Erica Hawkes nearly went into fashion design, but chose instead to turn her back on the big city in favour of a painter’s life.
The contemporary landscape artist is known for paintings that create a sense of atmospheric movement above idyllic panoramas. Erica says painting landscapes is her “truest love.”
The artist earned a degree in fashion design, studying in Colorado and Vancouver, but didn’t want to settle in a large city centre like New York or Toronto where haute couture thrives.
“I love fashion, but it was more about where you needed to live to be a good fashion designer,” she says. “I’m not a big-city girl. I find I’m more of a smaller city type of person.”
Erica grew up in Prince George, and nature has been a defining part of her life since childhood. She became accustomed to long walks along a gravel road near her home with her family.
“We weren’t city mice. We had a lot of northern lights, we had moose and bear; it was just really nice, peaceful and quiet,” she says. “We weren’t allowed to watch TV very much, so I read and I drew. That’s all I did with my time. I had a lot of time to practice.”
After getting her degree, Erica settled with her husband and two children in West Kelowna, where she works in a bright and spacious studio on the lower level of her home. There, she’s surrounded by works in progress. When she gets bored with a colour scheme or has a certain mix of colours left on her palette, Erica says, she’ll switch to work on a different painting.
“Sometimes I’ll put something aside, maybe I’m not sure which direction it’s going. It could sit in my studio for a couple of months looking at me,” she says with a laugh.
Calling herself a “worker bee,” Erica often paints 10 to 12 hours a day, finishing about 100 paintings a year.
She estimates that over the past decade she’s completed about 1,000 works.
“I think everyone has a gift to create something in some way,” she says.
As a 20-something, her art-with-a-conscience led to a starving-artist phase. She paid her bills with a variety of jobs, working as a nanny, teacher, photographer and book illustrator. Erica kept her hand in the arts, selling portraits of people and their pets.
Eventually, she transitioned into landscapes.
“I started with this style that I called cubist impressionism—it was all angles and sharp lines. It was beautiful and it was fun but it wasn’t all me. It didn’t feel like it had flow for me.”
Her style has evolved into something she describes as “Nouveau 7,” inspired by iconic Canadian artists in The Group of Seven, who pushed the boundaries of landscape art. She also blends in elements from the Art Nouveau movement.
“It permeated the world in the 1900s. It was such a beautiful movement. I don’t think anything quite matched it for me in my mind,” she says. “They broke from the traditional style. They were the leaders in this impressionistic style. It’s got colour and movement, but it’s not perfect and that’s what I love about it. It has its own voice and it feels fresh and new.”
Many of Erica’s paintings start as photographs. She melds pictures of scenery with different pictures of skies to make her own images.
“I take way too many photos. I have a phone full of photos, and my computer is full of photos,” she says. “I don’t have enough space to put my images from my phone onto my computer—that’s how bad it is.”
Over the years, Erica has worked with numerous materials, including graphite, acrylic, water colour, India ink and oil.
Erica notes her style is continuing to evolve. She’s taken a keen interest in depicting trees through her Nouveau 7 style.
“Trees have personalities and a feel to them,” she says. “Trees are my challenge. They are the thing I probably will keep learning my whole life.”
She adds: “It’s exciting to get better, but sometimes I’ll look back on something and go, ‘I wish I had taken that out.’ There’s always room to improve. That’s something that is human.”
Erica’s paintings are showing in seven galleries. In the Okanagan, her works can be seen in Tutt Street Art Gallery in Kelowna and The Lloyd Gallery in Penticton.
“The tricky part about being a gallery artist is that people will buy what they love specifically, but then if you do something different that’s maybe outside of the box a little bit, it’s a harder sell. I’m walking a fine line trying to figure it out.”
She says, “The sunset on the lake is such a popular theme that I can paint it almost from memory now.”
Erica hopes some of her works will become so beloved that they will live on.
“I hope that my art can survive in someone’s home for long periods, that it’s good enough that it becomes part of the family for generations,” she says.
To learn more about the artist, visit hawkesfineart.com.