Expression Sessions: AllSwell x Rebekah Steen

AllSwell Creative founder Laura Rubin and Ultimate Beach Girl Rebekah Steen AKA “Goldfish Kiss” chat about art and being an influencer


t AllSwell we believe that your life (that thing you’re living right now) is a creative act. It can be as contrarian, adventurous, and fulfilling as you choose. We recognize this can be a kind of daunting concept. Naturally, we’re curious about outliers, misfits and renegades—people who have crafted a unique experience that is a reflection of their passions and ideals. We’re talking with some of these rockstars, asking them nosy questions about their creative process, what fuels their various forms of self-expression.

“Expression Session” is a term first coined in 1970 on the North Shore of Oahu at a surfing showcase event without judges, scores, winners or losers. Featuring a select group of the world’s best surfers, the Expression Session was presented as an alternative to the standard surf contest and it seemed like an appropriately anti-establishment name for this series of conversations with risk-takers.

For our latest installment we talked with one of our favorite optimists, artist and blogger Rebekah Steen. Rebekah blends words and imagery into a specific look and feel that always hits the balance of beachy-beautiful, aspirational and approachable, subtly sexy and slightly goofy. You can’t hate her despite her perfect abs, beautiful family and the talent pouring out of her every pore because she is just so damn likeable. She’s real and that’s a rare adjective these days, particularly in the world of social media personalities. Get to know Rebekah Steen …

Laura Rubin: There are a lot of moving parts to what you do professionally. You created your own gig. When you meet someone new and they ask what you do for a living, how do you describe your job? 

Rebekah Steen: I’m actually pretty shy about it and have an immediate “deer in the headlights” response. I usually say I am a freelance artist and also work in social media. Then branch out and also add in photography, art, illustration, graphic design, product design and writing. And old-fart modeling, too (every now and then I land a gig). I usually say blogger last, since the actual art of blogging is just now starting to bring in some revenue … 8 years later. I kind of love how it’s hard to explain though.

I get it. Wearing a lot of professional hats can make my cocktail party intro so long that I tend to dodge the question and change the subject to how great the guacamole is. Your ideal day. Go! 

Love dreaming these days up. Ok right now in North-West Florida this is what I’d do: I’d wake up at sunrise and go for a barefoot run on the beach, then go for a swim or surf (if there are waves). Then I’d go grab a quadruple hazelnut Americano and savor it. Then I’d go home and grab my pup, husband, and son, and we’d all go for a walk together, followed by a big breakfast burrito outing somewhere. Then we’d beach it. We’d bring our stand-up (so my son, Levi, can play on it in the water, too) and our beach tepee so I could take a nap on the beach with Levi. Hopefully, it’ll be a long two hour one. Then we’d all pack up and go grab Mexican food somewhere. Afterward we’d grab our pup and sneak her on the beach for a fetch session. Then we’d all just relax and chill until it was dark, and look at the stars. Maybe have a cold beer or two. Yep, that would be an ideal day. And no phones would be allowed, but I could bring my camera.

Camera but no phone. Good distinction. You’re pretty much the ultimate beach girl. Have you always been drawn to the water? When and where did your love affair with the ocean start? 

I’ve always been drawn to the water but was landlocked until, oh gosh, age 28 when we officially moved to Los Angeles for the first time. But I’ve been in love with the beach and ocean since I was a kid. Our first trip to Hawaii was when I was 5 and I remember my parents having to pry me away from the beach on any trip, and swimming from the morning until 10:30 at night with friends in Wrightsville beach during high school.

But I really think my love affair started when I was tiny. I’d crawl into pools and just sit there looking up at my mom. She said I would just look up at her with big eyes and little bubbles coming out of my nose. I guess that’s why I can hold my breath for a while, too?

I’ve always been drawn to the water … I’ve been in love with the beach and ocean since I was a kid.

We’ll let Mark Healey know he has some competition! When you started Goldfish Kiss it was before being an “influencer” was even a thing. How have you adjusted to this new paradigm, and how do you use social media as a creative tool? 

It’s crazy how much things have changed and I also have this weird gut reaction to the term influencer. Like I’m in denial of it perhaps, or even that I am one in some shape or form? I still use social media as a creative outlet. It’s where I write, create and connect. The influence part is a positive side effect of all of that when used correctly, I guess.

