Crafty 88 Interview with Artist Erika Rachel 03 · 16 · 2016


Meet Artist Erika Rachel

Art really started as therapy for me. 

I was freshly divorced and my father had just passed away. I had little money, no job, no family nearby and no idea how I was going to support myself. I always wanted to work for myself and had this belief that I could do it, but felt compelled to be the person others thought I should be.  I had a father who always thought I should go back to school and a husband who believed in the traditional 9-5 structured job.  

With my dad’s passing and my divorce, I had a new-found freedom.  I decided, “No one is going to tell me what to do anymore.”  I had a vision of success as I defined it and made it my mission to do this.  I would not let myself fail. Very quickly people started taking an interest in my work, including high profile collectors.  Three years later I am making my living through art, something I had believed in my core was possible.  And I’m loving the life I’m living.


Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m 31 and was born in NY and raised in NJ.  As an adult, I bounced around the area before landing back in my small hometown, Milford. 

Growing up my mom was very into the Victorian era and we lived in a large house in the historic district of Plainfield. You can’t renovate your house there without agreeing to use period specific details and materials and so I ended up spending a lot of time around traditional oil paintings and classic furniture until I was a teenager. 

I wasn’t exposed to abstract art until I lived in NYC in my late teens/early 20’s. I grew up thinking that to be an artist you had to be traditionally trained and paint landscapes, bowls of fruit and flowers. I’m so happy I was wrong about that.


Can you talk about a defining moment in your life that has influenced your work? 

I’ve always been creative and was always orchestrating something entertaining and creative but when I was 10 years old my parents were getting a divorce and my mom thought I should be in a therapy group with other kids going through the same thing. 

One session I was there by myself and the exercise was to draw what happens in my household. With just me and the instructor there I drew yellow spirals, red sunbursts and blue spirals. The shapes were scattered on the page overlapping in some areas and clustered in others. When the instructor asked me to describe what I drew I said the yellow spirals were my mom, the red bursts were my dad and the blue spirals were me. He said “Ok, that all makes sense, but I was looking for something more like this…” he turned his page over and showed a literal house with rooms and people; a mother stick figure in the kitchen, a dad stick figure in the garage, and a kid stick figure in the bedroom. 

I felt I drew what was true for my house, and I was satisfied, but I also felt I did the assignment wrong, which felt awful. I wish I could find that drawing. It was indicative of the abstract expressionist career I’d have 20 years later, but it hasn’t surfaced yet and I doubt it ever will.


What does Art mean to you & how does it impact your life? 

At this stage of my life and career I’m not quite sure. I feel like my relationship to Art is more like a marriage and in its early stages, we’re still learning about each other and finding our groove. Although Art has always felt like a closed circle to me, like something other people do or become good at. It took me 2 years into being a full-time artist to even call myself an Artist. It took a long time for me to actually own that title.


Why do you do what you do?

I have always felt more comfortable living outside the norm and the norm for me growing up was representational work.  Abstract art or even art in general has few limits and I love that. In fact, it’s something I’m still working to embrace. 

Society encourages following suit more than they do being inventive or drawing outside the lines. Being a successful working artist is a challenge and I love a challenge. 

I want to prove that its possible. I want to inspire other young women to do what they love and to not let their nurturing/passive instincts get in the way of them following their dream.


How do you select your muses? 

Usually by dating them. LOL. I know its cliché to say my life, but it’s true. You don’t title a painting “The Ex” without having one. 

Apparently every man who enters my life enters my work. My exes, my friends, my enemies, even my own father has been the inspiration for a painting. 

Men are fascinating and play an important role in my life.


What are some of the thoughts that go into your subjects?

I choose my subject based on what’s happening in my life at the moment. Whatever I’m thinking about or working through goes into a painting. Say I go through a relationship break up, there’s a range of emotions and layers there to paint, I think that’s why exes and breakups are such relatable and classic subjects of movies, art, music etc. There’s a cycle of love, hate, regret, blame, completion, acceptance, dismay, depression, loneliness, sadness, adjustment, emergence, healing, joy, release, happiness, more adjustment, empowerment and a readiness to move forward that we can each relate to in some way. What better subject than emotions, thoughts, and decisions? Every situation renders different circumstances so even if the emotion is similar the painting will be unique.


Who are some of your biggest influences?

I don’t have many artistic influences; I try to not be influenced. I want my work to be pure, so whatever tools I use or ideas I have are from within. If my work mimics someone else’s its truly accidental. I’m not saying I’m original, just pure. Seeing other people’s work does remind me to not place borders around what I call art, but that doesn’t equal attempting their style.


