They say there is an artist in every one of us, its just a matter of having the opportunity, and the courage, to let that artist out to play.  When Rachel Savage was recuperating from a mountain bike accident last year, and surgery just a few months ago, she needed something to fill her time. She’d always “mucked around” with art, so decided to take some online art courses, and boom! In just a few weeks she’s already achieved a lot more than she ever imagined.  

A trained kindergarten teacher, Rachel spends three days a week providing additional support within the Ashburton Kindergarten Association. “I’m an added teacher in kindergartens where children might need extra support. Sometimes I work with the children, and sometimes I’m a relief teacher, and the staff work with the children. I LOVE it, as well as being our farm administrator.”

Busy with work and a growing family, Rachel says she has always art in her life, but never dreamt that it would re-emerge as it has. “I took art at school and a local art course when the boys were younger but that’s a long time ago and work, children and life took over. I never really had the time or the self-belief to do anything about it.”

Her first ‘public’ piece was a pencil drawing earlier this year for friends Richard and Jolene Wilson. “They asked me to draw their lovely dog Sienna, who’d passed away. I’d never drawn a dog before, and the sad occasion made it particularly daunting. They gave me some beautiful photos of her, so I went online again, researching techniques.”

Once she got into it, she discovered it wasn’t so difficult. “Her eyes expressed so much love for her family. By the time I’d finished I felt like I really knew her.  It took several drafts, but I think I got her.”

Her charcoal drawing of Sienna hangs in pride of place on the Wilson family wall and is captivating. “We love it.” Richard says. “It completely captures Sienna’s personality, and we have this special memory of her forever.”

Since then, word has spread, and Rachel has undertaken several commissioned pieces of family pets and New Zealand birds. “I do seem to have discovered a thing for birds,” she laughs.

With each new piece, she has continued to research and apply new techniques.  “My smudging technique wasn’t working as well as I wanted. You have to work on a dog’s fur in a certain way to make it look real, so I had to re-learn that. I think I nearly drove my family crazy. I would be so upset if I gave someone a picture that didn’t measure up, or they didn’t like.” She’s now at a point where she’s not too uncomfortable with people seeing her work.

As her talent has developed, so has her collection of tools and materials. “I pretty much started with a pencil and a pocketknife for sharpening, but I’ve discovered that different techniques often require a specialised tool, so I now have an array of pencils and different grades of charcoal pencils.” An electric pencil sharpener is high on her wish-list.

“I have tried various mediums but when learning about tonal values, I discovered I loved working with charcoal. The simplicity of working with one colour but many shades. How it can be manipulated and layered though it can unforgiving if you make a mistake.  I’ve recently found myself looking at people – how the light lands on their faces, the light in their eyes and I think how amazing it would be to capture that. There’s so much I still want to learn.”

Through word of mouth, Rachel has sold a number of pieces. “It’s very personal, so it’s been quite a wrench to let them go, but I’m getting used to it.”  With encouragement from her husband Jeremy and children, she has an entry in the upcoming Ashburton Society of Arts Exhibition.

Does she see herself taking up art full-time? “It’s already gone a lot further than I imagined. I’m quite tough on myself and wouldn’t sell anything I wouldn’t be happy to put on my own wall. I walk away, stand back, and often do three or four drafts before I’m happy. As much as I love it, it would be a big jump to go full time, but it would be amazing to be constantly producing art that people want to buy. I’m just open to wherever this journey takes me.”

If you’d like to talk to Rachel about a drawing, email rachel@maratoa.nz or take a look at her Art Instagram page rachel_savage_art.

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.