Step into the psychedelic paintings of Rachel Hayden and you might not want to leave

The New York-based painter talks us through moving away from the fear of repeating oneself in art.

4 April 2022

Rachel Hayden’s style is unique, to say the least. In an increasingly saturated illustration world, talent like Rachel’s stands out for its commitment to idiosyncrasy. “I like to choose objects to draw that I can project human emotion onto,” the illustrator tells It’s Nice That. “For example, I imagine how a rose may feel flattered to be held by a human hand in spite of its pointy thorns, or how oranges in a bowl might feel anxious from being crowded together.” It’s this kind of point of view which draws us so deeply into Rachel’s world, awash with feelings of serene happiness. One scroll through her Instagram feed and you can get lost for a short while in the depth of her brilliant work. “There are certain images that make me feel indescribable warmth and energy, like flowers, fruits and butterflies,” Rachel says. “While I can’t fully articulate what it is about these objects, I think the joy is a valid enough reason to keep them in the painting. Life is hard enough, I think it’s ok to do things simply for a little joy.”

After a childhood spent dreaming to be an artist, Rachel studied at Maryland Institute College of Art, where she “dabbled in fibers for a while” before settling on painting. After graduating, she got a job teaching children ages 0-5 in art workshops. “I think using paintings to teach babies and kids about things like colours, feelings, and seasons gave me an appreciation for a simple and striking image, with shapes you can name and objects you can count,” she explains. But, it was more than this childlike joy that lead Rachel to her signature visual language today. “After graduation, I spent a lot more time painting alone and generally being alone,” the artist says. “Instead of painting groups of friends, I started painting mostly self-portraits, and objects with faces which were like imaginary friends to me. I was able to paint without looking over my shoulder, and try sillier ideas without feeling the need to explain myself.” Consequently, Rachel “became a lot less afraid to try something new” and allowed herself to fall into the rhythm of whatever visual quirk worked in that moment. “I think my style developed naturally from just doing a lot of work without thinking too hard about why.”


Rachel Hayden: Rainbow confetti Night (Copyright © Rachel Hayden, 2021)

The luminescent and trippy Rainbow confetti Night was a particular turning point for the young artist. “After moving to New York it took me a few months to really figure anything out, especially because Covid made everything a little tougher,” Rachel explains. “I made this painting shortly after finally finding a studio and the lime green Flashe on the bottom of this painting was one of the colours I ordered on a whim. I ended up really loving the electric slimy look of it.” In the end, it was this colour-on-a-whim that gave Rachel the glow she was looking for. “This was also one of the first paintings that I tried using a lot of masking tape on and I was so excited when I peeled the tape from the edge of the moth,” she adds.

Overall, Rachel doesn’t try to over-think her painting process. She lets it come to her naturally. “I try to think of ideas for paintings on the walk to the studio, and usually the ideas are just a variation of a painting I made previously,” she says. “If I can’t think of anything for a while I can work on some backgrounds as I use Flashe on wooden panels for them which are very matte and dry fast, so if I come up with something, I can start right away.” As of late, Rachel’s leaned in to being more precise about balancing a composition. “Now when starting a painting I do a lot of measuring and drawing circles with a compass, and a lot of making templates to trace so I can repeat shapes like hands, moths, and fruits,” she tells us. As her practice continues to grow and take on new exciting, dazzling forms every day, we’ll be eagerly awaiting her next show by marking off the days of our Rachel Hayden 2022 Risograph calendar.


Rachel Hayden: Morning mirror with pink sky (Copyright © Rachel Hayden, 2021)


Rachel Hayden: Moth holding the moon like a crystal ball (Copyright © Rachel Hayden, 2021)


Rachel Hayden: spring self portrait in two parts (Copyright © Rachel Hayden, 2021)


Rachel Hayden: Good moth bad moth (Copyright © Rachel Hayden, 2021)


Rachel Hayden: Fruit bowl and statue head (Copyright © Rachel Hayden, 2021)


Rachel Hayden: Cherry couple with two mini paintings (Copyright © Rachel Hayden, 2021)


Rachel Hayden: Braided flower arrangement (Copyright © Rachel Hayden, 2021)


Rachel Hayden: Bountiful fruit bowl (Copyright © Rachel Hayden, 2021)


Rachel Hayden: Two entangled roses (Copyright © Rachel Hayden, 2021)

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Rachel Hayden: Sweating sunset portrait (Copyright © Rachel Hayden, 2021)

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About the Author

Joey Levenson

Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.

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