The daily life of artist and designer Rachel Castle in many ways resembles structured chaos. ‘I find that I am a really forgetful person,’ she says. ‘So without structure things would fall through the cracks.’
It’s comforting to see that routine needn’t imply perfection – we can have some semblance of order in one area of our lives, and simultaneously embrace imperfection in another.
Structured chaos is also fitting for a working life that brings together creativity and business. Previously working at The Conran Shop in London, before running her own branding agency, Rachel went on to start her own popular homewares brand, CASTLE in her late thirties.
Taking her time and learning from other people meant that when she finally pursued her own creative business and practice, it was with gusto.
‘When I worked in branding, I hated getting out of bed. Then I was Mum for a good six years and I felt like I was free falling – there was no routine and I found that very challenging. But I’m am glad I took that time off, because when it was time for me to start doing something, it felt so joyous to get to work.’
No experience is ever wasted, and Castle is an advocate for working for other people before going out on your own. ‘Working for other people teaches you how to compromise – you need to take into account everybody’s wishes before your own and you learn best practice. I think that professionalism really carries over when you start your own thing, and those practices are second nature.’
Throughout her day, Rachel is constantly switching between sewing, painting, printmaking and the business side of things, but she prefers it that way. ‘I don’t ever get creative block because I don’t get the opportunity to get it.’
From starting her workday with an hour of trashy television, to pursuing a ‘nice and quiet’ life, Rachel is humble and real. ‘We all doubt ourselves, but I always say to myself, get over yourself. It’s not brain surgery. Get on with it.’
Rachel Castle’s Extraordinary Routine
I typically wake up when the sun comes up, and I get straight out of bed, no hanging around. In summer I can get up at five o’clock, but in winter it’s generally seven. When I was younger I used to hate getting out of bed, really loathed it, but as you get older you start to get used to it. You’re forced to. You don’t have a job that you don’t like. You don’t have essays to write. You’ve got stuff to do, so getting up is so much easier.
I do the school run – boy to the bus stop, girl to school. On the way to work I always listen to my ‘80s music, that gets the good energy going as I drive across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I love being on top of the bridge, seeing the Opera House and just being part of the hustle and bustle – it makes such a difference to my day. I grew up in the country and could never go back, the energy of the city is too important to me.
When I arrive at work I get a coffee and then sew for the first hour of every day. I don’t have breakfast, I’m sure I could make time to but I’ve never eaten it and I actually don’t like any breakfast stuff. Full fat coffee is my breakfast.
My dirty secret is watching trashy television while I sew before anyone gets to work. It can be anything trashy, such as The Real Housewives or The Bachelor, it’s sad, but it’s true.
Everyone arrives and then it’s going through the admin of the day – orders, commissions, the day to day running of the business and talking about what we need to do for the day. I find big projects overwhelming, so I like to break it down into daily tasks, which makes it so much more do-able.
Then I start to paint and listen to a live stream of the news. Generally speaking I do at least a few hours of painting each day. If I’ve got a show coming up it’s literally all I do.
But it usually gets picked up and put down. There are so many layers to my work, so I’ll do some more sewing while I wait for part of a painting to dry. I’m always being interrupted by the business side of things, so I’m really used to switching between admin, sewing and painting – it’s the only way it can be. But if I had a single frustration in life it would be that the art always gets interrupted by running the business, but it is my choice to have those interruptions. It also means I never get bored.
I might have another coffee or a tea but nothing heavy. To be honest whenever I eat lunch it sends me into a food coma. I need to be concentrating, this is the way I’ve always worked.
Around 1.00pm there is generally a meeting with our graphic designer, a stylist, my framer or there might be a production meeting.
I try and have my meetings early afternoon to keep the morning free to make a start on my work. There are so many balls in the air that if there was no structure, it would be such a mess. In my personal life I’m very disorganised – I can never find my keys, I can never find my phone, I leave my computer at home by accident – so structure is my lifeblood. Without it everything would be forgotten, or rather nothing would be remembered!
I check my emails all day long. I never go a day without answering every single email. But clients really love that hands on approach to running a business and it keeps it all very tight because there’s a neat little paper trail.
The rest of the afternoon is the same thing as the morning – alternating between painting, printmaking and sewing. The artwork itself is never planned, it’s always totally random. I’ll decide 10 minutes before I go home on a Tuesday night to start a painting. Starting an artwork has always been like that, but the act of doing the making is routine and really regimented.
We generally all leave the office around six. My husband is recently retired, which has been amazing. I used to have to leave work at four o’clock and get the kids sorted, but he does that now and it has revolutionised everything about my life. Now I get home and my dinner is made for me – but I did do 15-years of it myself, so it’s my turn!
Sunday to Friday I am strict about the four of us sitting down to dinner. It has to be this way otherwise I just don’t see them enough. My teenagers are 16 and 14, so it’s pretty playful – everyone teases me because I’m the dumb one in the family! It’s a lot of teenagers misbehaving and mocking their parents, but it is the best part of my day – I don’t care if they bicker cause I can see their little faces and that is when I eat everything on the table because I’m relaxed with the people I love.
After dinner I’ll do a bit more work, sadly. I will do my emails or my social media. Then I might watch television with my husband and do some sewing.
I’ll go to bed and right up until I go to sleep I read, surf the net or do some online shopping if I’m honest. I fall asleep easily. I shut my eyes and I wake up at seven the next day and start again.
What I have always wanted is just to have a nice life. I don’t chase anything fancy or extraordinary, what I like about my life is that it’s a really nice, quiet little life. It just is.
This story is part of our monthly collaboration with Madeleine Dore of Extraordinary Routines.