Hands On Collective: Susan of Rae + Lily

I sat down with watercolor artist and designer, Susan of rae + lily in her home studio.  Here is her story.

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I started art classes when I was only 5 years old, but my educational background and career is in design and architecture so I associate a lot of my identity with being an architect.  But since starting rae + lily, I currently use watercolor and digital software as my medium to design and create things.

I like how using the combination of traditional paints and digital software gives me a lot of flexibility to play when designing.


I left my corporate job because of health reasons.  I enjoyed being an architect, but believe it or not, my last job was pretty stressful.  After leaving, for the first couple months of 2017 I was in and out of doctor visits.  To keep myself busy with something to do and to find an identity again, I picked up watercolors and started sharing my work. Because I associated so much of who I was with what I did before, it was nice to have a sense of purpose and a community of people - even if I only knew them through the internet!  I had a background in art from when I was very young through college so it wasn’t too hard to collect supplies I had leftover from college and start painting.  I was actually really shy about sharing my work and decided to join this 100 day challenge.  I challenged myself to work with watercolors because it was a medium I hadn’t worked with before.  It was something I wanted to try and it was nice to have a daily routine around it. Somehow along the way during that challenge, a small business was born.  

I always had an entrepreneurial spirit though. I had tried different things before, like starting a food blog, doing photography, but I realize now I think I was scared and always stopped myself because I didn’t really want to put my work out there. This time, I decided to really give it an earnest try and be braver about sharing my work and some amazing things happened as a result.

The first time someone wanted to buy an original painting, was a real breakthrough for me - and they were in Italy!  I couldn’t believe that someone actually wanted to buy something I painted.  That’s when I knew I could keep painting and maybe it could become something that I could call my own.


Finding inspiration and getting into a creative mindset is sometimes challenging.  When you’re a creative running a business, you end up working on the business component 80% of the time.  20% is the actual fun, creating part of it.  Often times, I let the 80% get in the way of the 20%.  I actually don’t mind the business side of things - doing administrative tasks, corresponding with people, etc. But I need to remember to give priority to creating and really set aside time to do that.  I have to remember to allow myself to have fun and be creative.

I definitely recommend joining a challenge or giving yourself structure by setting small goals to complete a little at a time when it comes to creating. It’s not so different than any other goal you want to accomplish as big things can be done by making a little progress everyday. The 100 day challenge is a great one and can feel overwhelming but if you approach it a day at a time, you’ll get to day 100 and wonder what to do after it’s over!

Another great byproduct of making time to create is actually generating work that you can use for your business or personal creative projects. Sometimes this can happen unintentionally and sometimes on purpose.

I also think taking online courses is a nice way to make time to create because they keep you accountable and you learn new things! I’m taking an online course for watercolor sketching right now and it’s been really fun.

Creative Process

For me, my creative process starts with cleaning.  I need to clear my space so it’s ready to use. I also get a lot of inspiration from traveling and being outside. For example, the puffins piece that I’m currently working on making into a print was inspired from our trip to Iceland last year when we went looking for puffins but only saw two or three.  

[Since our interview, Susan has written more about her creative process here!]

My favorite part about watercolors?  The unknown. With watercolor, it’s unpredictable and unexpected - the way the water and colors move and mix together. Sometimes you think you’re going to hate it, but you could end up loving it after it’s settled and dried.  You want control it, but it does the best things when you let it do its thing. Being pleasantly surprised by what you end up with makes it fun to work with.  

What would I do differently in my journey?
I’d be braver earlier on.

Susan was extremely gracious and generous during my visit, which is evident in her business too.  Her work is clean and simple, but at the same time, the details are not ignored.  In fact, the details make you stop and say, "Woah~" while admiring the different gradients of color.  All the best to Susan and rae + lily