Rachael McCampbell has found true freedom following her dreams.
The Franklin, Tennessee-based artist has always loved to paint, but never expected to make a career out of it.
“My parents’ thinking was Depression-era oriented, very practical. They wanted me to have a job that was marketable and encouraged me to study graphic design, which I did,” said McCampbell. “The only part that really excited me was the illustration side of it. I wanted to be in the painting department full time. Trying to be a graphic designer stifled me. For years, I didn’t paint in the way I wanted to paint; I was frozen.”
As a junior in college, McCampbell transferred from a small school in her native Tennessee to the University of Georgia to pursue an Art degree with a focus in graphic design and illustration. While in Athens, she won a merit scholarship to study abroad in Cortona, Italy and credits the experience for changing everything.
“Everything about that summer changed my life,” she says of her time abroad. “I had the travel bug in me before I left for Italy, but that trip cemented my deep interest in other cultures, art history, historical architecture, and its intrinsic beauty. UGA offered that opportunity, and it changed my life. I’m forever grateful.”
After graduation, McCampbell (BFA in art/graphic design ’83) worked a variety of jobs in New York, London, and Los Angeles. She spent time in sales, commercial art, and healing work in craniosacral and polarity therapy. She found success and had reps in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. But she still wasn’t painting.
“It was a wonderful time, but I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do,” she said. “I was making art by committee, and it wasn’t feeding my soul. I wanted to be a fine artist.”
With the advent of Getty images and stock imagery, illustrator jobs began being phased out. McCampbell was faced with a choice of where to refocus her career, and for the first time in her life chose painting. She never looked back.
After 24 years in Los Angeles, she moved back to Tennessee and began creating series of paintings and showing them in art exhibitions. She taught art classes and established her own company “Artistic Adventures Abroad,” taking groups to paint and see sites in Europe. During the pandemic, she began a YouTube channel, McCampbell Art Studio, where she posted free demonstrations and painted with friends on-camera to help get people excited about art.
She’s most proud of the public art that she’s created over the years for Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, and Ascension St. Thomas’ new hospital wing.
“Art that is seen by many people is powerful, especially in a hospital setting, where so often folks who walk past the artwork are worried or hurting,” McCampbell said. “If my art can ease the pain of even one soul, then I feel that my work is done.”
Most recently, she and her husband purchased and rehabilitated a historical building in Centerville, TN and began holding workshops and events in the building. She continues to show her work in galleries and museums, take groups to domestic sites and locations abroad for painting workshops, and to compete in painting competitions.
Her hard-earned advice to others mirrors what she wishes she could tell her younger self and rings true across disciplines. “Follow your passion always, not what you think would make others feel comfortable or what is trendy. Find your natural voice and only listen to that.”
And while she admittedly experiences the lack of job security as a painter that her parents had feared, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love that every day of my work life is completely different from the previous day or the next—ever varying, ever challenging, ever exciting. To get to get to do what I would want to do with my time and get paid for it is amazing. I feel so blessed to get to plan my schedule as I wish. That sort of freedom is priceless.”