Nature is the breath from which life begins and where creativity thrives. For Erika Wilcox, a fantasy artist, and florist based in New Berlin, Wisconsin, inspiration flourishes within the beaches of Lake Michigan, and the mysterious environment of the forest glades. Erika grew up around art and nature her entire life. Her parents gave her the tools from a young age to grow her creative spirit. She looked up to her mother, especially, as she remembered watching her as she worked on oil paintings at a young age, and she passed her love for art onto her.
“There's some really great pictures of her taping down my paint water cups on the table when I'm like two years old, so I wouldn't spill it. So like, there’s not one set defining moment for me just because I feel like I've always been doing art,” Erika said.
In 2018, she was invited to her first gallery night in Bayview. For the first time, she was able to talk to people who went out of their way to view her work. For her, it was an incredibly powerful moment of recognition for her work and the realization that she could become an artist herself—she just had to figure out the best path to do so.
Creativity manifests itself differently in every person; for some, working in the studio to obtain a BFA is an ideal path. She accumulated enough credits in high school to graduate a year early, but instead took that time as an opportunity to attend a local art and design school under a scholarship. After taking classes and spending endless nights in the studio to complete projects, she found it did not align with the path she needed to take to become an artist, so this opportunity she received early in education helped shape her trajectory as a creative today.
“It just felt really structured. I didn't like the dynamic of the classes and just like the ability to not really create what I wanted, how I wanted all the time, and I was thinking, you know, I don't really want to do this.” Erika said.
When Erika isn’t working on her paintings, you’ll find her working in a flower shop. Erika’s love for nature and creativity spills into both of her professions as an artist and florist. Nature is everywhere she goes, from the petals she touches to the petals and leaves she paints in acrylic. She prefers this balance, as it keeps her from remaining too stagnant in her chair from painting, but gets her off her feet after the hustle and bustle at the flower shop. In her place amongst two professions, she finds balance.
Being a self-taught artist helped her explore what mediums she preferred at her own pace to curate the perfect materials for her work. Growing up near Lake Michigan, Erika would find herself walking along the freshwater beaches and admiring the natural beauty of the waterfront. Her family would sail along the lake and pick up driftwood throughout her childhood. One day, she picked up a piece and felt inspired to paint on it. As the glade scene emerged onto the wood, life was breathed back into this piece of nature. She began painting on more pieces of driftwood, but as her art platform grew, she found using driftwood to be less sustainable and searched for more options. While working in the winter, she approached local business Kettle Moraine Hardwoods to see if they could provide her with the wood she needed. Now she sources most of her wood from this local business, her craft continuing to support her community in Wisconsin.
One of the many criticisms of the fantasy genre derives from its tendency to all look the same. When fairies are included in a fantasy work, typically they are white and skinny, it has almost become the cookie-cutter standard for fantasy illustrations. This puts creativity into a box, leaving out all other body types and skin colors. Erika aimed to combat this notion in her collection.
“I think it's really important to break those boundaries and show different body types and different races, especially in the fantasy genre,” Erika said.
However, to start the process for these paintings, she photographed herself as a reference. Her work proves to be a glowing example of looking to one’s self as a reference to create a line of art representative of everyone in the world.
“I usually start with like a concept of like what sort of flower or color scheme that I want to work with. And then from that, the very just kind of takes shape as I'm working on it,” Erika said.
At the start of the pandemic, she moved her craft from the classrooms to social media. Erika’s goal was to foster an environment on her social media platforms where her followers could feel comfortable reaching out, making a point of responding to as many messages as possible. She thought about her own experience in following favorite artists, remembering that she would hold them to a pedestal, which made reaching out a little bit daunting. She then realized that there was a good chance that someone following her could be putting her on that same pedestal now. However, by promoting a more relaxed space, her followers will send her anything from a message to talk about a current event to videos of birds that remind them of her paintings.
In the future, Erika plans on expanding her shop and including more glade-style works on her website. While she still adores the cohesiveness of the dark summer and spring color palettes, she looks forward to getting out of her comfort zone once again and experimenting with a more autumnal palette along with some more unconventional color choices in nature.
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