On this episode of Anchored, Soren is joined by artist Rachelle Kearns. Soren and Rachelle explore how her perception of God as a creator informs her art and how her curiosity with mercy formed her artistic voice. They explore the benefits of teaching art in K-12 education as a way to help children understand the love and character of God. Finally, Rachelle gives advice for aspiring artists.
Today’s episode of Anchored is brought to you with support from America’s Christian Credit Union. Find out how ACCU can be the banking partner to your school or family by visiting americaschristiancu.com/CLT.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (00:01.933)
Welcome back to the Anchored Podcast, the official podcast of the Classic Learning Test. My name is Soren Schwab, VP of Partnerships here at CLT, and today we're joined by Rachelle Karens. Rachelle was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, but now resides in Seattle. She received her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto with a focus in fine arts and art history, as well as her diploma in art from Sheridan College. Karens is an accomplished artist, exhibiting in Canada, the United States, and Switzerland.
Commissioned by companies such as Tiffany & Co., Disney, and P&O Cruises, her work recites in numerous private and public art collections worldwide and we are so honored to have Rochelle on the podcast. Welcome to Anchored Rochelle.
Rachelle Kearns (00:45.91)
Thank you for having me.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (00:47.825)
This is going to be so delightful. I don't think we've had poets and we've had authors on the podcast. I think you're the first artist on the podcast. So I'm really excited to pick your brain a little bit there. But before we do, we start the Anchored Podcast always about talking about our guest's own educational journey. So you grew up in Canada. What kind of schools did you attend? What kind of education did you receive?
Rachelle Kearns (01:12.914)
Yeah, I received a very normal, kind of like a very normal education growing up. I grew up in the public school system. My parents had bought a home that basically allowed us to walk to elementary school and then literally walk to high school as well. So it was a great location for the home. But that was just the standard that I grew up with. So I was like very normal, very subpar.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (01:40.336)
Rachelle Kearns (01:41.098)
I feel like what our kids are getting now, yeah, it was just a very normal education. But then I chose very intentionally to go into the arts at University of Toronto. And as much as I loved my education through the University of Toronto and the fine arts and art history that came with that, just to be very honest, I kind of came out very disillusioned as an artist.
didn't know my place as a Christian artist in particular. I didn't really subscribe to the whole starving artist kind of thing. And then I didn't really have any major political agenda. And so I just felt like, okay, obviously I guess I just don't have a fit here. And so I ended up actually in sales for five years as most fine art graduates do. And then...
Soren Schwab (CLT) (02:20.653)
Yeah. Ha ha ha.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (02:38.842)
Rachelle Kearns (02:39.982)
through a crazy set of circumstances I was able to come back and be able to start being a professional artist in 2004 and I stuck with it. And the Lord really did a work in my heart and really helped me to see what I can do and what I can say as an artist, as a Christian artist in this world.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (03:00.145)
I'm so glad that you made that decision. I've spoken with some folks that wanted to pursue graduate school or PhD in the humanities and they kind of felt the same way. It's like, well, unless I do everything through the lens of something with which I really at the core disagree, I don't fit in. I don't have a spot. But then again, we often think of artists of going counterculture, right? And are going swimming against the current. So I guess you took that route.
Rachelle Kearns (03:29.59)
I did, and I really think, like I have to kind of pay tribute to Makoto Fujimara, if you've heard of him. He doesn't know it, I don't know him personally, but he's been a huge mentor in my artist's walk and artist's journey. But he and his book, Art and Faith, really kind of helped give language to this to me. He talked about how the imagination, like art.
has often been seen as suspect by some Christians, largely driven by a fear that art will lead us away from the truth and into more of like an anarchic, freedom of expression kind of thing, right? And I think that may be true for some, I'm not gonna discount that thinking, but it's definitely not for me. And for, I think so many of us who are attracted and drawn to beauty, to beautiful things.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (04:07.354)
Rachelle Kearns (04:23.382)
when I immerse myself in nature, I can't help but feel close to God. It was through my understanding of God as creator that things really started to shift for me. And I think it's important for us to really stop and think about it, right? When we say that God is creator, we have to also understand that it means that He is...