If time, money, and materials weren't limiting factors what would be your ideal project?

I’d travel the world and make art inspired by the different locations. My works would be influenced by the native colors, patterns, architecture, landscapes and culture and social temperature. Each work would be completed in the location it was inspired by.


What are some unique challenges with your style of artwork?

Getting people to stop seeing representational images in the final product. I know its natural, but I try to get people to see motion and color in my work, to break outside of the usual representational way we see the world and to just be with the piece instead of interpreting it as something that it wasn’t intended to be.


What has been the most memorable experience you've had at one of your shows or openings?

Of the many wonderful moments and collectors, I’d have to say my greatest moment was meeting Lawrence Benenson, a member of the Board of Trustees at the MoMa, and selling him a painting from my solo show at Dop Dop in Soho. I had no intention of selling him any work, I invited him to see the show with the hopes of getting some constructive feedback. He gave me that feedback but also liked a painting enough to buy it. I was thrilled and it was a huge vote of confidence.


How important is your creative space to your work? 

I am a very organized creature of comfort, so having a clean space with good music that feels warm and welcoming is important for me given how many hours I spend in my studio. I’d prefer to have more natural light but I trade the light for privacy, quiet and the ability for work at 4am without disturbing anyone. Anything to enter the studio has to be cleaned, or transferred into clean containers, placed in the right area for its use (stretchers by the building table and paint by the easel) and all completed art is stored in a self-made 7x7ft rack so its protected and out of harm's way. I like my studio to be a clear of other visual stimulation so I’m always emptying it of clutter and reorganizing it to keep the energy fresh. I plan to gut the space and rebuild walls when the time and budget allow. 


5 tools / products I can’t live without:

Stretchers, canvas rolls, a large tub of both black and white Golden Acrylic, my staple gun, and a palette knife.


There are times in your life when you swing way outside of your normal routine. You do something extreme, you test yourself, you struggle, you purge, you binge, and hopefully at the end you come away with something beautiful.

I've had so much intake of life recently, and such a build up of over due unpainted ideas, it's time to hibernate, time to lock the doors of the studio and not come out till everything has been captured, expressed, vented, and painted.

This may be an epic time for my work. I may create work unlike anything I've made before. I may open my studio doors to reveal something magnificent that's been laying dormant for some time. But I may also just sleep. I may sit on the floor of my studio, brush in hand, thinking of my life and waiting for the moment when brush meets canvas. But I won't know unless I go to the extreme and lock those doors and close myself in. I hope for the former result, of beautiful expressive work, but for now I have to surrender to the process and let it sweep over me.

This may take days, this may take weeks, but I'll see you when the doors open.


Setting Myself Free


I strive to be authentic in my art. I also strive to inspire others, evoke emotions, make people happy and thrive in my career. 

This requires constantly evolving as an artist because I am constantly evolving as a person.

I grew up thinking the only true artists were classically trained and that everyone else was just being gimmicky. It wasn't till abstract art became my own self expression that it finally clicked for me. 

Often I start a painting with a phrase, personal position, or new decision in mind and that's where I paint from. Once the painting is finished I let it repeat back to me what it captured and from there a title is birthed. 

Other times the need to paint dictates the process. This small 16x20 is an example of that. 

Its been weeks since I had dedicated studio time, with traveling, shows and visiting clients keeping me away, but I wanted to dedicate 2 hours to making an outdoor display for my current ahow. 

I started this piece with a free outlook and an intention to merely have fun and make something functional. Something that looked like art but also served the purpose of a sandwich board side to put on the sidewalk. 

I played with new materials and tools and applications and I was surprised to see what the end result was. 

I may have set myself free to explore a new chapter in my work. I see myself expanding and making lines I never have before. Using colors and tools I'd been afraid of. 

Its amazing what you can create when you simply let go of the end result and have fun. 

Erika Rachel Sandwich Board Art

Erika Rachel Sandwich Board Art

Inside The Painting: "She" aka "Her Energy"

One afternoon in the fall of 2013, I sat on the steps of my house crying my eyes out because more than anything I wanted a relationship. No one I met came anywhere near my ideals and I was starting to lose hope. Ok, to be honest I was wayyy past "starting", I was indeed hopeless. I called my good friend in LA for some comfort and he told me I needed to just be patient and to stop focusing on it. He then told me, "You should be painting this. GO PAINT!"

Erika Rachel - Begging For Love 48x60 2013

I was reluctant, but I picked up my paint brush and the largest canvas I  had and started to paint.  I painted a heart and a figure of someone bowing in worship. There was so much desperation in this painting, I was almost embarrassed to show it. It made me feel vulnerable and exposed. But at 48 X 60 (4ft by 5ft) it was a BIG painting. There was no hiding from it.

