Erik Weedeman: Helping People Through His Art
This month, I have the greatest pleasure of talking to artist Erik Weedeman. It is a great pleasure because of the fact that we had the opportunity to work together at the same job in the sign industry for a number of years. It wasn’t all flowers and rainbows all the time though. It could get “testy” at times because we worked in a very tiny room and had different work habits, but there was a bond formed. I suppose our inadvertent inhaling spray paint fumes had a little something to do with it. He was young when we started working together and over that time I’ve seen his artwork get better and better and better. I’ve kept in touch with Erik over the past couple of years to keep up with what he was doing with his art because I think his work is incredible! It took him a bit of time to agree to do this interview but he finally accepted my invitation.
STM: Hello Erik! It is so nice to talk to you again. Thanks for taking some time out to talk with us.
EW: Thanks for having me.
STM: What is the reason for art? What meaning does art have in your life and how did that meaning develop?
EW: The reason for art for me personally is to just simply create something; create something outside of my day job; to create something that doesn’t involve other people and collaboration; to fully be able to express myself on my own and also be able to profit from it as well. I hope to someday make it as my full time gig and a means of being able to pay my bills and live comfortably without having to depend on some other company or corporation. To me art is about independence and pride.
STM: Tell me about your history. How did you come to be an artist? Were you formally trained?
EW: I don’t exactly know how I came about making art but I always enjoyed drawing and creating things. Even at a young age I loved architecture and as a kid I loved trucks and construction vehicles. I loved playing with Legos and Tonka trucks. I just loved constructing things and art was a way for me as a kid to express my creativity and sort of, “build things” but through a different format; a different dimension. I always loved it. I truly had a passion for it. Seeing and knowing that I was pretty good at it and having a lot of support and encouragement from friends and family and just seeing people’s reactions every time they saw my work, really fueled my need to keep creating. I knew I had something going for myself that was, luckily, natural and untrained and most importantly, something that I loved. I did eventually go to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia after high school, graduated and received a BFA in Illustration.
STM: Your art is very detailed. What are you intending to communicate with your art? What would you call your style?
EW: I don’t know what exactly I’m intending to communicate with my art but I am simply trying to paint as realistically as I can. I paint the things that I like; things that I find to be aesthetically pleasing. Not sure exactly what my style is called, but I have heard people say that it is contemporary, surreal, realistic and street art. Others also comment and say that “It looks like you’re an illustrator.”
STM: What materials do you use in your art?
EW: Mostly acrylic paint on canvas, but I occasionally work with pen and ink on bristol paper. I also work with spray paint as well. I mostly paint on stretched canvas but have also worked on canvas board and wood board masonite.
STM: Tell me about your creative process. What inspires you? What motivates you?
EW: Architecture, cities, and loft syle/industrial modern design are huge inspirations.
STM: You are very skillful at painting your subject matter. I’ve also seen your still lifes and portraits. Out of all of your subject matter, what do you most like to paint?
EW: I mostly like painting architecture and cityscapes, although they are the hardest and most time consuming, but when I finish a cityscape painting I feel the most relief and accomplishment. I do like to, every once in a while, paint portraits of musicians that I like just to, sort of, be able to make something up fairly quickly. Portraits are a lot more freeing and tend to flow better since portraits don’t involve straight lines and 90 degree angles and perspective. Painting things that are organic and natural are a lot more freeing in the sense that the technique and the approach flows better with brush and there’s more room for error.
STM: What quality about a location makes you want to paint it?
EW: Tough question because I have painted cityscapes that are in many different neighborhoods throughout the city. I think it all depends on the mood that I’m in personally. I’ll paint a scene that fits that mood whether it’s the lighting, the clouds, the weather, or how many people are seen in the image. I love the energy of downtowns such as Manhattan or center city Philadelphia. I love the hustle and bustle, but at times I also like the small details in cities that are sometimes overlooked, such as old architecture and buildings.
STM: Many people, sometimes even artists themselves have the view that the starving artist’s image is true – of the artist languishing away, starving for the sake of his art. Do you find this to be so? What bearing does this view have on your efforts in your artistic career?
EW: Well, thankfully I don’t consider myself a starving artist, although I would love to make more money- but who doesn’t? I think to myself that I have it ok and that a lot of people have it worse than me, but that doesn’t prevent me at all from stopping or slowing down. I work hard for what I have. I always have. I’ve always made it on my own with my art through actual day jobs which have always been some sort of creative career, to doing commissioned artwork, to selling my own personal artwork. I’ve always worked for my money and not having the things that I want just adds to the determination to work harder towards my goals. So, I guess I am a starving artist in the sense that I take pride in what I do and I depend on my artistic skills to get by. I don’t think I could ever do something that didn’t involve me being creative.
