“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” – Muhammad Ali
What we learn, what we teach, and who we empower will have powerful impacts on the lives of future generations. Realizing our individual potential means empowering others to do the same. The first step towards fulfillment, however, is easier said than done. Finding our way, identifying with our careers, and progressing our skillset can often be trial and error.
When you’re considering skills and competencies required for the workforce, experience is critical. The road to realizing one’s own full potential is anything but linear. In fact, it is a lifelong learning process.
At one point in time, we were all trying to figure out our next step. In light of this, and our current unprecedented environment, our team has created the I M Possible Series. This series explores the unique journeys of graduates who have finally landed in careers that fulfill them. I M Possible serves to inspire, uplift, and empower students by connecting them to those who have been where they are and landed where they hoped to be. This series can be shared with your students or anyone that you feel will benefit.
Our inaugural feature is Rachel Hawkes Cameron, a talented artist and graduate from Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Academy of Art and Design. Enjoy!
Q: What post-secondary institution did you attend and what did you study there?
A: My education is a bit all over the place! After attending 5 different high schools, I moved from Toronto to Halifax to attend Dalhousie University, where I started in a General Arts program. After second year, I applied to the Architecture program, which required 2 years of an undergrad to be considered. The program was small and competitive, so I took Calculus and Fine Arts courses to boost my portfolio, and was accepted! I completed that program (officially a Bachelor of Environmental Design) and took a year off to work and live abroad. I later returned to Halifax to complete my Master of Design at the Nova Scotia Academy of Art and Design.
Q: How did you get into your industry and land where you are now?
A: I worked in architecture for a while, but did not find it to be as creatively fulfilling as what I had imagined. The technical rigour and discipline just were not a good fit for me longterm. So I took the design skills still I had, and the experience and education in the field of architecture, and started working as an in-house designer for an architecture firm in Toronto, which was really the best of both worlds. When I moved to Hamilton to start my family, I was so lucky to find an amazing roll at IKEA, as a Graphic Communications Designer at their head office. After my second child was born, and I experienced the loss of my little brother very suddenly, I sort of fell into painting as a way to cope. But truthfully, my education and work experience have always had a strong thread of creativity, so it feels in many ways like a very serendipitous outcome.
Q: Describe your process – what’s it like? How long does a typical painting take?
A: My process starts with a lot of water and washes of colour, which I let dry and layer to create energy and movement through the piece. Then I go in with sharper lines to “clean up” those organic shapes and create conversations between them. I paint on porous, watercolour paper (the more the colour is able to bleed, the better) and canvas. The final steps, of course, are varnishing and packing up the painting – sometimes for shipping across the country. All the while, I try to communicate with my client and maintain my social media presence – I find that people love to see the process behind my work.
Q: What do you love most about what you do? What do you find the most challenging?
A: I love painting so much, it’s just so calming to me and it allows me to clear my head and channel my emotions. I also love that my paintings give joy to others. It’s so flattering when people express that they are moved by my work. I find the business side of it challenging sometimes. When all you want to do is paint, but you have orders to pack and ship and invoice, it can be frustrating. But I’m just forcing myself to find ways to enjoy it by putting on a podcast or starting a painting and waiting for it to dry, while I go about my packing and administration work.
Q: What’s a recent project you worked on that you’re really proud of?
A: I recently “took over” an instagram account called @carveouttimeforart, which I have been following for years. I put a lot of work into demonstrating the story and spirit behind my work, and being honest and vulnerable about my life as an artist. I was proud of how it looked, aesthetically, and I was happy with the response it got from others.
Q: What’s your single greatest lesson in your career so far that you can impart on today’s university/college students or recent grads?
A: Don’t be afraid to go towards something you might not feel is your best strength — there’s probably a reason you’re being drawn to it and it’s going to teach you something, even if you feel like it’s not coming totally naturally. Architecture was not the best fit for me, and I certainly was not the best student in the class. But it taught me discipline, hard work, attention to detail, and most importantly; that my failures are not a step back. It was all leading me forward. When I was in high school, it was really emphasized that you had to find a perfect career that you would stick with your whole life, and that was perfect for you. That mentality put so much pressure on committing to something, because it seemed like such a finality. The reality is, you can weave in and out of different jobs, industries, roles, and pick up skills along the way, if that’s the kind of path that feels more fulfilling to you.
Q: Favourite quote?
A: “Trust the process”
Q: Who do you look up to?
A: I’m really inspired by another woman that I went to architecture school with named Rubeena Ratcliffe, who is now a successful artist in BC. I think being able to see yourself in someone you admire — even in a small way — is such a motivation and social media can give us that opportunity. I watched her develop a style to her work and present it in a really beautiful, simple, and cohesive way and it boosted my confidence in myself.
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: I’m reading Little Fires Everywhere! And my Earth to Table cookbook.
Q: What skill (besides painting!) would you say is most important as an artist today?
A: You really have to be prolific in order to maintain a presence and engage with your community. Luckily, that works really well for artists; I actually read a quote this morning by Andy Warhol that I love, he said, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art”.
Follow Rachel’s work on Instagram here.
Follow the I M Possible Series on Instagram here