I felt better after painting it, but as a full time artist I make my living from selling my work. How was I going to sell a painting like this? Who was it going to appeal to? I had no idea.

I decided to place it in a solo show I had in Soho NYC during the spring of 2014. During that time it made its way into the background of an on location TV spot for the Dr. OZ show. When I saw it I thought to myself "Oh No, of all the paintings to have in the background, it had to be THAT one?" It was as if all my desperation was broadcast over national television.

My paintings in the background of a Dr. Oz television segment.

My paintings in the background of a Dr. Oz television segment.

After the art show was over my installation came down and the painting came back to the studio with me.

Over the next 6 months I evolved a lot. I experienced falling in love and falling out of love. I had some great dates and some bad dates. There was significant self reflection and I became a lot more comfortable being single than I had ever been before. All the while that painting sat in my studio, nagging at me.

I couldn't stand seeing it that way anymore. I had changed so much that the painting was now an outdated reflection of who I used to be and what I used to want. Luckily as an artist I have the power to change that, so I took control of my own work and its direction.

The final painting now titled "Her Energy" aka "She".

The final painting now titled "Her Energy" aka "She".

I took the painting and planted it front and center in my studio. I turned on Pandora and my studio cam and went to work on the canvas like it had never been painted on before. Like a clean slate I painting color, fun and joy all over the previous design. At one point I even stepped in paint. What did I do? Why I put my foot to the canvas and smeared the paint on with my big toe of course! I sang and danced as I painted, replying to complimentary texts from people who were watching my studio cam, they liked the painting!

I was wearing a smile and an old dress shirt of my fathers while I painted. Hopping around having a blast, I was a totally different woman. A happy independent artist who was going to enjoy her life no matter what. No longer wanting to cope or compensate for something I did not have,  but rather to simply be who I am and where I am in my life right now. What the universe holds in store for me will be revealed over time. Its my job to just keep living in a space of love. The rest is not up to me.

*Update: Her Energy sold to collectors Oct 2015 and is on view at their residence.

I'm Honored

Erika at Body Graphics First Friday Reception

Last night at my reception these fashionable, beautiful young ladies walked in, acting excited about my work and speaking another language. I introduced myself and they started interviewing me with a recorder in hand.

After a few minutes I had to ask. Turns out they were going to write about me for a class essay.

I may never see the essay but needless to say I was flattered.

Erika Rachel and student at Body Graphics Reception 2014.jpg

Erika Rachel ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Art

So I was nominated by my friend Andy Walko to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

I decided to take some artistic license with the challenge options and combine them a little. I dumped large amounts of paint into buckets of iced water and mixed them together till I had an icy paint mixture. 3 icy paint mixtures to be exact- one in Red, one in White, and one in Blue- the colors I believe represent ALS awareness and the ALS organization logo.

I stood atop an unstretched primed duck canvas while 2 friends and an Airbnb guest dumped the icy paint over my head.

The painting dried and sold via Ebay auction to raise money for the ALS foundation. Below is the video and the photos of the finished painting. 

Posture Magazine Interview with Erika Rachel

By: Editor in chief: Winter Mendelson

WM: Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Erika Rachel, and I’m a full time artist. Yeeeah.

WM: What is your background? What led you to become an artmaker?

I think what contributed to my being an artist is my two creative entrepreneurial parents. My dad was an engineer, and my mom was a food stylist, so both parents cared about the creative process and an end result of useful beauty. I translate that same idea into art, but growing up I always wanted to be an actress – that was the only creative career I knew of. I like to get connected to emotions and express them in fun ways. I always bucked authority, and after my divorce a year ago I decided “No one’s gonna tell me what I can or can’t do anymore,” so I decided to do art full time.


WM: That’s exciting! Do you pursue specific themes in your work?

Yes, many such as honor, appreciation, love, and sadness (specifically what causes the upset, fear, hurt, or pain).


WM: Are there any artists that particularly inspire you? Why?

Is it cliché to say Andy Warhol ? Yeah, it is, but I have to tell the truth – it’s my curse. I also love the work of Zoe Lacchei, some of her pieces really speak to me.



WM: Can you describe a real-life situation that influenced you?

