Oakland-based illustrator and graphic designer Rachel Frankel’s classical arts background greatly influences her work, which she describes as ranging from tightly-rendered portraits and structures to lush typography, hand-lettering and playful geometric design.
The 27-year-old artist actually entered college as a Music Performance major at Cal State Northridge in Los Angeles, but soon after, she realized that she didn’t want to perform in an orchestra after all. So the next semester she made a switch to Illustration, and a year and a half later she transferred to SF State, where she finished out as Painting and Drawing major with an English minor.
Some of Rachel’s major influences in the field are artists Carson Ellis, Teagan White and Lisa Congdon, but early on, Frida Kahlo’s work stood out the most to her. “I think she was one of the big ones for me because even though she was a painter, her work was so illustrative,” Rachel says, “and it felt a little more uninhibited than a lot of other fine artists in that realm.” Lisa Congdon is actually a friend of Rachel’s. “Obviously I love her work, but more than that, she was a late bloomer. Lisa didn’t start making art until after she’d had [another] full-on career, and she was able to start at the bottom and learn everything on her own.”
Starting at the bottom is a challenge Rachel is familiar with. After she finished school, she had developed and refined her analog painting and drawing skills, “but I didn’t have any digital skills whatsoever,” she says. She’d gotten an administrative job at an ad agency in hopes that it would be a foot in the door to a more creative role, but unfortunately expectations did not meet reality and nearly a year later she hit a wall. “I had made friends with a couple of the designers there and noticed that I could have a huge leg up if I only knew how to use Adobe,” she says. “I thought about it really hard for a while, and luckily I had saved up enough to get by for a bit, so I took the plunge and I quit.” It was probably the best decision she could have made at the time. “My boyfriend actually works at BAVC, and he had encouraged me to enroll in one of their certificate programs that specifically targets unemployed Bay Area residents in creative and tech-related industries. So I got to take a lot of classes there within the scope of Graphic and Web Design, and it was a game-changer because then I also had some time to get familiar with these programs on my own.”
I thought about it really hard for a while, and luckily I had saved up enough to get by for a bit, so I took the plunge and I quit my job.
And it’s paid off: Rachel now freelances with several individual clients and companies as a graphic designer. She finds it satisfying to have some bleed-over between the things she likes to do and what she does for work. “Obviously my passions tend to lie more in analog illustration, but I’m so new to graphic design that I’m trying to look at this as an opportunity to hone my skills first,” she says. When it comes to finding balance between furthering her design skills and drawing for fun, it’s a challenge. Rachel says there are things you do for pleasure, and then there are your hobbies—if you tend to take your hobbies seriously, they sometimes feel like work.
So the artist takes time to express herself in other media. Since Rachel studied songwriting and composition in college, music has remained a big part of her life; she’s the guitarist and singer of her band Phosphene. “For a while I felt like I’ll eventually have to give up one [career] because they both take up a lot of time,” she says, “but so far I haven’t able to do that yet!”
I also like following other artists who work outside of my medium, because [it] can really inform your practice, and it’s cool to have that separation so you can interpret it in your own way.
Other than switching artistic platforms, it’s important to stay inspired. The Internet is one of Rachel’s main vehicles of doing that. “I think Instagram’s amazing. It’s definitely my favorite form of social media these days,” she says. “I like peering into what other illustrators are working on, and I also like following other artists who work outside of my medium, because things like photography can really inform your practice, and it’s cool to have that separation so you can interpret it in your own way.” And even though the vast, global reach of Instagram provides a plethora of inspiration, Rachel says that this year she’s trying to go see more art in person at museums.
Rachel is currently working on her biweekly 2015 Alphabet Project, in which she is illustrating each letter of the English alphabet both digitally and in analog format. “It’s been a great way to test out new techniques and keep myself fresh,” she says. The artist is also presently in a group show at Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis.
See more of Rachel’s work on her website, speakeasyillustrations.com, and follow her on Instagram @shespeakseasy, Twitter @shespeakseasyy, and Facebook. You can also check out her band Phosphene on Bandcamp and on Facebook.