It starts with a photo and a short questionnaire: name, children, pets, spouse, interests. “And then it’s simple — a meditative process beforehand to tap into the image, and then I’ll do a sketch before I start painting,” says Racquel Wilkins. But what she creates is not a typical commissioned likeness. Wilkins and her husband, Bobby Wilkins III, make portrait soul readings — intuitive artwork that seeks to look below the surface of its subject.
While living in New York, Racquel considered turning her love of drawing people into a children’s portrait business. Her sister put her in touch with a medium, who delivered a message from Racquel’s guardian angel “about my ability to paint portraits that reflected the more multidimensional aspects of a person,” the artists says. “Their past lives, maybe talents they might have, or soul color. Something that would relate to them that would show them themselves on a divine level.”
While she grappled with accepting her unconventional talent, Racquel organized a reading for Bobby as well — the two met while studying art at Purchase College — and that reading revealed Bobby had a similar ability: “He’s able to paint a person’s future potential,” says Racquel. “What they could be, what they could become, like a treasure map of their own goals and wishes.”
The couple decided to create a website to offer their unique portraits to people around the world.
Then, in 2012, with their second child on the way, the Wilkinses decided to relocate. “We loved being new parents [but] felt like New York wasn’t going to support our family’s energy,” Racquel remembers. “We wanted to be around nature and be somewhere we felt free to be ourselves.”
The couple explored Asheville through YouTube videos and online research, and when they visited the city, “We knew this was definitely going to be our home,” says Racquel.
They settled here in 2012 and started looking into a studio in the River Arts District — an endeavor that has proved challenging. “We thought of [setting up] our gallery on Depot Street and were looking at some spaces there,” says Racquel. Currently, they’re still in process of finding the right place. While that public space comes together, the Wilkinses are converting the garage at their home into a working studio.
But the couple feel positive about building their business here: “I think it’s easier to find undiscovered opportunities in Asheville more than in New York,” says Racquel. “I feel like there’s a chance to expand anywhere, but in terms of getting into the art scene, I feel like Asheville would be a little easier now.”
In the meantime, the soul portrait process continues to unfold. It’s intuitively guided: “People can think of it as a visual psychic reading, but I can’t guarantee what the messages will be,” Racquel explains. “Art is for beauty and upliftment. … The soul portraits aim to take people to a higher level where they can see that we’re all connected.”
She continues, “By seeing the divine in themselves, they can also see it in others, and [that] will lead to a more loving and understanding world, one painting at a time.”
Racquel usually tries to include writing with her completed portrait. “It’s not just an interpretation of the image; it kind of rounds out the portrait,” she says. “I like [the client] to be able to see the picture without reading everything … so I usually type it up and put it in the back of the painting, so they can see the painting and then read about any insights I’ve gotten.”
Bobby, meanwhile, gives readings on what his clients are trying to create in their lives. “Someone might be trying to accomplish a goal, like they might want to be in the Olympics, and he would be able to paint that for them,” says Racquel. “It would be affirming for them to see an image of themselves in action, living out their dream.”
Racquel also wants to expand on the types of portraits offered, to include child soul readings, adult soul readings, married couple readings and portraits of loved ones who have passed away.
Perhaps surprisingly, Racquel has yet to have a soul portrait created for her, though she’s considering making one of herself.
But doing the work for others is what the artistic couple find most gratifying. It’s a method of “helping others in a deeper way than I would just by giving an aesthetically pleasing painting,” says Racquel. All art is spiritual, coming from an unseen part of ourselves, she muses. “But being able to paint a portrait that helps someone see themselves in a more multidimensional way is everything I want to do: I want to help other people and serve other people, and I love art.”
Learn more at portraitsoulreadings.com.