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Illustrator Spotlight with Emma Erickson

Process, style, color and influences: Get to know the talent behind the illustrations we love

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you found your way to a creative career.

I’m from Omaha, Nebraska and currently reside in Austin, Texas. I moved to Austin to pursue my PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology, which I completed in 2020. It was around the beginning of the pandemic, while I was writing my dissertation, that I began diving into the world of illustration. I needed to make graphics for my defense presentation so I started learning Illustrator. Eventually I had everything I needed, but I still wanted to create. I found myself spending hours upon hours tinkering with the program, challenging myself to emulate different styles and generating hundreds of images just for fun. When I was a kid, I loved to draw and make up stories, but as an adult I felt too guilty to pursue any creative activities that would take my time away from my real responsibilities. I think being in the transition phase of completing my PhD in addition to the priority shift brought on by the pandemic helped me realize two things: 1) I actually really enjoy making art; 2) It isn’t a waste of time for me to make art.

How did you find your medium and style, and who and what influenced you?

I work in digital art mostly because that’s what I’m most comfortable with and I know I’ll be able to do more than I could without a computer. My style represents a combination of my innate preferences and my constant attempts at imitating the stylistic choices of other illustrators whose work I admire. I love bold linework, bright colors, and grainy textures. I prefer curves to sharp edges and simplicity over detail.

What subjects are you most fascinated with?

Mundane moments in everyday life that everyone can relate to but no one really spends time thinking about - It’s interesting to me to take something bland like holding a bag of groceries and give it new life. I’m also obsessed with my dog Mikey, who is always up to something. I tend to gravitate towards drawing animals because there’s such a diversity of shapes and colors to work with, and putting them in human situations can be very entertaining.

What illustration trend are you either loving or hating at the moment?

Not sure if this qualifies as a “trend”, but I have a love/hate relationship with putting googly eyes on inanimate objects. I love it because it makes things cute, but I hate it because it feels too easy.

How do you create characters, what inspires them, how do you use color?

Character creation/inspiration depends on the project, but often they seem to create themselves as the overall piece evolves. I try to shape each character based on the work as a whole, so that they each have a role to play and fit together. Nothing ever ends up looking like how I imagined it would before I started. As for color, I have a main palette of five colors that I tend to stick with for most things. I struggle with using more color than is probably necessary, so I’m always trying to challenge myself to limit it. One of my favorite things is to have a grainy color gradient – I just really like looking at them, and making them. So, it is hard for me to try and limit color.

If you had to pick a favorite project, which one are you most proud of and why?

My favorite project is probably a personal one. This year I wrote and illustrated a short book for my boyfriend and gave it to him for his birthday. Each page had a different drawing of something I love about him (see “cowboy mouth” illustration). I’m most proud of this one because it’s probably the most meaningful thing I’ve made as an illustrator. Also, it was kind of a big project – it took several months to complete and I had to work on it all in secret. I’m definitely proud of myself for actually following through, self-imposing deadlines and finishing it in time for his birthday.

Describe your dream project.

My dream project is to write and illustrate and publish a children’s book. Or at the very least, just illustrate a children’s book. 

What’s next for you?

This year I’m trying to broaden my horizons and my portfolio, make more personal work, refine my style, and explore new mediums such as animation.

Rapid Fire Round!

Morning person or night owl?

Night owl

Favorite word

This is tough! I guess one of my favorites is “plethora”

Lunch or dinner?

Dinner – I never eat lunch

A celebrity you’d like to have a drink with

Conan O’Brien and Jeff Goldblum together!

If you could time travel, would you go to the past or the future?


Sweet or savory?


Are you a thinker or doer?


Go-to karaoke song

U Got it Bad - Usher

City break or beach holiday?

Beach holiday

What superpower would you like to have?

Time travel / ability to pause time

Thank you Emma!


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