Blind Contour Drawing #24 –
“I have spoken with this green person”
– Rachel Berman 2010

Once known as Susan King, Rachel Berman reclaimed her birth name as an adult after she successfully discovered the names and of her biological parents and her own birth story. She was born in New Orleans in 1946 and was raised by foster parents in Victoria B.C. She abandoned the foster system at an early age and lived a tough life.

She was a self taught artist and traveled and worked in the U.S., Ireland and in Canada, she eventually settled in Victoria B.C. where she grew up. She worked as a greeting card artist. Her quirky animal characters, Mooky McBeth and Vanessa Vanilla eventually became characters in children’s books. She was nominated for the Governor General’s award for English Language Children’s Literature-Illustration in 2009 and 2013.

Berman’s paintings were exhibited in many places but most frequently with The Ingram Gallery in Toronto. Her gallery paintings are hauntingly beautiful. She drew from her experiences in the streets of London, Dublin, New York, Toronto and downtown Vancouver. She never owned a camera but spent hours sketching in housekeeping rooms, worn hotel lobbies, cafes, and metro stations. The mysterious figures and hidden stories in her paintings are a reflection of the struggles and mysteries she lived through herself. She once said that her paintings were autobiographical, her search for herself.

Berman suffered from HIV and hid her illness from her loved ones for a long time. She was ashamed of her early drug addiction and lifestyle. However, she felt AIDS made her grateful: “It did give me time to think, not about what the disease has taken away from me but what it has given me, and for which I now am most grateful, for life is most generous … – I have to live today like it is the best day in the world — & I now have the wisdom to know that it is.”

She was known to deliver envelopes stuffed with drawings, philosophy, calligraphy, rambling love letters and poetry, usually by bicycle in the early hours of morning to friends, loved ones and even strangers. She was an apparition in an overcoat and described as a “quiet observer of life, a thinker and a humanist.”

Born: 1946, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Died: May 28, 2014, Victoria

Funny, when I paint . . .

I often think I have to have it all figured out first.

However, when I allow myself to just start, what I am creating begins to show itself and I gain clarity in the process.

Jumping in forces me to break habits which is kind of exciting.

Questions will come up like –

Why do I do what I do?  What propels me?  Where am I blocked?  What or who am I influenced by?

“Write (paint) what you know,” in this case gets challenged by write (paint or fill in the blank) what you want to know.

I’ve stopped worrying. Yippee!

Do I get frustrated and blocked?  Oh ya… 
I’ve learned to expect set backs and sometimes I even have to start all over again.

I now recognize this as a natural process and absolutely necessary to making something that I’m proud of.

I welcome the discoveries, the accidents, and the “wrong turns” because they are never a waste of time just an opportunity to stir up something new and juicy.

When we are willing to take risks and just start, we all benefit. (I’m sure I read that somewhere as a well articulated quote – I’m game, how about you?)


p.s. If you are scared to start – get your hands on this great little book –“Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon, it will make you smile while giving you a kick in the ass or come paint with me!

What are you afraid of?

What are you afraid of?

Me?  snakes (well, duh), bears (yup, in most of my nightmares), mice, failure and it turns out I’m also afraid of success, being judged, not being liked by everyone, rejection, not making any money and then not making enough money and then running out of money, the dentist, handstands (and I’m a yoga teacher), needles, heights, being late, missing the boat (both figuratively and if you live on the Coast, literally), dying, singing in public, public speaking, losing, wearing bright colours, dancing with out being at least slightly inebriated, being vulnerable, looking like a fool, going back to school, reaching out to help a stranger, traveling where other people don’t speak English (albeit difficult to do these days), rocking the boat, making a ruckus, standing out, being still, sharing, bungee jumping , diving (big one for me, head first just doesn’t make sense), speaking up . . .

Chances are you nodded to at least one of these on my list and I’m just getting started.

Why do we pretend that we are not scared?

Are we collectively afraid of living?   Or maybe it’s just me.


I’m getting a little tired of being scared, how about you?

I’ll hold your hand if you hold mine.

When I do something or face something on my list, I feel lighter, freer, I move more easily, the day, the week, the next obstacle looks a bit easier.

I practice handstands.  They used to make my hands sweat and my heart pound and even though I’m still a little bit scared, I’ve come accustomed to being slightly uncomfortable.  The fear is there but it has faded.

Perhaps facing that fear and being O.K. in “uncomfortable” lead me to singing.

I sang.  Yup, in front of an amazing singer, (Katherine Penfold no less) and at a party during a jam session.  I’ll keep practicing.

I tried aerial silks with my daughters, not quite bungee jumping but it involves – being upside down, being suspended in the air and quite a bit of spinning.  Scary and I felt like I was going to vomit at times.

I share my paintings now, even some that I’m still working on!   It still scares me a little bit but not like a few years ago, when hanging a show, I felt again, like vomiting.

Is there something on your list that you could take on?

Perhaps just a little one?

I’ll acknowledge that you are freaked out just like me, now let’s move on, together.  LIVE with me.

And please, come visit me, if you can, during any of my art openings, I’ll appreciate your friendly face (it will feel like you are holding my hand).


p.s. I was afraid to hit “publish.”