our galley opening and only made 200. Those are all signed and numbered and will not be reprinted again in those forms.
MB: Your subjects have run the gamut and represent your many interests, but has there been a subject you haven’t painted but would like to?
RW: There is a HUGE painting I’ve been planning for a couple of years. It will be mural size – multiple feet long – of the Fox Wedding. In traditional Japanese lore, the Kitsune are the fox spirits who are able to shape shift and are often the tricksters. On sunny days during a rain shower is when they hold their weddings. I’d love to do a full traditional painting in full Royal formal dress of the entire fox wedding procession, with all the attendants, guests, and little cubs, but that will take some serious planning and time.
MB: I noticed at the show, you had a section of modern pop icons, including some familiar comic book faces, and the accompanying display card mentioned you and your husband, artist David Cone, have a contest on Facebook – please tell me more.
RW: Our Facebook game started last year to celebrate our second anniversary as freelance artists and has kept going every third Thursday of each month. Dave or I will paint a pop culture character for fun and practice that is hopefully very recognizable. The first 5 people to correctly name the character, we send a free trading card print to them. It has been super fun and has gotten a great response! July 2014 will be round #15!
MB: Can you reveal how you came to ‘Edge of the World Art Studio’ as a business name?
RW: “Edge of the World” is our official business name since Dave is an artist and sculptor as well. We wanted a name that would easily include both of our work and because we love stories, different cultures, myths and monsters, Dave suggested the name to include the myriad of our styles. And it gives our studio a bit of mystery and magic.
MB: Speaking of pop culture references, which icons are your favorites?
RW: I love pop culture – all of it! And, history; I can’t pick a favorite. My current comic book favorites that I’m reading are The Walking Dead. I been following that since the first year. Saga is amazing and The Crow is an all time favorite. Audrey Niffenegger is my favorite novelist with The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry. And, I love Edith Wharton and H.P. Lovecraft … at my core I think I’m a hopeless romantic with a Goth/punk edge.
I loved The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen and read it till the binding fell apart when I was little and actually screamed out loud when I saw the Disney version in the theater!!! My Gram was so embarrassed! So I guess that explains some the darker edge to my work.
MB: Your illustrations are gorgeous — have you thought about illustrating comic books or a graphic novel in the future? Or at the very least, doing cover art?
RW: I’d love to illustrate a comic book, but I paint very slowly. I haven’t really perused that, but covers I think would work out really well.
MB: Your show was well attended and seemed like many enjoyed viewing and buying your art. How do you feel about your show went?
RW: The Mosaic Gallery show is my first actual solo gallery show! And it was a huge success!! The gallery was packed the entire night and didn’t slow down! And I was approached by another gallery in Claremont for another possible solo show of all my Japanese themed work! I will keep you posted of when that happens.
MB: I feel like I have seen you at all the cons here in SoCal since I moved here in mid 2010. When and where was your first con?
RW: We started selling prints officially May 1, 2011, and October 2011 was our first comic convention, the Long Beach Comic and Horror Convention.
MB: And lastly, where can people see your art in the coming months?
RW: We are booked at lots of shows coming up! July 3-6 Anime Expo, Artist Alley #D8, at the Los Angeles Convention Center and then on Saturday, July 12 at Firefly Fan Group Show being hosted and held at A Little Known Shop in Anaheim. August 9-10 Tanabata Festival, and August 29-31 Sacramento Anime Expo. September – Live Painting at LA Fair; September 12-14 Son of Monsterpalooza in Burbank; and September 27-28 at Long Beach Comic Con. October 31-November 2 Stan Lee’s Comikaze in Los Angeles. And others as they come up.
I wish a warm thank you to Rachel Walker for her time and her answers, which seemed like mini tales of her own. If you get the chance, stop by Walker’s Edge of the World Art Studio booth and say hi. A look through the display of prints comprising pop icons, fairytale characters, old Japanese folklore, hauntingly beautiful Day of the Dead women, and steam punk costumed ladies is like a walk through a museum of art fusion of old masters with contemporary flavors. More importantly, each piece embodies artist Rachel Walker’s memories of a childhood filled with entertaining stories.
All accompanying photographs were taken by Michele Brittany.
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer currently editing an upcoming anthology on the influence of James Bond on popular culture. She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies.