It's always inspiring when an artist takes a medium, or a couple of mediums, blends them together, and starts creating something completely different. Erika Allen is one of those artists. We chatted with her this week about her background, what's inspiring her, and about those rumors that she paints with a screwdriver...
Q: Tell us about your background as an artist.
A: Art has been a love of mine since I was a little girl. I was very fortunate to have parents that encouraged me and provided me with sketch books and art supplies to further ignite my passion. I remember in detail every art teacher I've ever had and how much they contributed to my journey as an artist.
I've taken with me two very important pieces of wisdom from them. One being, from my third grade art teacher after admiring my green and brown tree she said very kindly, "If you look at trees very closely they have every color of the rainbow." That little piece of knowledge would become so important to me in observing the world around me and applying it to my art.
Secondly, my high school art teacher who also encouraged me to pursue my love of art once said to me, "You've got to know when to stop". In other words, know when your piece is done! I've often been working on a piece when I hear those words in my ear and remember that valuable lesson.
In 2001 I graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. I had majored in graphic design, but soon realized my love of art was not best suited behind a computer screen. I liked getting my hands dirty, exploring different mediums, and making beautiful messes! It took a long time, years in fact, for me to take the leap into working as a full-time artist.
In 2016 I fully committed to living my most authentic life which meant Art was in my life daily! Creating, making, using my hands! Happy to say, it was the best decision I've ever made. I get out of bed every morning looking forward to the day ahead. I'm still very much a work in progress, but I hope to always be; I hope to never stop learning and ever evolving.
Q: You use some unusual canvases and methods in your work. Tell us about that.
A: In exploring different mediums, I became drawn to the use of "reclaimed" wood as a canvas for my art. I started to explore using wood stain and/or acrylic paints to see how they interacted with the wood. Reclaimed wood has so many variations in color and texture. It's truly like painting on a surface that already has a rhythm and a soul.
More often, than not, I make decisions about what I’m going to paint based on the wood's inherent character, color, and grain. Painting on rough wood lends some innate challenges. Some being, how much of the wood should be left exposed? How will the color and texture of the wood affect the colors of the paint being applied?
Using several thick layers of acrylic allow for a very vibrant and textural effect. The contrast between the natural grain of the wood and the strong lines of saturated paint give a unique feel to the painting. You really want to run your fingers across it! I use several different techniques to apply my paint. Mainly using a “drip” technique where I drip my paint off the end of a pallet knife, paint brush or even a flat head screwdriver! Anything I can get my hands on.
I’ve been exploring how different colors interact and play off each other when side by side using a very “impressionistic” approach. The quick, separate strokes of paint appear very different from close up than standing back away from the painting. I love how the human eye makes connections from fragments.
Q: What's inspiring you right now?
A: I’ve always been inspired by nature! After all, mother nature is the ultimate artist! While I love all things outdoors, trees have a special place in my heart, oak trees especially! Charleston has some of the most beautiful community of trees I’ve ever seen! To me, they are the beating pulse of Charleston. So much life and character!
Attempting to express that in a painting is a challenge I’m constantly trying to achieve. There are a handful of times that I work directly from a photo that inspires me, but mostly I work from an image in my mind. The lines and flow of a tree seem to come very naturally to me. I don’t usually have a complete vision of the final piece because it changes so many times as I’m working. I allow the wood to make changes to a certain extent! I use a router to engrave some of my pieces. As I’m pushing one way, if the wood resists and pushes me in another direction, I follow.
Q: What's a typical day like for you?
A: Well, I’m a Mom. This means multi-tasking for sure. For me a typical day includes waking up at 6:15, making breakfast for the kids and getting them off to school. Shortly thereafter, I’m in the garage wakin’ up the neighbors . I do try to wait until about 8:00 for the really loud stuff.
About half my day is spent building my canvases. Deconstructing a beat up pallet and prepping it for artwork is a very labor intensive, dirty, dusty, sometimes bloody process. My canvases have become such an important part of my pieces, I feel it’s worth it to get it just right! While building the canvas I’m brainstorming ideas for possible paintings.
After a little clean up, I get busy in my little cubby under the stairs! I’ve joked, that I’m the artist version of Harry Potter. I literally have a teeny tiny space under the stairs where I’ve set up shop. I do at least have a window! I’m quickly outgrowing it and desperately need a space where I have room to spread out and spill and splatter paint everywhere. I am not a neat artist by any means! We are currently planning for an outdoor studio in my backyard, hopefully to be completed in the next year or so.
For the most part, you can find me sitting on the floor surrounded by multiple jars of paint, paint brushes, pallet knives, and wiping cloths listening to Pandora’s mix of Amy Winehouse, Lorde, and old school Etta James.
My sweet little Pom-a-poo “Maggie” has her station/bed, where she contributes by providing the relaxing sounds of doggie snoring. I wrap things up about 1:30 or 2:00 just in time to get showered up and ready for my two very energetic children that will soon burst through the front door looking for food and needing help with homework. The art world will take a brief pause until tomorrow morning when I’m right back at it!
Erika is one of our featured artists for the Exaggerated Nature group show on Friday, November 3rd. We'll have drinks and music from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. - stop by and say hey!