Erica Williams Interview Highlark

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the world and the creatures that live on it and I want to show my adoration and love of them in my work at all times.”

Illustrator and designer Erica Williams‘ prints have left their mark everywhere from the modern music scene to skateboard decks. Her prints, just as surreal as they are reflective of reality, are their own genre of contemporary fable. With microscopic attention to detail and a healthy dose of symbolism, Erica takes control of her medium, guiding it to narrate the story taking shape in her mind. Visit her shop to learn more about her and to check out prints and apparel.


Q 1 || This past month you participated in your first Flatstock event at SXSW- Can you talk a little about the general atmosphere at the festival; was there anything that especially surprised you or left a lasting impression?

This was my second time participating in Flatstock actually, so it wasn’t as much of a surprise as last year. I had taken a lot of notes and we were much more prepared and knew what to expect. They did change some things this year but overall it was the same. I’m not sure how people walking through Flatstock view it, but as one of the artists who had a booth it was a ton of fun. For months before it starts you get really excited about seeing your peers and friends and getting to spend three days together, knowing that once the door closes you just get to hang out and have fun. It’s honestly a highlight for the year because it is just a whirlwind of friends and good times.

The people that come through for the festival are really amazing too, you get to meet so many really nice and excited people and have a ton of conversations you don’t normally get to have since I do most of my work behind closed doors and communicate primarily online or though social media. Having waves of people who are just stoked and interested in everyone’s posters and what’s going on is exhilarating. That always leaves an impression that keeps me pumped for quite a while afterwards.

Q 2 || You mention in your bio that you’re fond of larger projects that surpass a single unit. When you are working on a bigger project like that, what connects all the elements within it? Is it a narrative or more of an overarching umbrella theme?

That completely depends on the project. I’ve had things that were based off of a specific piece of fiction, like a fable, so you pull elements and symbols from that and rework them into all the parts of the project. I’ve also had things that are unified much more loosely, like through layout elements and type but the actual illustrated portions are very different. I always try to keep some kind of visual unifier throughout all larger projects though, even if it is as simple as the same type of tree or plant. Those things may not be the first thing you notice, but they make things feel like they come from the same realm or place.

Q 3 || To go off of the previous question, what would you say is the underlying factor that links your work, conceptually? Though your artwork is used in so many different circumstances there’s a clear common thread running through it, and it’s more than just the similarity in technique.

I think one of the biggest motifs that is in everything I do is obviously nature, in some shape or form. Flora and fauna are so interesting and beautiful. There are thousands of varieties of both and each one of them is gorgeous. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the world and the creatures that live on it and I want to show my adoration and love of them in my work at all times. Even in pieces where something is dead or mutated it’s still me trying to honor those concepts and how they are beautiful and important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Another motif would be lore. Pretty much everything I can add the influence of some kind of lore to I will. I have always been fascinated with fables, religion, and myth, and find them to be so incredibly rich and unique. They have been ingrained in every society and culture since man could tell a story and there is an endless amount of amazing narrative there, so even if I can’t bring a full piece of lore into something I always try to add small pieces to enrich what I’m working on.

Q 4 || What does your studio space look like? What are the essentials?

It’s a typical home studio space I suppose, just with an over abundance of cat hair. Haha. I have my desk overlooking a window, art from my friends and artists that inspire me cover the walls, my desk is strewn with supplies and small items that make me happy. I think I was asked to count how many little creatures I keep in here and it’s over 30 right now, and constantly growing. There’s always at least one cat sitting somewhere on a shelf or chair (or me) which is probably my favorite part. I have a couple of flat files that hold paper, prints, supplies, and projects I am working on. I also have two large bookshelves filled with books. Lots of books, I adore books. I have a few plants, several orchids and some succulents. Then I have a giant puffy chair and a little coffee table to make the room look comfy.
I’d say the essentials though are obviously a. tons of cute little creatures, b. cats, c. tons of pen and paper, d. Imac and Cintiq, and e. a good atmosphere. Oh, and tea. I always have a fresh cup of tea. Ha.

Q 5 || You’re a big music lover, and you’ve done tons of posters and album covers- what does your current soundtrack look like and how does it figure into your artwork and who you are at this point in your life?

I don’t know if I have a specific “soundtrack” because what I listen to varies greatly depending on my mood. But some of the mainstays are The Tallest Man on Earth, The Mountain Goats, Rilo Kiley, Archers of Loaf, Superdrag, David Bazan/Pedro the Lion, Owen, Built To Spill, The Weakerthans, Los Campensinos!, Superchunk, that dog., orchestral music, and a couple of game soundtracks. In general it’s a lot of alternative, indie, melodic and folky stuff. If I want to get pumped up I generally put on some punk or angry music but I generally like the calmer mood. Music has been a big thing for me my entire life. I used to be a musician, kinda, before I started drawing. Then when I started drawing I stopped because I really wanted to be a better visual artist, but when you grow up playing instruments and signing it doesn’t really leave you. When I listen to music I feel it in every part of my body and mind and it seeps into my and can transform a thought or an idea without me really knowing how that happens, it just sort of shapes things on its own.

Sometimes I will purposely not listen to music because the project calls for a very clear final product and I don’t want it to change based on that sort of powerful influence. As far as how music figures into my life at this point, it’s pretty much everywhere. My husband is a musician, half of my studio space is actually his record collection, there are two turn tables in the room, and one for almost every other room in the house. Our basement is a recording studio. So even though I don’t actively participate in making music it is in every facet of my life from my work to what I see when I get out of bed and what I talk about with my husband.

Q 6 || A big portion of your work is featured on apparel- how do you go about designing a piece of clothing? How do you decide what image/ composition is right for something like a t-shirt, and what is your number one priority when designing apparel?

Apparel tends to feel more like play than posters do sometimes. The designs should be more graphic, they should not be rectangular like posters, you get to focus on a smaller area with the drawing or design which is nice. Usually a client already has a feel for what sort of image they want on their apparel, so that is somewhat out of my hands. On my own apparel I try to stick to themes of some sort, and if there isn’t a theme I draw what I want. A lot of the time something that ends up on a shirt that I release or that has no client was me drawing for fun and then going, hey that would make a fun shirt, or oh, I should draw a panty design to match this, something along those lines. Really the priority is an easily identifiable and interesting enough design that is simple to grasp in one second and then makes you look harder to see exactly what’s happening.

Q 7 || How do you define the balance between commissioned work and personal work? Do the two often collide and become one common venture or do you set aside time to experiment and work on your own stuff?

I don’t get much time for personal work at all actually. I tend to juggle multiple projects at a time and have a them scheduled for weeks in advance. If there is free time I usually spend it trying to take care of one or two projects that I haven’t been able to get out of my head in months, and then maybe get part of one done. It’s incredibly difficult to set aside enough time to really tackle personal work of any decent proportion when I work fairly slowly. However, the majority of my clients generally give me a loose design brief and then set me free to do what I want, so I get to experiment and try new things within client projects. Some of them really enjoy that actually. So I still get to stretch my legs and hone in on parts of my craft that some artists might only be able to do in personal work.


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