With a bright palette and cool design, we were immediately drawn to the work of Toronto illustrator Rachel Joanis. Each piece gives off a strong statement but Rachel’s art also has subtle quality about it.
Rachel has been drawing since she was a little kid and while being an illustrator has turned into a fruitful career, making art is also where she finds peace and comfort. Her art prints sold online are incredibly popular for people wanting to add a splash of colour to their home, but notable brands were also quick to notice her talents.
Bumble, The Four Seasons, Holt Renfrew, and Indigo are some of the companies who’ve partnered with Rachel. We were lucky enough to have her design a refreshed look for Shedoesthecity, and we absolutely love it!
Always curious about an artist’s journey, we connected with Rachel to ask her some things.
How was creativity nurtured in your childhood?
Growing up, I was always painting and sketching. It became clear from a very young age that I could stay happily busy as long as I had a pencil and a piece of paper or sketchbook at hand.
My parents, and even extended family members, recognized that this was something I loved to do. They bought me art books and enrolled me in art classes, took me to museums and art galleries, and generally fostered and encouraged a love and appreciation of all types of art.
Can you briefly describe a few important steps that led you to where you are today?
There have been so many transformational moments in my life, both personally and in terms of my professional development — with the two often intertwining. For example, being accepted into the Fashion Communications Program at Ryerson University was a key moment for me. The program allowed me to immerse myself in art and fashion while developing crucial skills that would help me develop my professional path. I also met lifelong friends, many of whom have also become important members of my professional network.
My first freelance commission was another pivotal moment. While I always knew that I loved art and illustrating, I wasn’t sure if it was something I would be able to turn into a career. That commission demonstrated for me that illustration could be more than just a hobby or private passion — it could also be my profession.
You’ve worked with so many amazing brands, what was a real breakthrough client for you? And what was the project?
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with incredible brands that I’ve long admired, and even more importantly to build strong working relationships with many of them over time.
The first commission I received, when I was in my last year of University, came from the founder of a PR company in NYC, who ended up really taking me under her wing. She became a real mentor and close friend, and this first project became a formative experience for me.
The client had asked me to illustrate and design custom emojis for a new app she was launching, which was a completely new experience for me. Shortly after the app launched, she developed an exclusive collaboration with Urban Outfitters and later created brand partnerships with Swarovski, Levi’s, The Whitney Museum and more. She included me in almost every step along the way, and really showed me the ropes. She gave me the opportunity to help design accessories and apparel, as well as packaging and marketing materials, using the artwork of select emojis we had developed for the app. All of this was an incredible learning experience to have with my first ever freelance client.
What are three lessons you’ve learned that have helped you on your path? (Or 3 pieces of advice you’ve given to others).
The first thing I would say is, don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance. Second, try not to be afraid of failure — you’ll learn more about yourself and creating your own style and process from figuring out what doesn’t work than what does.
Third, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and develop self-compassion. Like many people, I’m prone to holding onto mistakes I’ve made and being too self-critical, but intellectually I know it’s so important to extend the compassion and caring that we would automatically offer to others, to ourselves.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Most of all, I love being able to do what I love almost every day — which is to illustrate. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I love every day.
Beyond that, of course it’s exciting to create artwork for different brands. Growing up, the artwork and illustrations I saw in catalogues or ads always made an impression on me, and I hope that I might have that same effect on a young viewer out there.
My favourite part of running the print store is interacting with customers and knowing that something I’ve created and is special to me will be in their home.
What has been your most popular print?
One of my personal favourites, the bright pink and fun “Put ’em Up” print.
How does art support you, behind a paycheck?
Illustrating is what I most love to do, not only for work but also in my spare time — creating artwork that is personal to me as a way of relaxing. Often, illustrating serves as an exercise in mindfulness for me; it helps me tune out the noise, let go of external stresses, and explore and push the bounds of my creativity.
What are you experimenting with these days, in regards to your art + creativity?
When we first went into lockdown last March, I pulled out my paints that I still had from University and started painting by hand again. This was something that I had really moved away from as a freelancer, but I’m now rediscovering. So, in my spare time I’ve been having fun painting on canvases again — taking a break from digital illustration and diving back into my favourite medium, watercolour painting.
What’s a philosophy or mindset that has been guiding you lately?
I’ve said this in previous interviews, but as cliché as it sounds, treat others the way you want to be treated. My foundational value is basic — treating people with respect.