Do you guys know who is the first British female artist to have a solo exhibition at Malaysia’s National Art Gallery? Yup, it’s Rachel Gray, an artist based in Kuala Lumpur discussing her life-like wildlife portraits of Malaysian animals.
Who is Rachel Gray?
Kuala Lumpur-based artist Rachel Gray made history in September and October 2018 as the first British female artist to have a solo exhibition at Malaysia’s National Art Gallery. Rachel Gray’s wildlife portrait is inspired by her own wildlife photography. Rachel studies, sketches and photographs each animal as long as they allow it, spending time making it back onto the canvas. She’s from Britain’s north-eastern town of Hexham, points out that it is vital to capture the soul and the emotion of the animals.
She always loved that wildlife and when she was younger, Rachel thought she was going to be a vet or to be an artist. But then, the art side took over and she thought why not paint the animals (like why not combine the two things that she likes).
Many things inspire her like the environment, animals, the works of other artists, the list goes on and on. In recent years, Rachel will say that her inspiration came from Malaysia because of the mix of amazing rare animals here like the Malayan Tiger, the Orang-Utan, the Proboscis Monkeys and also the Sun Bears with beautiful and rare wildlife found here – she adores anything with four legs and a tail, and she lives in bright colors, so Malaysia is great for her.
Why did Rachel Gray choose Malaysia?
Rachel chose Malaysia because mainly of the culture and for the animals. She kind of noticed it when she originally came here for a while and thought to see how it goes and then she kind of fell in love with the culture, the people, the food and the weather. Rachel came to Malaysia and the biodiversity with the mix of amazing rare animals here and really made her fall in love with Malaysia.
Rachel Gray’s Artworks
A lot of Rachel’s work is in the form of digital wildlife portraits. To paint the portraits, she draws on a Wacom tablet, which is touch, tilt and weight-sensitive tablet. She only uses Corel Painter as the software as it allows her to recreate traditional materials and techniques in a digital medium. It’s basically traditional methods digitally. The portraits are created from a blank canvas, all by hand and all from scratch, with no photoshop, pattern brushes or filters, just her and anywhere between 80 to 250 hours of painting.
For wildlife portraits, Rachel doesn’t use Photoshop or any filters, pattern brushes or any image/colour manipulation, which is why they take so long to produce. Rachel also will do some of that recapping which Rachel will paint from her own wildlife photographs. She will go into the jungles or the zoo and take dozens of photos and sketches of the animals for as long as they allow her to study them. So she can get a sense of what that animal is and can see how it moves, and can see colour in eyes. When she returns to her studio, she will use these as references to paint it.
What are the challenges as a full-time artist?
There are a few really big ones about the worst moments – when working on the payment or commission things suddenly the computer crashes or she forgets to save it or something happens or your computer gives you the white screen of death.
Work/life balance – Rachel really struggles with this. She works long hours and feels guilty if she takes any time off, even at weekends, which is not very healthy for her and she must admit that she is getting better at managing this but it’s a hard one.
Money – she feels this is a constant battle for most artists. Sometimes it’s: “where’s the next paycheck coming from?” and when you do have a commission the challenge becomes: “what am I going to do after this?”