creative. And I think it's just so easy for us to miss this. Like we can't forget to remember that he's the one that first created colors. All the colors like the grass, the sky, the stars like he creatively thought of it all. Like when I paint, I always have some sort of
Soren Schwab (CLT) (05:06.091)
Rachelle Kearns (05:20.042)
reference point, a frame of reference, whether it be water, chandeliers, light, but like God had no reference point. When he created, he created these things like on his own from his own imagination out of absolutely nothing. And I just think that that's crazy. And I truly believe that he designed all these things to bring us joy.
sunrises and sunsets and the waves and the ocean and the mountains for our enjoyment, our pleasure, our inspiration, and to draw us to himself. And, you know, Makoto, as I referred to here, I'm going to paraphrase what he's saying here, but he talks about the fact that God moves in our hearts to be experienced and then makes all of us to be artists of the kingdom. And that
act of making can lead us to know the creator personally, even though that experience is not a guarantee of that knowledge. And I think it's also really important for us to remember that the Word of God is active and alive and that God the artist communicates to us first before
God the lecturer. And I think that my heart really resonates with this so deeply with this. I find that first off as an artist, it's my purpose and hope for what I do to be able to reflect back to him how beautiful I think his creativity is. He's my audience of one, right? But then it's also my hope for anyone who encounters my work that
Soren Schwab (CLT) (06:44.071)
Rachelle Kearns (07:10.01)
I want the viewer to be drawn to the light, be mesmerized by it, because maybe one day it will lead them to the truth with a capital T, right? Or beauty with a capital B, or light with a capital L, right? It'll be drawn to himself, and that's what I hope for and what I do.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (07:19.514)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (07:28.913)
Well, and perfect transition point, because I was going to ask you, in this liberal arts or classical renewal movement that we're seeing here in the United States, a lot of the focus is on truth, goodness, and beauty, right? And in that, a capital T, a capital G, a capital B, how do you, when you think about your art, does it influence when you paint, when you think about your art? And if so, how?
Rachelle Kearns (07:59.822)
Yeah, I definitely resonate with truth, beauty and goodness. And I think for sure, if I had to put one as most important or the one that always gets me first, it would be beauty. Beauty happens to always be the catalyst for sure. But I would also say that my art has truth and goodness too, like I was just describing before, how I want people to be drawn to that truth. I think...
Yeah, like my work, you know, when I talk about it being light inspired, that really is a subtle way of saying it's inspired by God. And so I endeavored to be able to paint his beauty, like I was saying, like I reflect it in all that I paint and all that I do. Yeah.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (08:49.389)
It's interesting. I mean, it's so I think sometimes we talk about, you know, disparagingly about modern art, right. And contemporary artists, you know. But it is interesting because so much in my limited knowledge seems to be about just shocking. Right. And just about, you know, creating this kind of effect where for the longest time, I mean, millennia. Right. It was to glorify. Right. It was to represent objective values in nature.
Rachelle Kearns (08:56.822)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (09:18.777)
in the art. And so you're departing kind of from that. But in a way, you're just going back to what maybe art used to be.
Rachelle Kearns (09:27.738)
Yeah, potentially. I also think that it's still, I think it's like a forever kind of truth that his creation is meant to stir awe and wonder in us. And I think if and when we pause long enough to think about it and to actually observe it, you can so easily get there.
And I think that's the thing, like it's there around us every day all the time, but it's whether or not we want to pay attention to it. And so it was when I started to pay attention to light, it was random, but I had been doing a personal, devotional study about mercy in my own walk. Like when I graduated from university, I still hadn't found my artistic.
voice. I had been dabbling in a ton of things and you can definitely, like if you look back, you see streams of how I got to where I got to, but I still hadn't discovered my voice or the circle as my thing yet. That came way later for me. That was when I happened to be studying the word mercy and I was asking God the question, what does it look like?
and not really knowing that I was asking for an artistic voice, if that makes any sense. I didn't put the two and two together at all. It was just my own personal curiosity that I was kind of following up on. And so fast forward, it was 2006. And I'm on a dock overlooking the water, a typical very beautiful scene, right, like when you think about it. And it was a cloudy day.
the clouds parted and the light started to dance on the water. And my first thought was, this is it. Mercy is like light. It's all around us. It covers us. Without it, life would be very dark. And I felt that was like an inspired moment of truth. And so...
