April 23, 2015

Illustrator Rachel Welsby is an old friend of Urban Outfitters, and her distinctive inkings have graced a number of collaborations with us over the years. A UK native who has eschewed our drippy shores for the very not-rainy California, Rachel’s diverse work has caught our eye again recently, exploding in vivid colour across wild portraiture, intricate embroidery and a fresh foray into tattooing. We caught up with her to talk inspiration, future plans and what kind of difference the 5000 mile move has made to her work.

UO:Hi Rachel! What ideas inspire you as an artist?

Rachel: I get ideas from pretty much everywhere. I’m constantly making notes, taking photographs and screen-shots of things I find inspiring. My inspiration folders are generally full of imagery and subject matters of a darker and more obscure side – coiled snakes and ornate daggers are something I’ve been really drawn to recently. I’m also finding inspiring colour palettes every day when I’m out and about – architecturally and also naturally in the succulents, cacti and palms that are abundant here.
I love the aesthetic of things in California – especially the way soft day-time pastels transform to flickering neons by night. I love how things are so stark in their differences but complement each other so perfectly and uniquely. I like to take inspiration from this idea and use that in my own way.

UO: You started out as a fashion illustrator but you’re also heavily into tattoo work. How did that come about, and is there much crossover between the two?

Rachel: It was just a progression over time to engage in genres I find interesting. I think it’s natural for all artists to develop over time and since graduating 6 years ago with a degree in Fashion Illustration, I have expanded my work to include editorial and commercial illustration, fine art, embroidery and tattoo flash.
I decided a couple of months ago that I’d like to become a tattoo artist, so I’ve been working on building a flash portfolio to aid me in finding a tattoo apprenticeship. I’m quite heavily tattooed and have been interested in that world for well over 10 years so it feels like my next natural progression. I wouldn’t say there is a direct crossover between my beginnings in fashion illustration and tattoo work, but I would say that it is informed. I will continue to develop my own individual tattoo style and I feel from my past experience and where I seek my inspiration, I will have something interesting to offer.

UO: You work in quite varied mediums; there’s embroidery, pencil & ink and tattoo work in your portfolio. How do you decide which to use each time? What’s your favourite form to use?

Rachel: The different mediums I work in are all reflections of my different interests, but I don’t favour one over the other. I had a very inspiring and encouraging textile teacher at secondary school and I’ve never forgotten her influence. That’s how I discovered embroidery and my appreciation for textiles. I love it. It’s so incredibly therapeutic. And a labour of love! It can take such a long time to sew a large piece…. That’s in stark contrast to most of my drawings. Especially my figure and fashion drawings. They’re a complete reflection of a ‘moment’ and are never re-visited, re-drawn, or ‘finished off’. That’s what I love about them. They’re so raw and pure.

I love drawing the body. It’s incredibly good practice and keeps me fluid. And then again, that’s in stark contrast to my tattoo work. As I’m such a novice in that area I can find it quite stressful at times…. Especially when I’ve lined a drawing perfectly with permanent marker and then have to paint it perfectly with ink. Screwing it up happens all the time. I am incredibly precious, and can re-draw and re-paint a piece up to 30 times until I’m happy with it. I look up to such talented tattooers and will continue to practice and practice until I get it right. Overall, my different mediums of work help keep me balanced as a human being….. Without one subconsciously informing the other, I think I would go mad….

How has your move from the UK to California changed your work?

Rachel:I was able to commit full-time to my artistic and creative endeavours when I came to America. This resulted in me getting some big commercial jobs under my belt, and the time to explore what’s next for me i.e. tattooing. Asides from the luxury of being a full-time artist, California has proved an endless source of inspiration. I’ve recently just moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles too so discovering this new city is very exciting! I am completely in love with California and never want to leave. Being happy gives me energy that I channel towards my creativity. Living here makes me so happy and finding delights in the daily American things I find novel as a British girl just keep the good feelings coming and creative juices flowing!