For Rachel Castle's 42K followers on instagram she needs no introduction but to everyone else let me introduce you to one of my favourite artists. Her gorgeously layered flora paintings, quirky bold embroideries and popular range of bed linen sell directly as soon as they are posted to a hungry audience, who just can’t seem to get enough of Rachel’s things!
Meeting Rachel was a great experience. She is that rare combination of creative enthusiasm combined with strategic thinking, and like all the mentors that I have interviewed a self starter, and either operating outside the traditional system or helping to change it.In the studio Rachel was warm, down to earth, and full of great ideas, which made my very first experience of taking the pics for the blog loads of fun. I think that’s part of Rachel’s charm inspiring creativity into every moment…and making anything possible.
1) When did you first become interested in art and design?
2)You are known for your gorgeous flora paintings, use of bold colours, and funky bedding, who and what inspires you?
I listen to and look at everything around me, my friends, family and peers, magazines, books, art, tv, music, anything and everything but I have one overriding design rule. If I wouldn’t use it in my own home it cant be on the range. Its the one rule that I need to abide by. Often we try to design this and that for so and so and so and so, but at the end of the day what people want is what WE like. As soon as our samples arrive I take them home and launder them (crucial for the success of a product) and use them on my bed, if I don’t personally love it we don’t produce it.
I try to keep the artwork and the bedlinen as separate as I can. The bedlinen I like to keep nice and ‘neat’ if you like. I don’t like sleeping in a chaotic bed so our bedlinen is always a little playful, a little whimsical, but also very simple. The artwork is altogether a different story. I want the paintings to be as layered and textured and worked on as they possibly can be. Some paintings have over 10 different layers so take a long while to complete. The prints are more straight forward but actually harder to produce, you can spend a week on something and the last pull bleeds and it all has to go in the bin. The embroideries are my babies, they are my Happy Place. The colour range and vibrancy you get with felt is delicious, theres hardly a night of the year I don’t sit stitching, my poor family are SO over it, OMG mummmmm another needle in the butt! There are pins and needles everywhere, on the floor, in the sofa, in the bed, home is a hazardous place to live!
Can you tell us a bit about how how Rachel Castel and Things began?
I worked in the UK at The Conran Shop doing all their catalogues for a few years in the 90’s then my friends and I started a branding agency called The Nest where we worked on brands for International clients including British Airways, Lancome and Michelin. I had my children there and we moved back to Australia in early 2001. I took five years off and spent it being a stay at home mum, hard yakkkkkkkkkkka, young kids are delicious but being at home nearly sent me NUTS. I started making little embroideries and prints for my friends for their birthdays, did a little printing course at TAFE, and in 2007 decided to put a few designs online. I had a very old version of QUARK that I made a couple of designs on, OMG cry funny all the spacing was so crappy, and had them made up by a friend who made bedlinen in Melbourne. These designs are still online 7 years later and sell their little heads off.
I remember one day having lunch with a lovely friend who said ‘you’ve helped build some really amazing brands in your career why not build your own?’. So I did, with very few and low expectations. I made a little website, had some branding done, and just sat and waited for my first order. OMG the first day we received our first order online was BEYOND exciting. I still send birthday presents to my first ever customer, she now lives in New York, so grateful.
4)What does at typical day involve at RC and things..Who works there, and what do they do?
I have the best VERY BEST production manager ever. Leni and I have worked together now for 2.5 years and we have a really good thing going. She is super organised, super nice and most
5) How do you balance a successful business with your painting practice?
Its not easy. Its definitely a fine balancing act. You need a really incredibly reliable, fastidious right hand man, and luckily for me I have Leni. She pretty much runs the production side of things while I concentrate on the artwork. Throw a studio move or a new website into the mix and its pretty hectic, but we work it all pretty well. Leni is a fine detail person which means she drills way down into everything, the business and people, she never EVER misses a trick. When it all gets a bit much for her she comes into my studio shuts the door and slumps down on the floor and we just laugh. Come on we say lets pick ourselves up, get a coffee, heat up the wheat bag (one of us always has a sore back, the sorest gets the hot bag) and we just soldier on. Luckily for us, touch wood (am literally stroking my desk) our customers are ADDDDDDDDORABLE. We get some super funny clients, lots of beautiful emails, we know who’s getting married when, which babies are being born when, which children are off to boarding school when, who’s husbands are away (they deadset attack those credit cards) and how to disguise a package so it looks like its a grocery drop from Woolies. We can get pretty creative around here!
The one thing I need for painting is peace and quiet no interruptions, you’d think I was operating on a small puppy, but really Im just working out where the HELLL to put that spot JUST IN THE RIGHT PLACE. Cause there is a place thats perfect, despite the random.
6)What's the best thing about having your own small business?
Our branding agency in London grew very big very quickly. The clients were big, the offices were big, the bills were big, the decisions were big. I ended up sitting in meetings all day long not working on the fun stuff, we employed other people to have all the fun. Being small means if Leni and I want to make a random blanket in coral and navy with huge big tassels on Tuesday damn straight why not? Im cold Leni lets make some sweaters, why not. Lets build a pen for Syd so she can annoy all the couriers, ok Im not doing that you can though Leni. Lets get a little cot in the office so when we’re tired we can have a nap. Lets go buy paints this morning. I have separation anxiety when she’s goes to the Post Office so its nice to be able to be small and cosy and snug. Every second day Daz comes to just give Leni a hand, so one very big plus is also being able to work with people you like rather than people you need.
6)How important is instagram/social media to RC and things?
Super DUPER important. I love instagram. It sets a pace for the business, OMG we better get those prints done cause we haven’t instagrammed since Wednesday, we better get that painting dry we need to instagram it tomorrow, its a really REALLY good time motivator. Not really loving it though when I have to post before 7am/make lunches/phone no batts/cant find glasses/dont have anything funny to say, don’t really love it those days, but I love the company, all the instagram to and fro chatter. We have made some special friends on those little screens
7)What's been your fav project to work on?
The paintings recently for sure. Its quiet, its personal, its never hectic or frenetic, they take their own sweet time, and I absolutely love making them. I love that point at which I say to myself, ‘yep thats enough, no more’. And of course the embroideries, my babies, my home time, my sanity, my excuse to watch copious amounts of really crap tv.
8)What would Rachel Castle's tip's be to making a successful living as an artist or designer.
Work hard, work harder, and then even a bit harder than that. You either have that propulsion to work or you don’t, its certainly not a conscious decision ‘oh I have to work a bit harder’ its just an internal accelerator that I think propels you to just keep at your craft, whatever that may be. I also try not to overthink it. If I'm over thinking what people will like I get very stuck and rigid. I have to just make things that I like, and hope that everyone else likes them too. Work hard, don’t overthink it, be as free as you can.
9)What are you working on now?
Everything. New website, new bedlinen, new very exciting Christmas time collaboration, new show in Melbourne for The Design Files in November, an office move with tons more space. And Lenis going on holidays in 2 weeks so I am bracing myself for that. Im excited, stuffs happening, the business is growing (please don’t grow too big little business, I like it small) but Syd is still annoying when she wees in the loading bay. Despite that its happy days here. x
Thanks for having me Mia!
Check out rachel on instagram on @rachelcasteland things www.castleandthings.com.au
Blog and photography by Mia Oatley @miaoatley www.miaoatley.com.au