Taking Notes is an ongoing series, powered by 7115 Paper Goods, where we highlight entrepreneurs we admire and learn about how they stay productive.
There is a human touch to everything that Rachel Schultz does. Rachel is a New York-based artist who creates emotionally driven and evocative paintings of the human form and in doing so, makes a meaningful statement about the beauty and complexity of the human experience. We have been enamored with Rachel's work since we met her through the beautiful Minnessota based boutique Idun, with whom she works as a Creative Associate, lending her artistic flair to tell the story of Idun and the independent designers they partner with in a poetic and relatable way. On top of this, Rachel is also undertaking an MPA in Public & Nonprofit Management & Policy at NYU and recently welcomed a sweet baby boy to the world. To say she is busy is an understatement. We visited her home in the East Village of Manhattan, to talk about how she finds a way to stay focused and balance everything in her life.
Interview by Shirley Cai // Photos by Szeki Chan
You juggle a lot: your job as a creative associate at Idun, your freelance career as an artist and if that's not enough, you're also studying. How do you manage to stay on top of the simultaneous responsibilities you have and how do you organize your time?
All of my work has depth and meaning; working with Idun, empowering women to explore their style, creativity, and how they express who they are while supporting small unique designers, creating works of art with purpose and soul, and lastly studying for my MPA in social entrepreneurship in the hopes that one day the world will choose both goodness and financial independency. Even when life gets chaotic it’s easy to deal with the work because I know it has purpose. And of course, having an extremely supportive and giving husband helps ;). In terms of organization I write a lot of lists. Usually starting my week with a long to do list and going back to it each day. I try to check off the most time sensitive items while at the same time allowing myself to take breaks and work on something different if I’m burnt out. I think this is really important because without your mental health nothing you work on will matter.
L: Disquietude (Oil on canvas) R: Juxtapose (Oil on canvas)
You recently welcomed a beautiful and healthy baby boy into the world. Congratulations! Has this had any effect on your outlook on the kind of work you do and how you do it?
I have always believed the work I do is meaningful and special. Having Henry I have come to realize being a mother and being present as he learns and grows is just as meaningful if not more so! He is 8 weeks so it’s all still very new in terms of organizing time etc. but I definitely have to be extremely strategic with how I use my hours! I’m still working on this part, but I can already see I’m able to be much more productive now knowing I only have a short amount of time to complete what I need to!
We're most familiar with your work with oil on canvas — intricate paintings that take time, patience and precision to complete. But recently we've fallen in love with the more pared back sketches and drawings that you've been creating with your notepad. What is is that you enjoy about working across these two different mediums? And how do you choose which one to work with?
My first love was oil painting. I think there is something romantic and of course deeply historical about working with oil on canvas. It’s important for me to understand the foundations of painting. I believe this helps me fully explore the various ways to work as a painter and artist and adds depth to my work. Oil painting is more of a craft to me. For that I love the technical part of trying to get something right, whether that is the proportions, values, shapes or mixing the perfect color on my palette. Recently, (being pregnant) I no longer felt comfortable working with so many chemicals that comes along with oil painting. I started to work primarily in gouache. With my pared back sketches and my works on paper I feel more freedom to follow my intuition. There is a lot less investment and for that reason a lot less at stake. I stopped occupying my mind with getting something exact and allowed my emotions, imagination and intuition to take over. Of course, whether in oils, gouache, canvas or paper the goal is to capture an emotion-- a sensitivity to something bigger than yourself. I think when one is preoccupied with getting something right it takes away from the emotional aspect and the work ends up being less imaginative and for that reason less original. I do have plans to go back to oils at some point soon, if not for the outcome of finished work at least to keep my eye accurate and stay on familiar terms with the material.
Gesture 1 (Gouache on paper)
Your art explores the human psyche. Why is it important to you to document this subject matter?
The dictionary defines psyche as, “The totality of elements forming the mind” I can’t think of anything more interesting or more important to study and express than that. The human mind, soul, and heart. This includes human emotions, personalities, preferences, habits etc. I love that this subject matter has the ability to be both severely personal and distinct while at the same moment generalized and vague.
How do you create and collect all your ideas for your artworks?
Ideas come from everywhere. Traveling to a new country or walking down my neighborhood street. It could be a specific experience, conversation or the color of a woman’s sock who bikes by. If the idea, color, shape, or concept is strong enough and important enough it will appear in my work whether I want it to or not! Also, since I was a little girl I love to cut out clippings from magazines and keep them in a folder for collages or general inspiration. And of course, when an idea arrives, and I have a pencil in hand I love to jot down a quick note or sketch in my favorite 7115 notebook
;). Seriously it is the perfect size for travel and I love that the pages are perforated.
What do you usually do when you get a creative or mental block?
I keep several books by my side; poetry, fiction, magazines, publications on specific artists and philosophers. When I feel uninspired or blank I open one of these publications and this usually ends up being a catalyst for a new idea or series of work.
What is the ideal workspace setup to help get you in the right headspace for a productive day of work?
I usually start my day with coffee and a list giving myself a few moments to recharge and reevaluate. I try to complete the boring stuff first—tasks I’m not excited about but need to finish. If my focus isn’t there I usually start cleaning my apartment or studio space. This helps me feel productive and then I’m able to bring that feeling of productivity back into my other work!
Artwork is courtesy of Rachel Schultz Studio. To see more of Rachel's work visit her website or follow her on Instagram @rachelschultzstudio.