Welcome to our “Coffee Talk” series, a Q&A feature of the women in our community with inspiring stories to tell. These women are beyond amazing, and we hope that you can in some way relate to or learn from the lives they lead and the words they share. That said, grab yourself a cup of joe and join in today’s #realtalk with our July guest about feminine beauty, creative expression, and overcoming self-doubt.
Meet Valerie Rodriguez, a California-based graphic designer and outdoor adventurer moonlighting as an underground artist. I first connected with Valerie through social media, and was instantly in awe of her creations. In fact, one of her portraits now hangs on my dining room wall. But even more so, I was inspired by the kind of person she is: kind-hearted, free-spirited, and lovely as can be. Keep reading to see what I mean.
HSG: Hi Valerie! I’m so happy you were able to chat with me today! Let’s start off with the easiest question. What’s in your mug?
VR: Thanks for having me—I’m so honored! Right now, I’m drinking Hawaiian Isles Kona Classic coffee with vanilla soy milk and way too much sugar. Not sure you can even call it coffee…
HSG: We’ll call it white coffee. 😉 So, as you know, I’m a huge fan of your artwork… But you also have a job outside of painting. Can you tell me a little about what you do?
VR: I work in the biotech industry—more specifically, biotech news. We write about clinical trials that are coming out. I manage our creative department, which uses scientific figures to visualize pathways for certain drugs. Basically, I take words that you can’t pronounce and put them into a visual space. I like it a lot, I just celebrated my 5-year anniversary with the company.
HSG: Wow, congrats! Did you always know you wanted to do something in the field of science?
VR: No, actually, I was way more into the arts growing up. I knew I wanted to do something in graphic design, and at one point I was set on pursuing stationery design. After college I worked at Anthropologie for a few years, and I was always inspired by the visuals there.
HSG: That’s pretty much my dream job.
VR: Yeah, it was great. Then I worked in finance for a year because I wanted to build up a business side to support my freelance endeavors, but I hated it. I got out of there as fast as I could. My next job was with the company that that I’m currently at, and I’m really enjoying it. I get to use both the creative and logical sides of my brain, which is nice. I love the combination of art and science—chemistry, anatomy, geology (I’m obsessed with rocks and minerals)—I’m into it all. And that’s kind of rare, I think. To be a graphic designer who is interested in creating accurate scientific figures.
HSG: That’s definitely a niche you don’t see too often. And you’re a painter! How did you start out painting?
VR: My aunt is an artist and she was a big influence growing up. She took me to a gallery when I was really young, like 7 or 8, and I was attracted to a lot of the geometric art and patterns. Thus, my career in graphic arts was founded. I didn’t actually start painting until college, but I was instantly hooked. I loved everything about it: the silkiness of the oils, the smell of the turpentine, the clink of my brushes in a jar.
HSG: Sounds so therapeutic! Where did the idea to start a business come from?
VR: My painting business developed organically. I did a large watercolor as a housewarming gift for a friend and delivered it to her at a restaurant in Danville, California. It caught the restaurant owner’s eye and she approached me to do my first portrait. After that, my work spread by word of mouth and I got a lot of requests for commissions—mostly pet portraits, which were a lot of fun. Turns out, nothing makes people happier than a custom painting of their pet.
HSG: I bet! That’s so cool. But I’m sure it takes a lot of effort on your part. How much time do you spend a day painting?
VR: Most of my time is spent at work and commuting to work, so it’s limited. I’ll wake up at 6:00 AM and paint for two hours, and then in the evenings, I’ll sometimes paint from nine until midnight. And of course, my weekends are filled with it. Painting is such a big stress reliever for me, so I try to get it in as much as I can. More recently, it’s evolved into more art therapy than painting for profit. I’m currently working on a collection that feels really personal.
HSG: Tell me about it!
VR: I’m very much into the feminine form right now, and the balance between femininity and adventure, because so much of my personality is split between those two things.
HSG: Your last few creations have all been of women, with an emphasis on natural beauty. I think that’s the reason I’m so drawn to them. They’re absolutely stunning.
VR: Thank you! There’s something really beautiful about a collar bone, a shoulder blade. I love painting feminine features, and I’m trying to move into pairing that with nature, another one of my loves. A lot of people ask me, “Is this you that you’re painting?” They’re not me, but they are a product of my vision, so they are a part of me, in a sense. I also feel really empowered by other women, and I want to celebrate that with my art.
HSG: Sadly, a lot of women today struggle with the notion of beauty, and what it means to be beautiful. Most of us try so hard to live up to society’s definition of the word, even if it comes down to changing parts of ourselves that are different and unique. But your portraits seem to suggest a certain air of simplicity or effortlessness as far as beauty goes. What does feminine beauty mean to you, exactly?
VR: I think a woman’s beauty is defined by her story—her routine, her choices, her rituals. I think it’s beautiful that a woman can wake up and kind of just create her own path; make her own decisions, do things by herself. It’s the quiet moments of a woman’s life that feel both feminine and powerful to me, and that’s what I try to depict in my paintings.
HSG: That’s lovely. How would you describe these moments in your own life?
VR: My perfect day would take place in the mountains. Specifically, I would wake up to coffee and eat an entire half of a watermelon with a spoon. Do some yoga outdoors, pack up my watercolors, brushes, and pastels, and hop on my bike to find a nice place to paint for a couple of hours—somewhere with a lake view. Once I filled a few pages of my sketchbook, I’d take a nice little hammock nap and head out to do something active. I’d finish the day with some barbecue, s’mores, good conversations, and a good book.
HSG: Ah, the art of slow living.
VR: Yep, that pretty much describes what I’m going for.
HSG: On an opposite note, what challenges have you had to overcome as an artist?
VR: I constantly struggle with the vulnerability of sharing my work. There’s a lot of comparison in art that I felt was really difficult to get over at first, but I had to train myself to use other artists’ work as inspiration and motivation rather than competition. (My favorite female artists include Clare Elsaesser, Teil Duncan Henley, Jess Franks, and Cozamia.) It took some time to settle into my own style, and to begin to share it with others. I’ve been painting for years and I just hung my first piece in my own home last year!
Also, with females, I think that sharing parts of yourself can sometimes be seen as vain by the rest of the world. Society likes to tell us to tone it down a little bit, to keep to ourselves. But once I realized how emotionally connected to my artwork I am, I thought, why hide it?
HSG: Amen, sister. Do you have a mantra or words that you strive to live by?
VR: I like to remind myself that there are no mistakes in art. I think my willingness to adapt to the ebbs and flows of daily life also stems from this outlook. Look for the opportunities.
HSG: Great advice for anyone, I think. Thank you for all of your wisdom and stories! Now for a few fun questions…
Name a daily ritual that you can’t live without.
VR: Yoga! It really centers me, and I can feel a difference when I don’t do it.
HSG: What’s on your favorite playlist at the moment?
VR: Weirdly, I’ve been really into metal lately. Lots of Nine Inch Nails. My favorite album of theirs is With Teeth. (This coming from a girl who normally listens to Nora Jones and Sam Cooke! But I love pretty much all types of music.)
HSG: The best thing to do in Livermore is…
VR: Hop on the wine trolley and tour the local vineyards!
HSG: Name one woman, living or dead, that you’d love to have coffee with.
VR: Malala Yousafzai.
HSG: If you could give your 16-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
VR: Life has a way of working itself out. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just enjoy the people in your life, and the time you have with them.
P.S. Know someone you’d like to see on the blog? Nominate them for the next #HSGcoffeetalk by shooting us an email with their name and contact information. 🙂
// headshot by Taralynn Lawton Photography + photos courtesy of Valerie Rodriguez //