[INTERVIEW] Interview with Erika Lee Sears

November 26, 2021


Could you introduce yourself to the Art Terms Magazine readers?


Erika Lee Sears is a self-taught oil painter, born and raised in Portland, Oregon. As part social experiment and dedication to her discipline, for over five years she has made an original piece of artwork every day and shares her journey on social media. As a busy mother of two, she finds inspiration in her eclectic children, beauty of still life and the culture of her bustling city. Her passion extends beyond just her creativity as she seeks to inspire others with her accessible approach to a daily practice of modern oil painting. She finds little moments through her daily practice to discover elements of joy to progress the pursuit of happiness and hope. You can find her work on the television show Portlandia, the first season of Significant Mother and the Brooklyn Art Library. 


Did you always have a passion for art? What are some of your earliest memories of being an artist/creative?

I have always been a very creative minded person. Growing up I loved painting, drawing, glueing stuff together, and pretty much any sort of creating. One of my earliest memories is that I would get so excited every Christmas because it was the one time of year I would get that big box of crayons with all of the colors and I could sit and color for hours.


How did you develop your style and technique?


There is no real fancy answer in developing ones style and technique. In one part it is practice and more practice and then more practice.  Then the other part is learning and researching different styles and techniques. I am always fascinated in learning how someone can make something. Learning the different steps a long the way. Watching videos on how someone creates something is a person showing how they established their technique and style because you can see how they got from point A to B and all of the decisions of art creating along the way. For me, I always come from a place of learning because there is so much to learn and grow. This puts me in a place that I always feel like I am working on and developing my own style and technique but I learn the most from practice and learning from others.


What made you decide to use oil paints? What mediums did you use prior to oil paints?


Prior to oil painting I used acrylics but I did own a set of oil paints that I was given for Christmas. The big decision for me to switch to oil paint was first of all I was curious. I was given one of those introductory sets that was really inexpensive and had a painted rustic barn on the outside. Every time I had heard people talk about oil paint, I would hear the sigh of dread and that it was far too complicated for someone that is self taught to learn. If you wanted to become a professional artist, then you would have to learn to oil paint. First of all, this is totally not true. There are a lot of wonderful mediums out there, this was just someones opinion. BUT this got me thinking as to why was I so intimidated to learn something new. I just started painting and learning. Is oil painting hard? Yes and No. It’s a really old discipline and there are a lot of different ways to do one thing. Just because one person has a certain studio practice and does something a certain way doesn’t mean that it would work for you. There is so much to learn about oil painting, and that is what makes it so interesting to me.


Working in the finance industry, it's almost like the polar opposite of a career more attractive to an artist. As a creative and an artist, why did you decide to go into finance?

Growing up, I was not around a lot of people that had creative professions. My parents always knew I loved art and was an extremely creative kid, but they also didn’t really know any self employed creative business owners. They would always tell me that making art was a fun project and that I could do it on side and not take it seriously. I didn’t even go to my first art museum until my 20’s and it was at the Portland Art Museum, the installation was Chuck Close (and it was amazing). My dad worked in finance, and the truth is, I wanted to do something that my parents would be proud of me for because I had no idea what I wanted to do. I couldn’t pick art because I was convinced I couldn’t survive that way.  Finance seemed like a reasonable choice.


What was it about your previous job that brought you to the breaking point of wanting to quit and become a full-time artist?


There were things that I loved about working in finance. I was good at it and I felt like I touched peoples lives in a meaningful way. During busy times, we were required to work evenings and weekends, and putting in a 60 hour work week. I was working in finance, married my college sweet heart, and we even bought a house. I had everything that I was supposed to have wanted but I didn’t even know what I wanted for life. I kept thinking to myself was this it? Is this how I am supposed to spend the rest of my life.  So I painted and made art. I set a goal for myself to make enough artwork to set up at local art walk in the summertime. I did just that, and I sold my first painting and I knew that’s what I wanted to pursue.


When did you know you were ready for a change?

The more that I made art, applied for different opportunities and showed my work, the hungrier I got to go after even more ways to show and make art. I realized how happy art made me, deep down in the bones of my soul and I couldn’t give that up.  It really boiled to my happiness and what I wanted to be creating and making in my lifetime. What would be my mark on the rest of the world? I know I am fortunate but no matter your socio economic background anyone can be creative. This is just my journey.


How did you find the courage you needed to take such a big jump and follow your passion?


I am the kind of person that goes all in with out thinking about it, if it feels right and this just felt 100 percent right. (it was always easy) I was showing my artwork, working full time and I would come home from the office and cry. I would cry about how much I hated my job and that  I wanted to make art full time. My husband, of course was skeptical. He liked having me work full time with a steady paycheck, have a 401k and didn’t want to be the sole support of our family. I was sitting at the top of our stairs and crying into my hands and I said lets just plan. It doesn’t have to be tomorrow that I quit, but lets just make a plan. Thats what we did and we both realized that if I was going to make the jump, and we were young and I could always go back to finance or figuring something else out.


Describe how you felt the first day leaving your finance job to be a full-time artist. What kind of emotions were you going through?


My big emotions happened before I really quit my job. I realized I just wanted to do something different with my life and I needed my husbands support. I told him I just wanted to make a plan and that I didn’t have to quit right away but I needed a plan to pursue making artwork.

I didn’t quit right away. I took a 6 month leave of absence and then came back for 6 weeks before quitting fully. The biggest feeling I felt was relief. I wasn’t really happy or sad, but I realized I was ready to embark on a new chapter in my life and I was ready.


Photo Credit: Erika Lee Sears

Do you have any advice for artists who are on the edge of jumping into being an artist full-time?


I think the biggest thing that people focus on is leaving their job and making the leap. Your job is giving you the support to make artwork. We are lucky we live in a society that has social media and lots of opportunities for artists, even part time ones.  First, make a lot of artwork and don’t worry about the rules or subject matter or anything that’s holding you back from making the best work of your life. It’s all with you. Just create. Next is share it, and find the people that connect with what you do. If you are thinking about pursuing artwork full time, think about how you are going to be able to support yourself and explore that before you leave your job. Maybe it’s teaching workshops or painting murals or illustrating greeting cards. Every artist’s path is different and you will figure it out but don’t be afraid to explore and say yes to new opportunities.

What are your plans for the future?

To paint.


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