Portland based Erika Rier is a multi disciplinary artist with a unique vision. I am so glad she entered my colouring book open brief, with an amazing and unusual narrative artwork based on the struggle of womankind. Here she talks about her inspiration, how language and place informs her art, and the joy of homeschooling her daughter.
How did you find the colouring book open brief and why did you decide to enter your work?
I’ve been following Amelia’s Magazine for ages and had been wanting to contribute to an open brief for some time but the timing was always off. I’d even got a sketch together for the That Which We Do Not Understand brief but was in the middle of a time sensitive project that prevented me from getting my submission done. When I saw the colouring book brief I was so excited. I swear I get at least 2 messages a week from people asking that I do a colouring book. I haven’t had time to draw a whole colouring book but I could definitely manage the two pages for this brief!
What inspired your piece and how does it tie in with ongoing themes in your work?
As soon as I read the brief I knew that I wanted to draw some sort of stand-off between the two pages. I wanted the drawings to work together as a whole but to also work on their own as well. In my self-directed work, I have been exploring themes of violence, war, and struggle. The idea of a standoff definitely played into the themes I’m currently obsessed with. I also draw a lot of strange creatures, women who are half bear or have butterfly wings as well as centaurs and satyrs. I decided one side would be winged creatures facing off against land creatures. While I was working the piece it came to me that the two main figures were obviously at some point best friends, but things had gone south and now they’re battling it out on these two cliffs.
How has your crafty upbringing affected your current approach to illustration?
I come from a family filled with textile enthusiasts so from a young age developed a passion for sewing, embroidery, and knitting. For a long time I created a line of handmade clothing which I sold in NYC and stores around the country. I love the texture, colors, and patterns in textiles and those are what influence my illustration and drawing the most. I love bringing the flat, repeating patterns of textiles into my drawings, creating landscapes made up of repeating patterns.
I think the biggest thing I’ve gotten from my history of labor intensive craft work that I bring to drawing is patience. Threading a loom or hand stitching a quilt are massive, patience-sucking undertakings that have helped me develop the ability to stick through a very detailed drawing and to spend most of my days sitting at a desk creating work.
What does your series Of Monsters & Women explore?
Of Monsters & Women is an open ended, loose series I’ve been working on for most of the year. I’m not even sure when it started, me drawing monsters and battles but now it seems to be the entirety of my self-directed work. In the most basic way these pieces explore struggle. They depict scenes of hybrid creatures and women in battle, often over trivial things. The series is exploring the internal turmoil I experience in my daily life as a woman, mother, and human. I’m also very interested in pushing against the trend in pop culture art of women being depicted as very passive and empty in pretty portraits. Life is full of battles and struggles but art depicting women seems to be all vapid stares, sexy poses, serenity, and/or maternal softness. I want to create art that shows the part of being a woman that is a battle between one’s self and one’s culture.
Why are you learning Norwegian?
When I was very little, my grandmother whom I lived with, had a friend who visited regularly from Norway. She somehow sparked a strong desire to go to Norway in me. I’m not really sure what it is that I find so fascinating, pictures of it remind of where I grew up on the very Northern tip of the state of coastal Maine. I started learning the language so I could visit there but ultimately, after moving around America so much, I feel as though I’d like to live abroad especially in a country where English is not the primary language. I’ve also been learning Spanish because I like the idea of Peru as well. Norwegian though, has totally captured my imagination, I’ve never been so excited about learning a foreign language since I started learning it. The words are at once so familiar and so crazy sounding that I can’t help just saying random sentences just to hear them spoken.
Can you tell us anything about the children’s book you are working on?
Yes! This book has been a long time coming for me. It started with a funny name my daughter called herself when she was very little, the Crispiest Turtle. That name just stuck with me, I wrote it down and doodled some characters of it. She also told me a very enchanting story including a seagull and some very unfortunate whales and octopus. I’ve had a difficult time deciding exactly how to write the story but have finally finished a rough draft which pleases me.
You create dream artwork and family portraits to order, what have been the most memorable commissions? (I want one, such a great idea!)
I love creating custom artwork for people, I learn so much about them and their families. One of the first family portraits I did is still one of my favorites. The woman sent me pictures of her family and pets and then a stream of consciousness list of things that were meaningful to her family such as goats, poetry, elephants, mangoes, Hindu goddesses, unicorns, feathers…. The list was quite long but I managed to fit in everything, except for the goats. Another one was a woman who asked if I could read her favorite book and do a drawing of some of the creatures from the book. I just received a new commission to illustrate a story a woman has written for her boyfriend. When it is finished, she’ll have a single copy made and bound to give him for his birthday.
Why have you moved so much and what is your favourite bit of America?
I was born in Northern Maine and since then have lived in Vermont, Connecticut, New York City, Arizona, Washington state, and currently reside in Portland, OR. I move for many reasons, it started just to get away from my tumultuous family. Since then it has developed into a desire to experience new places. Lots of people love travelling but I kind of despise travelling. I feel like it gives you such a superficial, romantic view of a place. I love living in a new place and learning all of it’s intimate details. There are also practical reasons. We recently left Washington state and a big part of that was wanting to live someplace with a better public transportation system. I never learned to drive and Portland, OR is much easier to get around without a car.
How do you fit everything in around family life and how does being a mother inform your work?
It is really hard to fit in everything so there are things I let slide, like cleaning the apartment or having a social life. Right now my family and my art are the most important things in my life so I focus mostly on those and let the other things slide. Attachment parenting has been the thing that I feel like makes my current life possible. My daughter is 12 now and homeschooled. She is a patient, focused, and self-directed young woman and I really feel like attachment parenting is to thank for that. The first 5 years of her life were hard, all I really did was parent, I did draw and sew still but not like I can now. That time I put into attachment parenting has paid off tenfold and helps me to pursue art while raising my daughter the way I’d like to raise her.
Being a mother affects my work so much it’s hard to even tease it out of the whole. Being a mother has changed how I look at the world and how I look at myself. The struggle to bring up a child who can survive in this crazy society but has not lost her magic is the biggest battle I wage everyday. Trying to figure out when to protect my child, when to let her wage her own battles, when to expose her to the ugly parts of life, these are all things that make up my real life battles every day and seep subconsciously into my drawings.
Many thanks for such an informative and interesting interview Erika! I love that my open briefs attract artists from all over the world as well as artists closer to home. Look out for plenty more international talent in Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion.
- An interview with Johan Lindström: Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion featured artist.
- An interview with Margo McDaid: Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion featured artist.
- An interview with Eliza Fricker: Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion featured artist.
- An interview with Lydia Coventry: Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion featured artist.
- An interview with Antonia Parker: Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion featured artist.