Artist and Illustrator Rebecca Clarke on Hempathy and Healing

January 19, 2018

When you first lay eyes on a jar of Hempathy, it’s impossible not to notice the art, whimsical lines and vivid colors that accents the container. You might want to buy it just based on aesthetics alone; while it’s simply pretty to look at it, it’s not overpowering. Enter Rebecca Clarke. The New York City-based illustrator, whose other clients include The New Yorker, Vogue, The Atlantic and The New York Times, was enlisted by Hempathy to collaborate on packaging that does this healing product justice. PRØHBTD talked with the artist about what it’s like to constantly be creating and how the perfect innovative union comes together. 

Have you been drawing your entire life?

Growing up, my mom had a pencil and paper in her bag instead of toys. I was always encouraged. It started really early. In fourth grade I was in an after-school program and everybody was like, “Rebecca can draw. You can make her draw whatever.” That was my talent. 

I’m an illustrator now living in New York, but I studied graphic design in Holland for four years. I was brought up in North Carolina before living in France for four years, which is where I did a foundation year of art.

How did the move from North Carolina to France happen? Was that an insane adjustment?

It was my mom’s dream. She’s a New Yorker but had lived in Sweden for 11 years, and she just loved France—the language, the food—and wanted her kids to be bilingual. So she sent me to a boarding school in the South, which was really scary at the age of 15, but it turned out great. 

You have a very distinct style. How would you describe it?

Normally, I say I try to reach the simplest execution. I’ll sketch and try to get the idea across. For this project with Hempathy, I was painting plants. It’s different from my editorial work, which is more open and line-based. This is all filled in, so it’s a different way of working. It was about how to find the simplest, most beautiful shape, make the colors bright and ensure the person knows what they’re seeing—but execute in a way that’s lively with original form. 

Is it a different kind of pressure when you’re commissioned for a product, which needs to appeal to the consumer, as opposed to something editorial, like a portrait or landscape?

It’s always the same pressure. Every once in a while, you have a connection with a client, and as long as you have a nice communication with the art director and it’s someone who’s excited about you, then you’re also excited. It’s not about whether the project is high stakes but if it’s a nice collaboration. 

What was the collaboration with Hempathy like?

Following Heather Hoffman on her journey made it special. I’m excited that cannabis is getting integrated a little more normally into our lives. It’s an exciting thing that’s happening, and I get to be a part of it in a little way. 

Is the world of cannabis something you’ve been a part of or is this new?

I was in Holland for four years and lived in France where everyone smokes weed, so it’s not super different, but using it in products and juicing it for smoothies? I had never heard of that until recently. But in Holland, because it’s [virtually] legal, people smoke a lot less. Whereas when I was in Paris, everyone did. 

For me, weed has been helpful in terms of trauma. Recently, it was really helpful when I was going through a divorce and the death of my father. Smoking was really like a medicine. It brought me back into my body in terms of, “You’re going to be okay. You can get through this day.” The trauma lessened, then I didn’t really feel like smoking again.

What about if you’re working or creating?

I used to smoke and then have an evening of just painting by myself. I’d have these little moments of, “Oh!” That self-awareness when you’re drawing. But lately I just get tired and want to lie down! 

I know you’re an avid traveler. This is a cheesy question, but do you get inspired when you see you places and whip out your sketchbook?

I don’t sketch very much on vacation because I’m drawing one-hundred percent of my time when I’m home in New York. When I take a vacation, I really take a vacation, unless it’s an artist residency. It’s more about taking in the people and culture, the food and colors, as a person and through taking photos. For one of my newer projects for a commercial client, I’m getting to use all these photos I took in Japan and Brazil to make my sketches and then paint, so that’s really exciting. 

This year has been full of traveling. I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras with a group of people who really do it right: full body paint and a lot of dancing. Right after that, I went to the beach on the northeast side of Brazil called [Praia da] Pipa. It has the most beautiful ocean, with dolphins—it doesn’t seem real. I took a road trip for five weeks from Tulsa to Alaska. Then I went to Japan last month. It’s been a crazy year. When someone who’s really close to you dies, it makes you examine. I needed something to help push me to feel better.

What would be a total dream project?

I would love a project that’s like, “We want to fly you out to India and have you stay there for four months and paint all these things for a nonprofit organization that’s going to help save people." It doesn’t have to be India. It could be Thailand or Mexico. I’m open. 

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