When my father died. I had to go through all his stuff by myself. I opened boxes and found old family drawings and articles from when my father was young. Things he’d kept that I never knew about. I got to see the chapters of my father’s life, not as I saw them, or even as how he described them, but as his subconscious saw them. The things he saved, the mementos, defined him in a way that words and stories never could. My dad was born in 1939, and was 45 years old when I was born, so he had plenty of life before me that I never knew about. All of this went into a painting titled “Daddy” a 48×60 acrylic that sold almost immediately. Lucky me, lol.


WM: On your website you have a section called “The Art Appreciation Collection.” Can you explain this in detail as well as your ideas behind the “Million Dollar T-Shirt”?

ErikaRachel Million Dollar T-shirt.jpg

First off, I have to admit. Posture is the first publication I’ve ever been willing to talk with regarding “the Art Appreciation Collection” so… here we go. “The Art Appreciation Collection” is a tribute to the creative process. It started as a declaration of my own self-worth, and evolved into something much much bigger. 8 years ago I started a t-shirt line called “1st Amendment Clothing Company”, the idea was that controversial topics would start on the front and wrap around to the back of the shirt. So one of my first designs said “Straight is Good” on the front, and “Bi is Better” on the back. I realized quickly though that I didn’t want to be just another shirt in everyone’s closet. I cared much more than that, and I’m not a big fan of mass production, so I decided to print all my designs by hand and make them in limited numbers. I wanted people to be more closely related to the creative process. That turned very quickly into anger and upset that so few people could relate to the value of something hand made and unique, so I decided to make a statement piece. A Million Dollar T-shirt.

The Million Dollar T-shirt is the single wearable t-shirt in a series of 5 that I printed from a single silk screen design. The challenge is for someone to buy the million dollar t-shirt, and then and ONLY then will the creative process be triggered into completion. I’ll cut up the silk screen and frame a piece of it with the 4 remaining non-wearable shirts. Then those will be available for purchase.
I want people to be reminded that everything, even the everyday things we take for granted like a t-shirt, have a creative process. We care about organic food, why not organic goods??

And there you have it… Know any buyers?

The Million Dollar T-shirt

The Million Dollar T-shirt


WM: I love your T-Shirt collection and accessories. Do you make them by hand? Are you looking to expand your collection or focus on your visual art?

I love that you love them! Thank you! I do make each piece of Artwear by hand, and in primitive fashion. No fancy equipment. My silk screens are held down by packs of batteries. I break nearly every rule out there. But what comes out is unique and one of a kind, which is the intention of everything I do. So if people demand them, I will make them. But right now I am focused on my visual art.

The Vanessa $120

The Vanessa $120

WM: What is your dream project?

I’ve had thoughts about traveling. So what I’d like to do is have someone set me up with a place to stay, and show me around their city, from there I’d take the things that inspire me and translate them into paintings. Each city would have a unique flavor and thus unique series of pieces. I’d then do a show in that city and sell all the pieces. Maybe a private show to the friends of the person who set me up there? Just an idea, but I’d LOVE to do it.

I also have an erotic art project that I’d like to progress, but that’s a topic for another day *wink*.

WM: Do you have an ultimate goal for your work and professional life?
I’d like to influence people’s shopping habits ultimately. But I’d also like to inspire more people to do what they love and get paid for it – there would be so many more happy people in this world, don’t you think? However I communicate that, through whatever medium, I’m not as concerned. I care more about having fun while making money and making a difference all the while.



Inside the Painting: The Art of Hair

Every now and then a piece of my art deserves some explaining.

"The Art of Hair" is one of those pieces.

My relationship to my hair has been a long and wavy road; pun intended.

Let me be vain for a moment... I LOVE my hair. Like really, I love EVERYTHING about it. But, it's taken me YEARS to arrive here, and so much of the credit goes to my stylists; them and a little bit of nature/DNA.

Erika Rachel with "The Art of Hair" Dimensions 36x48x1.5

Erika Rachel with "The Art of Hair" Dimensions 36x48x1.5

I'd spent years going to different stylists in futile attempts to find one that I liked. I tried friends, I tried places people recommended, I tried seasoned stylists and those fresh out of school. I even tried learning the lingo in order to better communicate what I wanted. It seemed that no one ever got it "right". Not until I sat down in the chair of Jo Blackwell of Dop Dop Salon.

Jo has been doing hair forever, and when she cut my hair for the first time I cried tears of joy. No, I'm not kidding. She turned the chair around, showed me the back and the more I ran my hands through the new cut the more tears fell. I'd never felt so satisfied with my hair before; it was a relief. I didn't have to learn a new language, I didn't have to describe or micromanage her every move. I didn't sit there tense. I knew, finally, that I was in the hands of a true artist.