Rachelle Kearns (11:41.578)
From that point on, my entire life as a professional artist changed, I became slightly obsessed with watching, like observing water, observing light on water, watching for its patterns, its the colors, how seasons change the colors, how time of day affects things, how there's shadows in play with, you know, hues and.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (11:48.801)
Rachelle Kearns (12:08.594)
And all of that I became slightly obsessed with and then endeavored to begin to paint it. And it was interesting because at that time I had not had any success as an artist at all. But I took those very first three paintings called my Mercy Scape paintings. And I'll never forget it, like that. It was such a different, I'd been to so many.
At this point, I had been going for basically two years full time and had not gotten anywhere with the work. And, but yeah, at that show, people resonated with it. And it's amazing to me to watch that and witness that because I think that beauty, as I was saying before, like it's still shocking. It's still magnificent. It's like, and I think it's sometimes more magnificent than some of the other kinds.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (12:56.869)
Rachelle Kearns (13:04.65)
of shocking or that kind of delved into more the dark and evil and mysterious kind of, you know, kind of, I think beauty can be just as if not more shocking and glorious in a way that people resonate with because everybody wants to, you know, be in touch with and experience beautiful things, so.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (13:30.317)
It reminds me a little bit of Narnia, you know, Aslan. Is he safe? No, but he's good, right? And if it's something that's awe-inspiring, I mean, it is, it is. You feel small and there's the sublime, but that can still be shocking and can really awaken you to a larger truth. Talk to me a little bit about, and we have a lot of teachers, homeschool parents that are listening to the podcast.
Rachelle Kearns (13:33.175)
Rachelle Kearns (13:46.09)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (14:00.281)
I think it's safe to assume that you are a proponent of the teaching of art in K-12, but the reality is that a lot of progressive education has kind of removed the humanities, removed the arts, because they're not as, quote unquote, practical. It's all about workforce preparation. So what would be kind of your case for teaching art in kind of a K-12 setting and why?
Rachelle Kearns (14:24.786)
Yeah, so I am not going to propose that I know what the right way to do it is, but I do think I'd like absolutely will say it's extremely important to be able to teach kids the importance of art in all of its forms and mediums, because I honestly believe it's the closest most tangible thing for kids to understand the breadth and length and depth and height of God's love.
to see God as creator, to see the Bible as an art form, and that the journey to know God, and again, I'm gonna quote Makoto Fujimara here, that requires not just ideas and information, but the act of actually translating our ideas into physical movements and real objects. To me, that is like, it's absolutely tantamount to having a full picture of who God is. And so,
So yes, I think that art is extremely important. And I think from a very early age too, like before even the kindergarten stage, I think that adopting a kind of a way in your home of helping your kids see beauty all around them, whether it be through, you know.
sitting on a bed of grass and watching the clouds go by and noting the shapes in them, or listening to a piece of music over and over again, and then maybe picking out specific instruments and how that makes you feel and shadow play. And they're so, baking bread together, like just making meals together. There's so much art that I think that exists in our homes.
you know, we have the privilege of being able to help our kids enjoy and take pleasure in the wonder and the awe of, you know, of all that God has created. And so I think that is really, first and foremost, important to be able to pass on to our kids. And they will get that, you know, most of our teaching as parents, right, is more caught than taught.
