Citizens of Capitol Hill: Rachel Taylor-Fergusson

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By Maria Castillo-Stone

Having spent most of my education hanging around art studios, art shops and visiting galleries, it was a real treat to be invited to the home of local artist, Rachel Taylor-Fergusson (who also fed me some yummy liquorice tea!).

There’s nothing like being in an eclectic studio space, surrounded by mood boards, materials, artwork and inspiration.

How would you describe the community of Capitol Hill to an outsider?

It’s a small town that’s like it’s own little island, in the big city! I love it here. I grew up here, went to the local schools. I love that when you walk down the street, you can meet or get to know your neighbours. I have friends that live in communities and they don’t have the same experience.


I believe Pub Nights have had a lot to do with that - or being at the park. You chat with a parent and say: “Come along to Pub Night!”


So you’re an artist, what is your background?

I did a lot of art in school, and took part in an art program at Queen Elizabeth High School, as it had one of the better art curriculums in the city. I was thinking about going into art school but I was still undecided in where I was heading. I did Art 10-20-30 and Portfolio Art but felt unprepared at the time. So I decided to step away from art for bit, and went to university to study other subjects instead.


After the passing of dad two and a half years ago, I fell back into art - he was an artist. Processing the loss, I did a lot of family portraits. I discovered that I really enjoyed art and that I was actually good at it.

What has been a seminal experience for you artistically?

I love that question. So I was struggling with the medium of watercolours (when I started art again),  - the lack of control. I couldn’t get skin tones down, I was having a hard time with colour theory, and in the end, I realised that I was going to have to redirect my whole style.

When my son Fin was little, I got him doing some painting. It lead to an epiphany: I had to start over, I have to start playing with the materials again and being more exploratory. I looked at his art, copied his use of colour, and it lead to free-flow, dripping effects. I then superimposed portraits over top of the painting, using pen and ink.

I let go of the need to have the finished picture visualised in my head, as it would be represented on the page. Instead I let it become what it would become. Seeing what my son was making, completely changed my approach to art - it made me 100,000 times better!

How do you work best?

Probably in directed periods of time. I’ll spend a lot of time in the thinking process, such as the Canadian Wilds for example. About the animals, and what they mean to me, what do they represent? I do a lot of art that represents a specific time - I’m very present in this moment, what is going on for me, emotionally, what things are representing me right now, what am I trying to express? Also, if I have time away from my son, I like to spend plenty of time immersed in a project! So I’ll end up getting a whole piece done in one day.

I also love it when I’m motivated from an experience, such as one piece I did as a gift for an instructor, for the end of class. This piece was a perfect example of being present in this moment.

Who are your influences?

Just Fin. I don’t observe a lot of art. Fin has been really inspirational for me, especially his use of colour. And also my dad - his use of lines and portraits.

What are your essential tools for working?

The tool I could not live without is this easel [points] I went into the art store and asked them to show me what easels they have. The easel that caught my attention ended up being the most expensive one! Yet my justification for getting was: I want an easel that will meet my needs, a good investment piece.

I also have a favourite brush - I’m very particular about materials, it’s very funny you asked me that! It’s a No.12 and there are smaller ones for detail work. Also the Pilot Fineliners - they’re the cheapest pens. I bought $50 worth of pens to do testing and honestly the Pilot is my favourite one - I love how it bleeds and I love to use a monochromatic black, so I use Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna to make my black. I also love using water soluble crayons [shows me an array of crayons!]  - I bought them on a whim for Fin. Yellow is my favourite to work with, I love Yellow!

What is an artistic look on life?

I would say it’s a couple of things: truly being present - in the moment, because you have to be, when you’re drawing or painting, You have to use your eyes, not your mind. You have to look, not think. You can’t be evaluating and judging, and not thinking: “Where’s the future going to take me?”

And looking for deeper meaning and metaphor in life. For example, wolves from my Canadian Wilds pieces, they’re big on metaphor - to represent the things that eat at you. Anxiety is a “big wolf” in my life because it’s that fear of something that can get at you. Being able to represent those concepts in metaphor is an artistic life.

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Lastly, What is your favourite spot in Capitol Hill?

I really like this tree area at the St. Pius school - we call it the Peace Garden. It’s just trees surrounding large tree trunks you can sit on. It’s very grounding.