Icelandic artist and graphic designer Rakel Tómas has swiftly become a recognized name in her home country. The female body is the essence of Rakel’s artwork, which she beautifully composes using a monochromatic colour scheme. Despite pursuing such a specific theme, Rakel’s work is intriguingly varied, as she skilfully plays with shapes, shades and features. The outcome is an aesthetically pleasing collection of art that convey feelings of intimacy and affection. I spoke with Rakel Tómas about what being an independent artist means to her, the creative process, and the elements of conscious living.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
It’s as hard for me to describe myself as an artist, as it is for me to define myself as a human being. I’m constantly changing and evolving. I guess in the future I’ll be seen as an artist, who benefitted from the rise of social media, but I don’t define myself as an Instagram artist. Social media is just a tool to reach people. Ask me again in 5 years. Then I might be able to describe who I am today.
How has your career developed until now? Can you take us through the process of starting to work for yourself and the challenges you’ve had to face along the way?
I became a completely independent artist in 2018. Until that point, I had a full-time job as a graphic designer at Glamour Magazine and had been building up my social media following for roughly three years, as well as actively selling my art for a year. Financial security is very important to me. I’m not very good at dealing with uncertainty, so the transition had to be very smooth. Therefore, I didn’t quit my job until I was convinced that I had enough projects on my own to sustain. I was doing a lot of graphic design work at the time, but I have slowly reduced the number of design projects I take on.
Today, I focus almost all my time on my art. It can be challenging at times to work for yourself and it takes a lot of discipline to keep working, especially when no one is telling you to. There’s risk involved – I can spend all my time creating something that no one will end up buying. But the freedom, being able to travel and spending the majority of my time doing what I love, is so worth it. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Can you give us an insight into your creative process?
I feel like I do my best work when I manage to dive deep into some emotion that I’m experiencing. I try to get myself into a state where I’m calm and fully present. Then, I collect photographs and create a collage that I use as a reference for the drawing I want to create. This is the most important part of the process. After studying the shapes and shades of the collage, I start drawing and get lost in the details for hours.
Women are the main subjects in your art; what led you to start pursuing that specific theme and what does your art represent?
I use my art to process my emotions. I find it very hard to explain how I feel most of the time and sometimes, especially when something consequential happens in my life, I try to create an artwork about that event or emotion and just leave it there. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Because of my lacking vocabulary, I use body language. I inhabit a woman’s body, so I use bodies like my own to communicate whatever it is I’m trying to process.
What kind of materials do you use and why are those your preferred choice?
I mostly use graphite, charcoal and sometimes ink. It was never a conscious decision to use these materials, it just kind of happened as I kept exploring. Graphite makes sense to me, I have full control over every detail and how it responds is easy to understand (push harder = get a darker shade).
Recently, I have been challenging myself to use colour, practicing with oil and watercolour. I think colours could open up more possibilities and help me create more versatile work, but it’s a constant struggle for me. In general, I find textures and shades more interesting than colours. A sharp contrast between black and white is something that makes me very happy. We will see how things turn out, maybe I will use colours in the future? Maybe I won’t. Either way, it is always important to experiment.
How do you feel you’ve progressed as an artist over time?
I’ve become more confident in what I do, and I find it easier to put myself out there. My techniques have improved with time and I’m doing artwork at a bigger scale.
Still, I’m only just starting out and I’m very excited to see how my art will progress in the future. I’ve made a commitment to myself and this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to be an artist when I grow up and I’m going to do everything in my power to be as good as I possibly can.
What has been a significant moment for you as an artist?
I have always found women attractive, and after I came out in 2014, it was much easier for me to create and pursue women as a theme.
Growing up, I never had queer role models and I was a part of a very feminine environment as a gymnast. I had a really hard time reconciling those two parts of me but after coming out, I found relief and joy. Through my art and new friendships, I learned that I could be both feminine and gay.
Can you describe your personal clothing style and way of living?
I’m very aware of the fact that my time is limited and I’m very conscious about how I spend it. I want to live my life to the fullest, experience as much as I possibly can and focus on the things that are truly important to me. Making art, traveling and spending time with my loved ones are the top priorities in my life.
How I dress is a good example of this, because I only buy clothes that I feel 100% good in and all the clothes that I own today are black. This means that all my clothes go together, so outfit decisions are both uncomplicated and minimal. It is important for me to look good and professional. However, spending an hour deciding on what to wear before going out with my friends, instead of spending it with them would make me feel like I’ve got my priorities mixed up. Not to throw shade on anyone, who enjoys taking their time getting ready! I simply like to minimise the decisions I find less important and spend time and money on things I enjoy more.
Photos by Tara Tjörvadóttir
“I’m very aware of the fact that my time is limited and I’m very conscious about how I spend it. I want to live my life to the fullest, experience as much as I possibly can and focus on the things that are truly important to me.“
You live in Iceland, but you also spend a part of your year travelling. Do you seek inspiration from your environment and if so, do you experience differences between Iceland and abroad?
I love traveling. I don’t like to stay too long in the same place and routine is a foreign concept to me at this point. When you work for yourself, every day can be totally different. I take advantage of that.
I think the environment I’m in always impacts my work in some way, but not overly. I find inspiration in new experiences, and when I travel, I experience something new every day. I can also do that at home in Iceland by going out and meeting new people with new perspectives, rather than staying in.
What can we expect to see from you in 2020?
To be honest, I have no idea. It’s an interesting time right now to say the least. At the moment, I’m just happy that I didn’t have any travel plans or exhibition openings that I had to cancel. I find it hard, in general, to commit to something that is more than two months away, but I think it is safe to say that I will continue to create and continue to use women as a theme.