With each new issue of our magazine we feature handpicked artists in our magazine as well as in our banner space gallery her on our website. Our first featured artist for the Educate/Imaginate issue is the whimsical work of the American illustrator Erin Wetzel.
Erin Wetzel. 32. Illustrator and portrait artist. Lives with husband Matt and Phoebe (4) & Baby Wetzel (due November 2015!) in Tacoma, WA, USA.
Tell us your story? How did you end up doing what you do?
I make art because it makes me happy.
When I was younger, I never thought I’d be an artist. I wrote feverishly and carried notebooks with me wherever I went. My friends would have me write poems for them, and I was always coming up with theories about The Nature of Reality or trying to find concrete ways to capture intangible thoughts and feelings.
Then I went through a really dark period. Life was very difficult overall. My writing dried up and I wasn’t making anything. I was depressed all the time. But there were moments when I encountered art, and these moments helped lead me through the woods, like a trail of breadcrumbs, until I found my way to a place that I now call home.
When I was at a loss for words, I was able to still think in lines and colors. I don’t always know what my art means while I’m making it, but I am able to pour my heart into it the same way I once poured my heart into my scribbled notebooks.
So, now, I make art because it is the language of my heart, and I like to think it is a way that I can share moments of hope with others.
What's the best part?
When I am lost in creating something, it consumes all of me. I forget to eat. I forget to drink. Sometimes I realize I’ve been holding my breath, and I gasp, setting my brush down, and laugh at myself for getting lost, once again, in my work.
The worst part?
I often worry if what I’m doing is truly important and helpful to others, or if I am being selfish, like a little child playing with paints and daydreams.
If you weren't doing this - then what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t an artist, I’d find some other way to create, whether through writing, cooking, or simply inventing fanciful stories with my children as we play.
What makes you very happy?
When I have a true moment of connection, where I bare my soul to someone and they embrace me and share pieces of their own deepest self in return…this is what I find fulfilling.
What are your future ambitions professionally? There is so much I want to do, so many things I want to create, but my biggest dream is creating a children’s book.
3 words that capture the very essence of your artwork?
Whimsical, Intentional, Vibrant.
3 most important things to you when working?
I want my art to make the world a better place. It could be by inspiring others to look for the beauty in the humdrum of everyday life or just by capturing moments of whimsy.
I want my art to make people laugh.
I want my art to be authentic, rooted in reality while inspiring people to believe in the best reality possible.
3 best sources of inspiration?
My portrait clients! I love the opportunity to crawl inside of someone’s heart, take bits and pieces of their hopes and dreams, and mix them up with my own imagination to create something truly unique. Every time I send a portrait out to live in its new home, it’s like I’m sending pieces of my heart out into the world.
Instagram. There are so many artists and makers on Instagram, and the platform is so visual and immediate; it’s an incredibly good fit for visual communication. I’ve found many inspiring creators to follow in that space: photographers, painters, crafters, and more!
My family. The moments of connection and love that we share make me want to capture snippets of how beautiful and heartwarming life can truly be. I want to share the joy and inspire others to live connected lives, as well.
Why is art important to you?
The purpose of art is to connect people: the moment you see something and recognize it as “beautiful,” it opens up a little door inside your heart and gives you a chance to empathize with another.
We are all separate people, walking around with our separate dreams, growing and moving and crying and laughing. It is our connections to others than help us live deeper, reach higher, shine brighter. What I love about my most recent animal/human hybrid pieces is that it embraces the inherent “otherness” that we all experience and takes it to another level by portraying people who aren’t even humans, but who are animals! Even so, the people are living and dreaming and loving and going about their daily lives, and it’s easy for the viewer to say: “Hey! That’s me! Those are my dreams! That’s my life!” If you can look at an animal and feel yourself in its shoes, perhaps it’s a lot easier to look at your fellow human and realize that the differences we so readily let come between us are not actually that meaningful after all.
A great example is school. Where do you go to school? Do you do public school or private school or homeschool? What’s your method? What’s your curriculum? Do you get good grades? If we allow the structure of our education to define and compartmentalize us, we risk isolating ourselves from a world of rich connections and experiences. Education is only one facet of our wild and vibrant beings. We must not forget the need to also imagine, to think outside the box, to dream outside the curriculum.
There is no way to measure daydreams. There is no standardized test that can tell you how passionate you are.
We need the structure of education and the fervor of imagination, but, more than anything else, we need the humility of real, earnest, human connection. Because all the creativity and all the knowledge in the world is meaningless, unless you have someone to share it with.
Favorite subject in school?
I always loved my literature classes the most.
Best teacher and why?
Ms. Moore had a huge impact on me. She taught literature and writing classes when I was in High School, and she encouraged me to ask questions whether or not I was able to discover the answers.
Things you miss about going to school?
I enjoyed listening to teachers tell stories, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the lesson at hand.
Things you don't miss about going to school?
I feel like I was always worried about doing the right thing and having the right answer and being in the right place at the right time.
Best thing you learned in school?
I was introduced to a lot of amazing thinkers and writers.
Worst thing you learned in school?
I was actually really good at school, but I don’t think that having good grades prepared me for The Real World. Once I graduated from college, it was a huge reality shock that employers didn’t care that I was a great student.
How will school be in the future if you get to decide?
In an ideal world, I’d like there to be less emphasis on standardized testing and more emphasis on enabling kids to find their purpose and develop their passions.