Eventually I moved out of NYC and Jo was no longer an option, so I started going to my friend Emily. Emily has been another true hair match made in heaven. Every time I come in she dedicates some time to discussing thoroughly what I want my hair to look like, feel like, and act like. How I want it to move, how I want it to sit, how I want it to be different than the last cut, what seasonal impacts there may be, and what products I'm using. We plan where I want weight, where I want wisps. We even discuss how I want it to feel when I flip my hair from side to side, and every time I leave happy.

I have grown to love the art of hair and to appreciate its importance. Jo and Emily have taught me so much over the years, and its because of them I now have locks that I love.

If you've never had a haircut you've been happy with I encourage you to continue to try new stylists till you find the hair artist that matches your style and ideals. Someone who can empower you and understand you. Someone who can lend their knowledge to your individual needs and quirks.

People are constantly complimenting me on my hair now. I've been told I have "Movie Star" hair, and "Roll out of bed beauty", none of which comes naturally or out of a box. The style and knowledge come from Jo and Emily, and the waves and color come from Mother Nature by way of Mom and Dad.

Hair is like any other creative medium. It takes a true artist to give it life, or in this case, bounce and volume.

I'm grateful to those who take pride in cutting, styling, or coloring hair. You who take the laws of science and nature into your hands and blend them with your creativity to empower we who sit in your chair.

"The Art of Hair" is a tribute to you. You make us stars, you create the celebrity. You love what you do in a way that is undeniably beautiful and noticeable in the end result. You take your work and your clients seriously.

Thank you.

Erika Rachel

30"W x 40"H x 1.5D

30"W x 40"H x 1.5D

Erika Rachel with her two paintings titled "The Art of Hair"

Erika Rachel with her two paintings titled "The Art of Hair"

20"W x 24"H x 1.5D

20"W x 24"H x 1.5D

Erika Rachel is Going Down Solo Show

Posture Magazine sponsored, Erika Rachel reception, Dop Dop Salon April 7th.

We Are Not Original, Just Different

Why am I always so damn threatened by someone who has a similar style or idea as me?

I constantly try to remind myself that there are plenty of people making a living in industries where there's enormous competition. For example, isn't it common for lawyers, dentists, doctors, or accountants to share the same building? Similar practices being merely doors away from one another? Come on, how many times have you gone into an office building and accidentally entered the wrong practice?

So why are artists so competitive?

Are we all so arrogant to believe that we're the only ones who have ideas? Are we so scared that someone else will steal our ideas that we feel the need to compete or sabotage one another?

There are plenty of good ideas to go around, creativity is not a one-off phenomenon. There are plenty of smart, talented people out there. And there are just as many buyers. People who love art, love creativity, love hearing a new idea (New to THEM that is). Who cares if one person on the planet had the idea first.

Let me tell you something. NONE of us had the idea "first". We've each had a moment when an idea has come to us, and inspired us, even moved us to bring it into reality. But none of us are walking around with an original thought.

Now. This all stems from me being told about a creative individual who's doing erotic art kits. Its an idea where people get set up with some paint and they make love on a canvas.

For about 2 years now I've been discussing my erotic art project with people. And some have asked me to make it more public, make it more "User Friendly", "Make a kit!" I've heard; something everyone can use. Well I have always said "I'm not ready for that", or "That's not the creative message I'm trying to deliver". Well, now someone has gone and done exactly that.

I wont say this guy stole my idea, because I've never met him (as far as I know), and I don't know how long he's been doing this. But I've looked into him since my friend introduced me to his kit, and I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that we are not competition.

Are we similar? Yes. Are we offering people a once in a lifetime unique and personalized experience? Yes. But are our methods the same? No. Are we highlighting the same emotions? No. Are we expressing the same idea? Not even close. I don't even think we have the same intended markets.

So are we both having people get naked and do the nasty on a canvas? Yes. But to say we are the same is like saying that all abstract artists are the same, or that all lawyers are the same. All doctors are the same.

Everyone practices their medium for different reasons and with different results. Some are more well known than others, some are more talented than others, and some are just more ambitious than others.

Regardless. Competitiveness in the art world needs a heavy, damn near sedative dose of the chill pill. There's enough room for all of us. Embrace it, love it. There's a world of us, growing in numbers everyday.

Its a good thing. More people following their bliss and being happy.

I'm reminding myself of course, because this is something I deal with ALL THE TIME.

And after everything I've just written, the little devil on my shoulder says "Competitiveness adds to the excitement and allure of the art world. It drives up the costs and makes winners out of losers. Don't you want to play that game? And play it to Win?"

To which I calmly reply "No thanks. I'm good".