Erika Lee Sears was one of the first people I met when I moved to Portland. I was amazed by the fact that she makes art everyday. No, FOR REAL. She creates a piece of art everyday and posts it to her Instagram account over at @ErikaLeeSears. Her work has also been featured on Portlandia!
Not only was this incredibly exciting, I loved how Erika has been able to carve out a career as an artist. If you’re thinking of doing the same thing and have thought about pursuing a creative career – read how Erika got her start!
What sort of career path led you towards becoming a full-time artist? Did you study art in school?
Well, if you can believe it, I didn’t start out as wanting to become or be an artist. I didn’t go to school for art at all, and I started my professional career working in the finance industry.
The most ironic thing after graduating from college is that you finish school, get married, buy a house, and land a job with a 401k and benefits. All I kept asking myself was, “Now what? What’s next?”
I have always been making art and I remember using my allowance to buy paint and canvases as a kid. Art was always there, but where I come from people don’t become artists as a career. People become accountants, a doctor, or a lawyer and have a safe life of having a steady paycheck, a nice retirement account and the typical dream.
It’s something that I honestly struggle with because I wonder if it would be easier to just have a regular job – but art is something that I need and have to create.
When I was working in finance, I started painting on weekends and evenings. I set a goal for myself to show my artwork the following summer at a local street fair. My finance job was extremely demanding. The hours were grueling and looking back, I’m not sure exactly how I did it.
I just kept painting and I kept looking for local opportunities to share and show my artwork. So, I went from showing at local street fairs and having an art booth, to participating in group shows, which then led to solo art show opportunities.
What made you finally take the plunge?
I was getting pretty busy with showing, selling and creating artwork and I sat down with my husband and we really talked about what I wanted to do with my career.
We also agreed about what was realistic about were we needed to be financially. It didn’t happen right away, but we put savings aside so that I could at least have a safety net before I took the leap and make a go for it.
I was putting in crazy long hours at work and then would paint a good chunk of the night and most weekends. I was also allowed to take a short-term leave of absence from my finance job, which was about six months before I officially quit. I believe this gave me a bit of a safety net. There is always a point that you have to jump with both feet but be smart and think things through.
You create art everyday by posting a new painting on your Instagram account – what motivated you to start painting daily?
I gave birth to my second baby and being a mother is one of the most rewarding, selfless, amazing and hardest jobs on the planet. I had come to a point in my art career that I wanted to be a hands-on parent, but I was struggling with creativity and making artwork.
When I had my first child, I didn’t even go into my studio once while I was pregnant. I made it in the kitchen and it was a struggle. I thought that I needed to let go of being an artist or find a new way.
How has it helped you as an artist? How has it helped your business?
I thought if I could just share one little piece of artwork every day, no matter how small on my blog and social media then I could keep art in my life. I had to share it because then I was held accountable and I would have to do it. I honestly didn’t think I would make it a week and now here I have two and half years later.
This daily art project has helped me grow as an artist the most because I have to make something new every day, even if it’s something I don’t want to share. So, on the one hand, it has helped me be brave and honest about where I am as an artist.
Then, on the other hand, it keeps my creative energy lit because I have to always be thinking about what catches my eye or just finding the smallest things that are special in an average day. I’ve grown a ton and am really excited to see where creativity and art take me.
I think what surprises me every day is the people that my artwork has touched and connected with. I am busier than I have ever been with my art career and it’s because of this project. Being a mother, I put my children first and I make sure that I make art around their schedule, but I have my own time to dedicate to my projects and craft.
Are some days harder than others? How do you get over a creative block?
Yes, there are often hard days or days where I feel like my art isn’t where I want it to be, but I think again that it’s sometimes about the practice, the rhythm and showing up and being humbled as a creative person.
You can’t hide from creativity or art.
Whatever you make is yours and it is what it is. So, I think it’s ok to say you’re blocked and even if you draw a bug or a flower, then it could lead to possibilities. It could lead you on a whole new adventure or it could just let you practice your skills. One thing I do promise – it’s not always hard and you’ll get through it, but its matter of when.
How do you market yourself and sell your art? Do some things work better than others?
Well, that’s simple. Everything is for sale. I started this project solely for myself, but I sell originals and prints. I also am in galleries here in Portland and have been in shows around the country.
If I had to give one tip to an artist looking to market their work, it would be that you should be open to opportunity and that every artist’s path is different. So say yes a lot, because you never know where you will end up.
I also keep a blog that I am constantly updating because I need a home base for my artwork beyond just social media. I did have my blog before any social media platforms got popular and it has evolved over the years. It always surprises me how many opportunities have come out of not just being an artist but keeping an active blog.
I’ve worked with some pretty amazing brands, such as Target, HTC- One, Adams Peanut Butter, and OXO.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I wake up pretty early in the morning every day in order to get a couple of hours of work in before my kids wake up. I usually make my daily art first thing in the morning, because I consider it a warm-up to the day and helps me get my creative juices flowing.
I love having it done first-thing because it starts my day with a bang. Once they are up, depending on the day of the week, we usually have pre-school or activities or errands. Since both kids no longer nap, they both go to bed pretty early, so I get a few more hours in the evening to work.
So, pretty much anytime my kids are not awake, haha!
Where are your favorite places to hang out in Portland, Oregon?
Portland has so many special places around town. As far as art related places go, First Thursday in the Pearl District is pretty fantastic. All of the art galleries in NW Portland open their doors to the public and stay open late in the summertime.
There is also street vending, which gives you a peek at the up-and-coming artists to find some really affordable work for your home. A tip would be, the sunnier the day, the more artists will be out selling their work on the street.
What would you tell your 20 year-old self?
Trust your gut. You can be whatever you want to be, but it takes work but the impossible is always possible.
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue his or her art full-time?
Make as much art as possible.
Meet people that inspire you and support what you do. There are so many different kinds of artists and people creating work that there is room for it all and finding your people is important.
Show your artwork to everyone and find the people who connect with what you do and I promise you will find your way. It’s pretty simple, but showing up and believing in what you are doing is the challenge, and I know you can do it. You just have to go for it and think it through.
To learn more about Erika Lee Sears and her work, visit her online at www.atinyrocket.com