The Femme Stories is a blog series celebrating the makers who inspire and empower their community, and continue to gift us with their creativity; these are their stories.
Rachel | The Critter Co.
Like so many makers I know, I met Rachel, the owner and illustrator behind The Critter Co. at The One of a Kind Show. Her booth draws you in, with her gorgeous illustrations scattered on cards, stickers, prints and pillow covers you just want to look through all the whimsy that is her work. After meeting her you realize that her warmth and wholesome nature is fused into her paintings, she is such a kind person. Whichever show you catch Rachel at, there is a good chance you will find her doing her watercolour sketches right there, and she even asks her followers to suggest animals to help inspire her.
To start, I am a huge Critter Co. fan girl, your pieces are so whimsical and ethereal, was this always your style or did you develop this over time?
I had such a different style in university, I did a lot of hard-hitting political pieces, which I really enjoyed, I also did realistic graphite work, and still like to delve in this from time to time, but eventually I became interested in watercolour. I felt there were people who were more informed with political issues and I wanted to hit my strength which was adding a bit of joy into people’s lives.
While in university did you know you wanted to start your own company?
I had plans to go the fine art gallery route, I attempted to get my work into some galleries right out of university, which was maybe a little presumptuous of me. Then I stumbled across a craft show and thought maybe I could do this. Once I got into that scene, I realized how nice everyone was and just felt like these were my people.
What drew you to the medium of watercolour?
I grew up reading Victorian storybooks, the original Winnie the Pooh and Beatrice Potter, so I was very drawn to that medium. I had tried watercolours a few times before, but just couldn’t figure out how to do it, so one day, I sat down and forced myself to get into that medium. It didn’t come all at once, but I started to appreciate the style and I loved how compact it was. I had a really small apartment in Toronto so it was a style made for small studios. Watercolour is versatile enough in that it doesn’t matter what my subject matter is, it all fits my brand, because it has that similar look to it.
What was your first product you started selling?
Prints was where I started, I was also trying to sell my original artwork. I didn’t have any graphic design background at the time, so I was getting someone else to do the digital portion, plus they also had a really nice printer so I got my printing done at the same spot. The printers were the ones who mentioned that there was excess paper after the 8 by 10 and 11 by 14 prints were done, so they said we should print some little sizes so you can sell them as cards. I started selling those at shows and now they are 50% of my sales. It purely came about as a way to not be wasteful.
You are obviously inspired by animals and nature, but I feel like your brand really clicked for me when I read that you were inspired by Peter Rabbit, have you ever thought of doing children’s books?
Yeah, I have, it is always in the back of my head. I have a few storylines that I have come up with over the years, I just don’t know how to finish some of them, which I hear is a common problem. Definitely having the time to sit down and sketch it out and lay it out in full. It is an ongoing thought and I feel like in the future it will be something I tackle.
A couple years ago you went back to school for graphic design, do you feel like that has influenced your company at all?
The thing that prompted it was I wanted more control. Before when I had to hire someone, they would take my original images and convert those into digital files. I was finding this process was so lengthy and really pricey, so I wanted to know how to do it and thought it would give me more control over my images. This has allowed me to create more images then I would have otherwise so that’s impacted my growth for sure. Also, at that time I wasn’t doing my company full time, so it also allowed me to start to do some freelance to help support myself.
Do you have any new products in the works that are launching soon?
I have a product launch coming up at the beginning of June. It’s going to be a little all over the place in terms of product theme, but I have some miniature critter portraits, landscapes, and of course animals. These will all be available in a mixture of prints, stickers, and greeting cards. I have some plans for new products too, but those will be a bit further in the future.
What are you currently reading?
I am rereading Harry Potter, I am such a fan, it is 100% a comfort read for me. I am on Goblet of Fire.
Chatting with Rachel was such a delight, just like her work, I truly love the burst of joy her prints infuse into my life. I also have really admired her unique take on social media, we are all the same platform, but there are always some people that just stand out and you keep going back to the content they are putting out. The Critter Co. is that page for me, from her stories engaging with clients during shows, to her reels, it shows how truly creative she is! Check out her page and her website to see her gorgeous work.