GTPulse: Traverse City Artist Talks Inspiration and Living A Creative Life
Ah, psychedelics. All of your wrestlings with human existence, morality, life’s meaning, and happiness come to reality in a neon-soaked wonderland that leaves you feeling like you’re somehow closer to the universe, and maybe yourself. Or maybe you just laugh for 8 hours straight and stare at the wall. I don’t know man, to each their own. Regardless if you’ve experienced them or not, acid and mushrooms have long been cited as the gas the gets the creative drive going for artists ranging from musicians and songwriters to painters and novelists. They’re illegal, of course, but that hasn’t stopped rockstars and American youth alike from taking a trip. Erika Wynn was one such teenager, and her experiences have left a lasting impact.
“The art is trippy. That’s spot on. Kind of more abstract, nonlinear, more experiential kind of art. Full disclosure it started when I was a teenager doing psychedelics,” she laughed. “Just to be real. I’m a mom now and an adult so I don’t dabble anymore, but that’s the genesis. I got really into art again through that phase of my life.”
Flowers, mountains and water can call be made out through her colors and abstract shapes. She supports herself through her art, a dream that began when she was a child.
“My grandfather was an artist. He taught me how to paint when I was 4 of 5. He really got that art bug going for me. So throughout school, I just maintained that interest in art. It’s something that I always knew that I wanted to do. That’s just what I was going to do.”
She committed to it by dual enrolling at Northwestern Michigan College while in high school and taking art classes and eventually attending art school at Kendall College. She even branched out into other mediums.
“When I moved back here I started my own business. I also screenprint too, and that’s pretty much how my art and business really took off.”
The screenprinting was how she realized her dream of supporting herself off of her creativity. She began printing her own leggings and found that whenever she wore them out she drew people wanting to know where she had bought them.
The leggings sold like hotcakes on Etsy, and her business Facebook page quickly grew to 7500 followers. It was validating for Erika to know that her designs were so well received, but she wasn’t equipped to produce and fulfill all the orders she was receiving. As a one-man-band, the burn out was inevitable.
“I got really burnt out on the screenprinting, and that’s kind of how I navigated getting back into what I knew I wanted to do which was just painting and making art.”
It was her moment to return to what she had always envisioned doing; painting. With a dedicated following already, she was nervous about transitioning to selling art instead. The leggings were functional. Clothing is something that we all need. On top of that, they advertised themselves. Erika would get stopped while wearing them, a painting is seen only by friends and family of the home it’s in. Still, in her heart, she knew it was the right decision.
“It was a pretty rough transition. That was the summer of 2017. When I got pregnant it was a good time to really look at my priorities and kind of shift. It was very intimidating because that was my full-time gig. When people were saying, ‘Where’re your leggings? I want to buy some’ and to tell them no…that was hard. But I thought you know what? If it’s my creativity that’s really driving this business then I can switch mediums.”
Her paintings sell as she completes collections of them. But just because she’s gotten back to doing what she loves doesn’t mean she’s still not experimenting with other mediums. Over quarantine, she began making fiber art wall hangings inspired by her outdoor adventures in Northern Michigan.
“I never knew how they were constructed, but it’s been on my backburner of interest. I’ve only been making them since April so it’s very new. Nature is definitely my biggest inspiration. We’ve been at the beach so much, looking down at the sand and seeing the water ripples that leave the waves in the sand, that’s inspired one of my most recent wall hangings. The weave, the colors, the movement. A lot of the fiber art that I’ve been up to has been inspired by the summer we had.”
Her work is showcased through bright and crisp photography that she’s also responsible for. Through photographing her work and getting savvy with engagement metrics, she’s accidentally become a social media business pro. She’s had to promote her website through Facebook and Instagram. Once upon a time, these social media feeds used to just post in chronological order by what time people posted. Now we have algorithms, a formula created to show you posts that the platforms think you care most about. She’s had to learn to work with and against them to show her work off the most.
“It’s made it harder to get the work out there, and on a creative marketing side you have to keep pushing yourself and not getting too comfortable with just a quick snapshot and a ‘for sale!’ The time, the day, it all factors in. There’s a lot to learn in marketing in a digital world.”
The creative life is a lovely one, but not without stress. Erika is a yoga instructor and lifelong student, and she keeps her busy life balanced with a regular yoga practice. When she’s not instructing at the Commons, she’s taking a class. The sacred time for self-care is an integral part of keeping her creativity fresh, and her nerves soothed.
“To branch off of the psychedelic experiences I’ve had and to move into the yoga space, I’m able to tap into those places through that yoga experience without the psychedelics. Yoga, meditation, and my work all inspire each other and fuel each other. They reflect each other too.”
All in a day’s work. Check out her colorful creations at www.heartilluminate.com or take a yoga class with her through Yoga For Health Education located in Traverse City.
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