Confessions of an Artist

Reprinted from the March issue of Nashville Arts Magazine

March 2017

by Rachael Mccampbell

Rachael McCampbell is an artist, teacher, curator, and writer who resides in the small hamlet of Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. For more about her, please visit

Pen and ink illustration by Rachael McCampbell, 5 x 7″, ink on paper

How many charity events have you attended where a surgeon has donated a hip replacement or a lawyer has donated fifteen hours of their expertise? I’ve never seen that. Most of the time you see artwork donated by artists, who, for the most part, make much less money than those in other professions. So, my question is, why do charities keep asking the lowest-paid freelancers with no health care, retirement plan, or benefits to donate their time and talents, and why do artists keep saying yes?

I have spoken with many artists on this topic, and it’s complicated to say the least. Some want to donate because they love the cause. Others believe they will get public exposure. Some feel that even if their $2,000 painting sells for only $100, it’s $100 more for the charity. Some artists refuse to donate at all because auctions are often not promoted or marketed correctly and their art sells for below market value, which ultimately hurts them, their dealers, their collectors, and the art market in general.

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Another creative adventure lies ahead this August and September to Italy.

The beautiful Villa we will be staying in.

I’m taking a group of 14 guests to Cortona, Italy this fall to an amazing villa on gorgeous grounds with olive groves, a swimming pool, fountains and more. We will experience the joys of painting plein-air, hand-making pasta, truffle hunting, antiquing, seeing ancient churches and masterpieces of art while traveling to beautiful spots like San Gimignano, Siena, Volterra, Arezzo and of course Cortona! 



The Trip has sold out but I am accepting wait list sign-ups. The date of the trip is Aug. 30 – September 9th. 10 nights. For more information, please email me at: 

Rebecca Crowell, Swedish Red #1, 2015, Oil, mixed media on panel, 11” x 14”

A Way to Look at Abstract Art

Published in the January 2017 issue of Nashville Arts Magazine in my column “And So it Goes.”

by Rachael McCampbell

How many times have you walked past an abstract painting without stopping because you simply didn’t get it? Or, perhaps a judgmental voice crept in—A kindergartener could have painted that! When you pick up your paints and try this yourself, you will understand how difficult this sort of painting actually is. For me, the reduction process of stripping away representational imagery to express thoughts or feelings is a struggle. I equate the difference between representational and abstract art to country versus classical music. With country, you can connect to a story and music, but with classical, it’s only the music. Without words, how do you know what the composer is trying to express? Not withstanding research into the artist’s intentions, you simply take the music in on a visceral level and feel it. This is a good approach to abstract art as well—only later getting more analytical.

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Dining al fresco outside the villa one evening in Cortona, Italy













I remember a day in my 20s when I was standing on the outskirts of Cortona, eating a nocciola gelato, overlooking miles of vineyards and olive groves. As I took in the smell of garlic and tomatoes simmering on a nearby stove, a group of Italian women passed by, arm in arm, chattering in their native tongue, and I thought, I wish I could take this all with me. And I have, so to speak, but there is no replacement for actually experiencing Italy firsthand.

Like many art students, I completed a college summer abroad program in Cortona—a medieval hilltop town in Tuscany made famous by the book/film Under the Tuscan Sun. After graduating, I worked in Florence and have returned many times since. In September, I took twelve guests to a villa in Cortona for eight nights of what I called a “transformational journey.”

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by Rachael McCampbell

I wish I could have a dollar for every time someone has said to me, “I can’t draw or paint.” I’d be rich! I don’t believe there is any truth to this statement, because most anyone can apply paint to a surface, but what is true is that a great many people don’t have the patience to paint. I have witnessed it time and time again. It’s like the child who whines in the back of the car on a road trip, “Are we there yet?” With the constant checking of the clock and odometer, stress levels rise and the journey becomes unbearable—no one can focus on the joy of traveling. It’s the same with art. My students often want to be at the end of the process before they have even committed an hour to it. They toss their brushes down and state, “I’m not good at this—I give up.”