STM: Did you find it to be relatively easy to get to where you are now in your art?
EW: Yes and no. I think that I am extremely lucky that I happened to land a job as a sign maker when I was only 17 years old with zero experience in the field. Something that is extremely hard to get into with no experience whatsoever. But I learned fast and had the artistic ability to fit in quickly. Starting off at a young age in the sign and graphics field has lead me to other sign and graphics positions that are higher up and involve more creativity and skill. It definitely hasn’t been easy at times. I have in the past worked for bad companies and have worked insane hours but have, luckily, learned something from it and adopted new skills. Selling my artwork has also had its challenges as far as dealing with customers and figuring out what type of artwork sells without losing my sense of purpose. But all in all it has been the most enjoyable pursuit. You have to do something that you enjoy and love. I believe eventually as long as I keep at it and keep setting goals and working, I will learn more and achieve more.
STM: How have you struggled? Or what have been your greatest obstacles? How have your struggles affected your work?
EW: I’ve struggled with just simply getting my name out there. I’ve always said to myself that I could paint and paint and paint all day, possibly every day for hours, but how do people find my art?
STM: Considering money, fame, and notoriety, artists always have something they want. What do you want? Do you consider yourself to be succeeding in this and why?
EW: I just want to be happy and have a good life. I at least just want to be able to pay my bills, my mortgage, have a stable relationship and family without having to feel worried about money and to just live comfortably. But I do think that I am succeeding one step at a time. I would not mind at all being a famous artist who people read about in art history books and in museums.
STM: What was your biggest setback or failure? Where did it take you?
EW: I think some of my biggest failures have been taking advice from people who try to tell me to paint things that are “safe”; things that I’m not really interested in but that are subject matter that might sell at a cheesy arts & crafts shows where old people buy drawings of birds and farms; something where I would only make, like $20 as opposed to doing some real artwork that I enjoy that can lead to a lot more money and other commissions and opportunities. It takes time to do real art like that but it’s something that involves a lot of patience that some people will never understand, I guess.
STM: What things, attitudes or processes are working well for you in your artistic endeavors? What things have you found don’t work so well?
EW: My hand painted cityscapes and urban scenes on canvas have been very successful along with portraits. Animals and attempts at suburban and rural landscapes not so much.
STM: To what other activities have your creative abilities taken you?
EW: Home improvement and fixing up my house. I live in an old house built back in the 1890s and it has been a fun project for me get creative with painting walls and restoring old hardwood floors.
STM: Looking back on everything you’ve done, is there anything you’re most proud of?
EW: I have pride in all of my work, but the commissions for commercial customers have been the most rewarding. I have designed signs, logos, murals and custom paintings for shops and restaurants which have given me exposure and have led to some other clients of my own.
STM: On occasion, people who are not artists may ask questions which artists sometimes feel are not appropriate, like “Do you make a living from your art? How much?” or questions not easily answered, like “How long did that take you to make?”. How do you feel about these types of questions? How do you answer them?
EW: People have been asking me these types of basic questions forever so I just sort of answer them pretty simple and to the point. I keep it short. If they ask if I make a living from my art the answer is YES.
STM: What do you want people to know about artists?
EW: Most importantly is that Yes: Artists, for the most part, enjoy making art, but No: It’s not just some fun activity or hobby all the time. Making art, no matter how good you are is always a challenge. Being able to create something is hard. A lot of people never seem to understand that. A lot of people never seem to realize how many hours and hard work is involved. I think more people need to look at art as a product that is helping people. If you’re designing a sign or logo or packaging or labels etc., those things are vital for a company to stay in business. Without artists companies would literally go out of business because they wouldn’t be able to express their image and what they are. Literally, everything in society, everything you buy, every building, every product, even every road was designed by a creative type. So, more people need to appreciate it and understand the extreme importance of it because without it we wouldn’t have civilization.
STM: Who is “Erik Weedeman”? What is something you want people to know about you?
EW: I am just a guy who loves to be creative; who wants to see the world be a better place.
STM: Where can people find you and your work?
EW: On my website at www.erikweedeman.com, on Etsy weedemanillustration, on FB, Instagram, Twitter and some of my signs and decor at random boutiques in Lambertville NJ, New Hope PA, Doylestown PA, Philadelphia PA, Brooklyn NY, Ocean City NJ and Bordentown City NJ.
STM: Erik, great time. Thank you for talking with us at Studio Tour Magazine.
EW: Thank you Thomas for the opportunity!