Rachelle Kearns (16:42.414)
And I've said this often, so they will pick up like our, you know, sensibilities and our disciplines and our habits in a way that, you know, it just gets transferred to them. So I think how we live and the, I also think it's super countercultural to be, to be slowing down, to be doing less and, and to be savoring the moments instead of, you know.
more and more and more, which is what I think this world often touts as being a really good thing. But I definitely am here to say that I don't think it's the best thing for our kids and I don't think it's raising our kids to be critical thinkers that are thoughtful and articulate and able to, you know, understand why they feel and think the way that they do.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (17:35.121)
Michelle, you got my head spinning. I'm thinking about a million different things, but I think you're so absolutely right. And there is, especially in classical education, you said your children go to a classical school, the idea of scolay, like this more restful learning that it's not all about just more and more and more and more and more, but really about the quality, not just the quantity. One of my favorite poets is William Carlos Williams and his poetry and art,
the everyday beauty that we have. And the red wheelbarrow, of course, is this most famous one. But just appreciating that. So I guess when I'm listening to you, the way you talk about art or even the instruction of art is more about preparing the heart to receive it, right? Like to be open to seeing it all around you. And I guess when you told your story, how you personally, it was kind of you finally saw that light, so to speak, and had that inspiration. But would you say you have to be in a certain
Rachelle Kearns (18:24.749)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (18:34.869)
space or certain environment to be receptive to that.
Rachelle Kearns (18:39.558)
Yes, I do think environment is really important. And actually even for me, I would say personally, I didn't learn this fully. I felt until I had kids. And so like one of the evolutions in my work was, so the Mercy Scape series is kind of what put me on the map as an artist. It definitely resonated and it...
you know, I was able to be in a bunch of, you know, shows and started to be exhibited in galleries and things like that. And then I got married and had two kids in short order. They're only 12 months apart. And so I had to make some really big decisions. I pulled out of a bunch of galleries and, you know, knew that this was my, you know, number one priority was, you know, being wife and mother. And so that meant that I had to make some very practical decisions about how I was going to spend my time.
And I will say like those early years as a mom, I struggled, like that was not a simple thing for me at all. It was painful and it was hard. And I remember it was when Levi, who's my second born, when he was about a year and a half is when we finally found a really great caregiver and who they're still friends with to this day.
but she came like three times a week for me to just be able to get a little time in the studio because that was important too and we wanted to figure out how to continue to be able to do that well. And I basically entered the studio and just started painting circle after circle. You know, I was so tired that I just like, it was more of just this thing, but yet it became, it was a thing of joy to me.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (20:21.504)
Rachelle Kearns (20:30.198)
these overlapping circles that were happening. And it was still light that I was thinking about and kind of reflecting in the work, but the work was changing. It looked totally different than the mercy scapes. And, you know, one day I was in the studio and I'm painting away and I was talking to God, which happens a lot in my studio. I'm painting and talking and kind of just going, you know, about my day. And the Lord was like, you know.
The same joy that you're experiencing in this very mundane, very repetitious, you know, task is something that you can tap into when you're experiencing the very mundane, very ordinary things in life, such as all the feedings and all the dirty dishes and all the dirty diapers. And that was like a whoa moment again for me because I was like, right? Like,
there is beauty in the mundane and there is beauty in this, you know, very repetitious, very mundane kind of task that can be applied to that. And I'm trying to remember where I was going with this and I'm not remembering the full train of thought. But the idea being that like, there is beauty in all of these mundane tasks. And I think that that's a super important thing.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (21:45.061)
Rachelle Kearns (21:56.523)
for our kids to pick up too. Like there's so many disciplines that they have in life that they do over and over again. But yeah, if we choose it, there is joy in it.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (22:07.961)
Well, and as you're talking, I'm thinking about, well, I'm an athlete. And so I sometimes think about, you know, some of the greatest athletes. And you look at them and they it's almost like they defy some of the just basics. Right. Because they're so good. But what you miss is the countless hours that they've spent doing the basics. Right. They mastered all the basics, which then allowed them to depart from that, so to speak. They had to work really hard towards having the freedom to break the norm.
so to speak. And so I'm thinking about, especially about creativity and similar to, I guess, critical thinking, you know, as a former English teacher. How do you teach critical thinking, right? How do you teach creativity? How do you approach that topic? I mean, is it something that, you know, you just think creatively or is it maybe through the mundane and you go through the motions over and over again until...