You are known in part for your luscious watercolors. Tell us why you paint, when you paint, where you paint …

I love that you think they are luscious. I’ve been painting pretty much my whole life. It’s always been a passion, something I love doing and exploring and growing. It’s funny, but I had a decade-long hiatus from putting brush to paper, and thanks to the blog and social media I started up again. I feel like I am finally getting back in my groove. It’s taken a while and I am my own worst critic through it all. Oh yeah, answer the question … I paint because it’s what I know and love to do. I paint in my little home office on my messy desk when my son sleeps — so mainly at night between the hours of 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., not ideal lighting. It’s usually in my PJs, and when I wake up the next morning it’s kind of a surprise to see how it looks in natural light.  

You and I recently collaborated on a project with Jennifer Binney of Samudra that was inspired by one of your poems. Can you share that poem here and tell us what inspired you to write it? 

I was helping my friend on a project an was going to pitch an idea to her about the campaign being centered around a type of girl, so I wrote a poem about ”that girl.” The type of bad-ass girl I’d want to be. I wrote it lying on the sand in Ala Moana Beach Park one afternoon, and it’s one of my favorite pieces. 

“You know that girl, the one who is always smiling or thinking, who sweats the ocean and leaves a trail of sand behind her wherever she goes. The girl who always shows up with wet hair, yet still looks so darn good. She’s not sun kissed, she kisses the sun. She grew her own roses before she was ever given one. The girl with the cool scars & tan lines, who isn’t afraid to laugh loud. She always seems to smell like vacation and has more passport stamps than shoes. She’s a hugger and a fighter and can say so much, without saying a word. You know that girl you always wanted to be? Be her.”

I think we all want to be more like that girl.

You’re momma to the cutest little man, Levi. How has being a mom changed your relationship to creativity? Do you have a harder time making the space to be creative? Or is it natural to play creatively with your little guy / have you found new creative outlets for yourself?

I think he’s pretty stinking cute, too. Oh man, it’s changed but in its own special way. Yeah, I don’t have that much time to paint or write, etc. But I look forward to it more than ever. And when I do have that time I am usually so inspired I’m chomping at the bit to get started. So there’s extra motivation.

Plus it’s been a special thing for me to share my art with him, and he is learning to watercolor, too. When he wakes up, I’ll show him a painting and listen to him describe it. HIs eyes got really big on this last one I did and he said, “WOW is’ a little house on the water with trees and flowers!” My day = made. He has scribble all over a few of them, too which was interesting. We’re also kind of learning how to play the ukulele together (via YouTube videos), so there’s that source of entertainment, too. I’ve always a fan of learning new things and feeling awkward.

Favorite quote?

“I’m getting rich each day in ways that don’t count at the bank.” — Gerry Lopez.

Such a good one. You’ve lived all over this country because of your husband’s work — from Hawaiian Islands to land-locked Midwestern plains. How do you cope living far away from warm saltwater … or any saltwater at all? 

I have this mindset that has helped a bit. I tell myself that I never want to look back to find the best of times. I really believe there’s beauty anywhere you are planted. And the best thing was to take it day by day and make a point to find the beauty in each day, wherever that may be. Exhibit A: In Minnesota that was a coffee shop down the street on a snowy morning, our favorite breakfast spot (Colossal Cafe in St. Paul. If you are ever in that area, GO THERE), or a little trail we found by the Mississippi River.

Be where you are. Got it. Who are the people you respect most, creatively speaking? 

I love the people who just seem to have their blinders on and just do their thing without thinking twice. They’re authentic and original, no chink in their badassedness, and freakishly talented. I really should get a list started to give you names in particular, but you know those types of creatives. They are magnetic.

The best thing was to take it day by day and make a point to find the beauty in each day, wherever that may be.

Oh yes, we know those people but please do start that list. When’s the last time you busted out in a full-tilt happy dance? 

I literally danced around our living room to “Lost Queen” by Pharrell yesterday, all in hopes Levi would dance with me. He just stared at me for a bit then grabbed his little drum and drummed along. That was just a happy moment.

Love it. What’s on the horizon for you? What can we expect to see next from you and Goldfish Kiss? 

I honestly never know what’s up. I just take it day-by-day, keep on creating, and see what happens, and it’s cool when something really sweet ends up happening. I do want to publish a book. I feel like I say that in every interview, and have yet to lay out a single page. I have it completely laid out and ready to publish I my head, though. Need to get started on that project … finally.