Sketch with Charcoal for “Encroachment #3″, 36″ x 36” birch panel by Rachael McCampbell

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Refugee Art at Azraq Camp, Jordan

Refugee Art at Azraq Camp, Jordan

Imagine being 10 years old, living happily in your home, your city—a place where you feel safe. Then suddenly you are ripped away, taken on a terrifying boat ride to a foreign land with nothing but the clothes on your back and told to live in a tent city with thousands of other internally displaced people surrounded by barbed wire. Shock and horror are two words that come to mind.

We are in the midst of an international refugee crisis right now. Wars have displaced approximately 46 million men, women, and children. How do these people, especially children, cope with this change?

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Rachael McCampbell and Scott Lewis painting together. May 2016, Franklin, TN

The 21 Artists Collaborative is 21 Nashville artists who are invited to work with individuals with Down syndrome for the Pujols Foundation, a national non-profit with a two-prong mission of serving impoverished areas of the Dominican Republic and creating extraordinary opportunities for individuals with Down syndrome. I was told that I was paired with a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome and autism who is non-verbal. My first thought was how will we communicate and make art together if he doesn’t speak?

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by Rachael McCampbell

My mother was an amateur artist for years before she got dementia and passed away. Why no one handed her a brush during her illness is beyond me, but it would have been both interesting and therapeutic to observe how dementia affected her painting style and her demeanor. By the end of her life, she lost her ability to speak and write. I wonder now if she could have communicated through her art.

“This painting is from a resident at Trevecca Health and Rehab Center. We were speaking about the use of color and line to express mood, temperature, season. After she finished, she exclaimed, ‘Now that’s what winter looks like to me!’”
Art therapist, Terri Giller said, “This painting is from a resident at Trevecca Health and Rehab Center. We were speaking about the use of color and line to express mood, temperature, season. After she finished, she exclaimed, ‘Now that’s what winter looks like to me!’”

Interestingly, when some people develop neurological deterioration, they discover previously unknown artistic talents. Dr. Bruce L. Miller, a behavioral neurologist and director of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Memory and Aging Center, works with clients with various types of neurological disorders from Alzheimer’s disease to frontotemporal dementia and more. Dr. Miller stated, “There have been reports of individuals . . . who developed new artistic skills in the setting of their illness. One explanation for this phenomenon is that other parts of the brain take over to compensate for another brain area that is no longer working. Therefore, visual expressions such as drawing, painting, or sculpture appear as the person loses their capability for verbal language.”

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Photography and article by Rachael McCampbell

Have you ever attended a party where a successful songwriter shares that he is a miniature portrait painter and restorer? Me neither. Painting miniature portraits is a lost art that does not come up in casual cocktail party conversation.

Brad Crisler in his studio.

Brad Crisler in his studio.

Brad Crisler, never formally trained in either art or music, is a renaissance man who picked cotton outside of Muscle Shoals to pay for his first keyboard, yet was a double major in finance and management in college. He later came to Nashville where he wrote hits for Brooks and Dunn, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, and Brett Eldredge, and penned the Southern anthem “Sweet Southern Comfort” for Buddy Jewell.

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by Rachael McCampbell

They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But is it?


Walker Evans photo of Allie Mae Burroughs, 1936, for his book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1941, that Sherrie Levine photographed in 1981

Media sources encourage us to follow the latest trends. Every season, we are told what the new “in” color will be; and it’s an accepted fact that within days of a couture fashion show, knock-offs of the top designers’ wares will be on the streets at a fraction of the price. But does this hurt the top designers? Actually, it’s been said it may even help them. The spread of a new style creates a trend, a fashion cycle, that might not have happened had it not been for the spreading of that idea through knock-offs.

In the fields of music and art, however, trends don’t come and go in the same way as the fashion world. A song can be financially impactful for decades as can a painted image. Illegal sampling of songs has become a tremendous issue for record labels and their artists; and in the visual arts, famous artists and their estates are constantly issuing cease-and-desist letters to people using their images on products that are not licensed.

Most artists are under the impression that once someone creates a piece of art, it’s automatically copyright protected—and since 1989 it is to some extent. But if someone copies your work, an artist doesn’t have much of a case unless the work has been properly registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. But what about copyrighting a style? What if an artist, for example, has spent a lifetime creating a distinctive style, and gets blatantly imitated by another artist? Can the artist sue the imitator for stealing their imagery and/or style? Read more →