Rachelle Kearns (22:38.262)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (23:07.781)
How did that come about for you? And what would be your recommendation, maybe even for teachers that are trying to instill creativity in their students?
Rachelle Kearns (23:14.934)
Right, so back to my earlier point, I was remembering why I was talking about Beauty and the Mundane. What really changed in my work is that it became less about, and I will also get to your question too, it became less about the end result for me, less about the final product and way more about the process. And it became all about enjoying the process.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (23:28.763)
Rachelle Kearns (23:44.726)
got me curious about, well, how am I approaching this process? Like, what am I doing here to, you know, make sure that my life is what I call, refer to as like sustainably creative, you know? What does that look like? What do I need, what does my life need to look like in order to make sure that I don't, you know, go through burnout or, you know, the artist block, as many people talk about and...
I literally think that, you know, when we're teaching art, some of the, like a lot of these things apply. It's about the process. It's about teaching the kids to enjoy the journey of it and, and really not letting them think too hard about the end result. It took, you know, hundreds of paintings for me to get to the point before somebody actually bought one, you know?
Soren Schwab (CLT) (24:37.893)
Rachelle Kearns (24:38.514)
I think that recognizing failure, embracing failure, embracing, I don't know, I think it's just so, I think we're so focused on end results in so much of our artistic endeavors that we forget that the journey is really the thing. And I think that's very, it's a biblical principle and concept too that God talks about often and we see that through.
so many different characters in the Bible. It's about what happens to them in the process that they are changed and transformed. And it's less about the end result. It really, that's not the thing to be focusing on. And so how do we teach that? I think it comes with having great, you know, art teachers that are less focused on grades. And I know this will sound like crazy talk, but more about more that they are.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (25:31.708)
Rachelle Kearns (25:34.638)
focused on how the kids are processing and going through the phases of creating something and how they embrace their mistakes, how they're willing to let go of end result stuff. And I think if we paid more attention to that and somehow were able to affirm that within a classroom setting, I think that's a great way
I think it would be profound how much our kids would learn and how quickly they would.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (26:07.041)
I love that. And I'm going to ask you here in a little bit of advice for maybe aspiring artists that want to pursue a career. But I think what we shouldn't forget, of course, is that art is enriching to our lives, whether or not we're pursuing a career in arts or not. And so I think sometimes in a school setting, like you said, we focus so much on where it's 45 minutes and then you get a grade and then we're doing this in order to get it. It's almost like killing the joy of the process.
Rachelle Kearns (26:34.898)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (26:36.233)
of creating art or writing poetry. I really regret not having picked up writing poetry, but I always felt it like a chore, right? It's just something that every now and then gets assigned and I get a grade. And so it kind of killed the joy of the process of creating. And so I hope we don't do the same with our students in art. But there might be some listeners that have children or maybe the children are listening themselves that know, I got a gift.
Rachelle Kearns (26:47.903)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (27:06.322)
and I would love to do something with art. What would be kind of your recommendation for young aspiring artists?
Rachelle Kearns (27:16.814)
Create the space and the time for them to do it and affirm the process and the journey of it and don't worry about the end results. I think something that my son picked up in COVID lockdowns was origami. And I'll never forget, there was so many times, like, and it was so beyond me, cause I was like, dude, I can't help you. Like I have no idea what this is about.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (27:35.313)
Soren Schwab (CLT) (27:43.661)
Rachelle Kearns (27:45.602)
There's so many other things I could help, but this is like, you got me. I have no clue. And it would be so frustrating to him to learn these like major and we're talking like massive sheets that he would then fold into these tiny crevices and creases. And it would take hours and hours and, you know, tears for sure. At certain points, too, right. But all I could do was just affirm the journey. I just was like, like.
This is amazing. Like look at that, you know, that pattern, that crease pattern that you've been able to create, even if you don't create anything from it, that's amazing. You know, being able to just affirm the journey, affirm his perseverance, affirm his creativity, affirm his determination, and you know, a lot of his choices in that, that's what I focused on because I really honestly had no clue about the end result and how he would get there.
