Stars, moonshine jars, beautiful ladies and scorpions, your work is definitely a signature style—where do you think your style developed from? Also, can you please introduce yourself?

I’m Rachel Urquhart (or Raych Pony Gold for those who struggle with the surname), an illustrator and artist from the mid-north coast of NSW. I think my style developed out of maybe not having a filter on what interests and influences me… I remember really clear developmental stages when I was all about dark comic book graphics or psychedelics and art nouveau or really twee crafty stuff. Stylistically, I tried to consume and process as broadly as possible: from fine art to low brow, graphic novels, poster and LP art, book covers or food labels from the 70s, tattoo art (especially the dodgy, faded or regrettable), natural history illustrations, rock n roll and tourist shirt graphics, the aesthetics that come out of subcultures like surfing, skating, motorcycles, music… 

Have you been met with any challenges as an artist along the way?

All the standard ones: questions about financial viability, blind fumbling about how to operate as a freelancer, imposter syndrome and self-doubt about my right to take up space and the validity of my work, comparison thieving joy, over-commitment and under-performance, copyright infringements, etc.

How do you keep up your creative momentum? Where do you look to for the drive to create?

I was just reading the foreword to an old Stephen King book, and it mentioned (in the context of writing) ‘compulsive diligence’. Which is definitely something I see in all artists. There’s a compulsion to keep creating all the time, to keep working and honing that skill. Sometimes there’s no telling when or what made you click over to fever pitch, but you developed a habit and you feel weird now if you don’t feed it regularly. So it’s hard to tangibly say where that drive comes from, and why it sometimes ebbs and flows.

What does body confidence mean to you? Is it something you’ve ever struggled with and why?

I don’t know if body confidence is something I can really speak to, because it’s something I still lack. I think it’s just so deeply programmed, largely by money-driven ad men, that (a) our appearance is of paramount importance and (b) that our inability to meet unrealistic beauty standards can be fixed by buying things. The best I get is days where I’m too preoccupied with what I’m doing to be critical of the vehicle in which I’m doing it (and, you know, I can just be appreciative of that vehicle working relatively well).

Because the baseline is that it’s crazy for this to be a discussion at all, although idealistic to think that it doesn’t need to be. There’s no way any male artist has ever had to even touch on this in a Q&A: like what, as an artist, do you think about your body? I guess unfortunately we’re not yet at the point or equality where we don’t need to talk about it. 

What inspires your retro/flash style of art? What're the best ways you’ve found that have refined your practice?

Of course tattooing, with the flash sheets. But also botanical illustration for that idea of deconstructing a thing on a single page… I just love that notion of: here are all the things I’m thinking about, here’s everything I can fathom today. It’s good for traveling or documenting where you’re at mentally, calling together all the disparate elements that are contributing to that one big feeling. 

And for the best ways to refine practice, it’s always commercial work where I have to stretch technically. Personal work is where the ideas live, but paid work is where the execution really gets hammered out.

Do you tend to create from personal experience or from observing the experiences of others?

I think it’s always a personal experience, whether it's specific or general seems to fluctuate… when I was younger, everything was intensely emotional and personal and a direct communication of my angst and heartbreak (and it was mostly bad art, too). Now I’m still sentimental, but emotionally more steady and kinda zoomed-out, which I guess starts to encompass the experiences of others, or a collective human experience, a bit more. 

What’s it like being a woman in the creative industry? Do you find that it has its challenges at times?

I feel like being a woman in the creative industries might beat the hell out of being a woman in politics or finance or one of those traditionally super male-dominated occupations. Like my typically ‘feminine’ strengths of intuition and aesthetics and emotional intelligence/openness are an advantage in this language. And in my day-to-day as a freelance graphic artist and designer, I work predominately with amazing women anyway: women who run fashion labels, manage musicians or work with licensing rights for some of the best musicians ever, creative directors for clothing companies or award-winning apps… so there’s no bullshit. When I was a journalist I worked exclusively under male editors and managers, and I was undoubtedly being paid less than my male colleagues, and the standards (for appearance, behaviour at events, that kind of thing) were different too. 

What’s your favourite part of your body and why?

Predictably, my hands. Not just because they’re the vehicle for my work, but also because they’re something I’m forced to love in spite of them not being that nice to look at: I’ve had old lady hands since I was a kid and no amount of moisturizing is going to help that. But, yeah, they also create the most powerful and beautiful things I’ve been able to produce, so there’s a pragmatic sense of: who cares what they look like if they can do that?

What’s your idea of empowerment?

I think empowerment comes from acknowledging/exposing our humanity, vulnerability, and the things we fear in order to live and work with honest and transparent intentions. Empowerment is in the connection, support and unity of people, it’s in the listening, respect, acknowledgment, and reverberation of those who need to be heard, and the provision of space and platform for those who historically haven’t had it. 

What advice what you give your 18-year-old self if you could?

Just to simmer down and take it a bit easy. I’ve always been super intensely emotional, sensitive, and earnest, and it’s just not worth worrying so hard about everything when you’re at such a mercurial part of your life. It’s very likely that everything that’s important when you’re 18 is going to be trivial later, so just chill a bit. But I guess I don’t know, that intensity served me in some ways and hindered me in some, and maybe it actually makes no difference if you’re flippant or diligent. 

What the biggest risk you’ve taken to date? What were the pressure points and was it worth it?

I’m not really a conscious risk taker. People in my life will say to me: that was a kinda gnarly thing you did there, but in my mind, I was just kind of getting on with what was happening. It’s mostly tied up in short-notice exits: moving interstate with no plan or job, or quitting my journalism career to draw for a living. I get anxious when I’m not sure how things are going to work out, but if something is calling you in that strongly, it’s always worth a bit of stress on the jump over. 

As you’ve gotten older – how has your perception of your body and confidence changed?

My perception of my body is adamantly still the same, only now I realise the hangovers are getting worse. But I look at old photos of myself and can see myself as young and tough and raggedy and beautiful, which I certainly didn’t feel at the time. So I’m aware that I’m probably right now living some version of that same tough raggedy beauty and I will look back on it and curse myself for being unaware. But also, there’s that whole dropping-off in self-consciousness as you get older because (a) you just don’t have time to worry that hard about your appearance, or (b) no amount of fussing is going to really change it. Or I guess it’s the reality that, as I get older, what I do with this body is going to become exponentially more important (and rewarding) than what it looks like. 

When drawing female figures and personalities – do you take your own body into account?

I actually had a weird long break from drawing women at all… I used to predominately draw fashion-illustration influenced female portraits but I got really highly strung about being complicit in perpetuating unrealistic and exclusive beauty standards and I just couldn’t stand to draw using model references anymore. I’m easing my way back into now, with a bit more consciousness. So I guess that takes into account my own body and how I relate to the way women are portrayed, both by myself as output and in my references or influences as input. 

Praise You isn’t just about raising awareness for eating disorders and celebrating body positivity – it’s also shining the light on female support in the creative community, in saying that, what does inclusivity and its importance mean to you?

It’s the absolute core of what it is to be human, you just wanna be in the gang. You want people to be kind to you, to take it easy on you, to let you in — and that’s what inclusivity is: trying to have empathy and show kindness, openness, and understanding, sometimes for something you can’t ever understand.

INSTAGRAM: @raychponygold
WEBSITE: www.ponygoldstudio.com

Praise You 2017Alex Saba