It was way beyond me, but it was so beautiful to watch him just like stick to it. And I like, I thought that was incredible. So I think those kinds of things are what we can do with our kids, creating space and time for them to pursue whatever it is that they happen to be interested in. Like I haven't forced my kids to paint like that's not they do, but I haven't forced it on them and they each kind of have their own niches of.
art things that they want to do. And it's been so cool to see their own personalities come out in those, the expressions of how they choose to pursue it. But yeah, I think creating space, creating time, affirming the process and just, you know, whenever they do express interest in something that is artistic, don't be afraid because I honestly believe like it will.
it'll be one more way that they will potentially get to know an aspect of God, of God's character.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (29:50.585)
Beautiful. Well, this was absolutely delightful. I have one more question for you that we asked every one of our guests here on Anchored. And I actually going to... And I didn't even prep you for that. So we'll see how it goes. I'm going to ask you, of course, the question we always ask, if there's one book or one text that has been most impactful in your life, what would it be? And if it's the Bible, give me a specific book. Okay.
Rachelle Kearns (30:19.072)
It's not to say that the Bible isn't tittle. I don't mean to say that, but okay. So I feel like there's three or four different answers to this based on how I want to kind of segment it. But as a kid, for me, as a kid, I definitely would say that the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was the book.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (30:21.729)
Right, right, right.
Rachelle Kearns (30:42.006)
that literally unlocked my, you know, the power of the imagination for me and just how from that point on, every book I read, I felt like my imagination just went wild. And so that, but that was the book that unlocked that for me, but that was a kid. And then I would definitely say that in my 30 somethings, the book, The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.
was a deeply influential book for me that helped me to understand how to use my influence for good. And then another one that is very recent, like was basically through the pandemic that really impacted me was John Mark Comer. I don't know if you've heard of him, but he's a he used to be a pastor actually in Portland. He is no longer, but he wrote a book called The Ruthless Elimination of
And it just really, again, emphasized the importance of like the art of slow living and intentional living. And that to me was a really great read. And then most recently, I would, as I've quoted him often in this podcast, about Makoto Fujimara's book, Art and Faith. To me, it's a very special gift to be not only an artist, but also an author.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (31:58.191)
Rachelle Kearns (32:07.798)
most of what I paint, it literally will like take me like dozens of paintings before I actually can start to like be like, Lord, what are you doing here? What's happening? I don't know what's going on because often it's just so intuitive and I just have to get it out and paint it. I don't know. It's so hard to put words to it.
It's only because I've now been painting for over 20 years that I feel like I can somewhat talk to, you know, what it is that goes on in my heart and mind. But Makoto Fujimara, I felt when I read that book, I was like, this is like the beat of my heart. Like this totally like represents how and why I do what I do. And I loved how we worded it. And so that it really resonated with me. So that's a great read for any, I think, aspiring Christian artist.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (32:54.841)
Amazing. Fantastic. And then just a quick follow-up. I don't know if that's even a fair question. Do you have a favorite painting?
Rachelle Kearns (33:05.21)
Ooh, yes I do. It's Van Gogh's irises. Yeah, which I actually see in person at some places. Ha ha ha.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (33:10.145)
Okay, bang those irons. And we're all gonna.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (33:16.318)
We're all going to look it up now after listening. Well, Rochelle, I have had the honor to look at some of your art already. Where can our listeners go to see your art to find out more?
Rachelle Kearns (33:17.986)
Rachelle Kearns (33:30.658)
So I have a website, it is literally just my name, so it's RochelleKarens.com. And so that is the best way to stay in touch with me. I do an email newsletter if you wanna stay informed about what's going on in the arts. As well, I'm pretty present on Instagram, and so my hashtag there is Rochelle underscore Karens, and you can DM me there and I will respond.
Yeah, other than that, I think that's basically it.
Soren Schwab (CLT) (34:02.733)
Wonderful. Well, this was absolutely delightful. Again, we're here with Rochelle Karens, who is an artist from Toronto, but now lives in Seattle. And this was a wonderful conversation, Rochelle. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Rachelle Kearns (34:16.418)
Daron, it's been great to talk to you. Thank you.