Episode 1: Erica Helder

Show Notes

Erica’s newest collection of art, A Collection of Our Inner Wild, releases on 20 October 2023. Sign up for her newsletter to get advance access to purchase original pieces!

Mentioned in the show:

Noah Kahan’s Stick Season album:  https://store.noahkahan.com/products/stick-season-vinyl-pre-order

Ember+Solis creative collective: https://instagram.com/emberandsolis 

Transcript Episode 1


Welcome, friends! I’m Arin Murphy-Hiscock, author of popular books about practicing green witchcraft and hearthcraft in the modern world, and you’re listening to episode 1 of Sources: Creative and Spiritual Dialogues, the podcast where we discuss the intersection of spirituality and creativity. Thanks for choosing to spend time with me today.

Today’s guest is Erica Helder, a Canadian abstract artist and horticulturalist based in Brant, Ontario, Canada. We talk about art as an expression of grief, creative blocks, self-discovery through art, touching the magic of the natural world, and the challenges—and joys!—of sharing art with the public.

I’m thrilled to have her here talking with me today. I’m very excited for our listeners to learn about how creativity and spirituality intersect for Erica.

Without further ado… here’s Erica Helder.

Arin: So we’re both pretty excited to be here right now, which warms my heart. Erica, tell us about yourself. What’s your artistic background? Where do you come from? What do you do?

Erica: All right, well, I am Erica Helder. I’m a Canadian abstract artist. I work mostly in the medium of alcohol inks as well as calligraphy inks and mixed metals. I actually started out working in oils in photorealism years and years ago as a kid. And throughout my time growing up, I got further and further away from oils and realism. I worked in more and more abstracted terms and eventually I settled into inks after a long battle going back and forth.

Arin: Now that we’ve got the art part, tell us about your spiritual path. How do you practice, or identify? Tell us about what you do.

Erica: I definitely don’t have what I would say is like a formal label on any of my spirituality. I grew up Pentecostal, and I’m not sure how familiar you are with that, but it’s a fairly, I would say, restrictive version of Christianity. There are parts of it that are very freeing, especially in things like creative expression.
But there are a lot of rules and roles that people are kind of assigned to play. So after a long time in the Pentecostal Church, I started that journey of deconstruction. And there’s a lot of Christians that are on that journey. What I was trying so hard to do was not throw out the baby with the bathwater, but I found it almost impossible. There was so much that I needed from the world and that I saw in the world that just wasn’t acknowledged in Christianity. So eventually, I just kind of gave up on calling myself a Christian.
And I started leaning more in towards recognizing things like the small magic that I see in the universe, things like the messages that I think we can get from the Earth around us and from humanity, stuff that just wasn’t coming from that religion. So now I would say as much as I believe in the magic of the universe, I can’t really put an official label on anything. I would just say firmly in the camp of I don’t know.
The more I interact with the natural world around me and the more I learn about its complexity and how mind-boggling, you know I’ll use the word miracle, the miracle of how life sustains and continues and cycles through.

Arin: You know, it’s hard to say that anything is concrete, that you know everything, that you can 100% say, “Yeah, this is it and this is what I believe in.” If there’s anything, it’s like, I believe in the fact that everything is mutable and fluid, which can be tricky for people too, because that doesn’t sound like it’s very secure. It doesn’t sound like something very reliable, does it?

Erica: For sure. Sounds like the opposite.

Arin: Yeah, exactly. And yet, as you say, there’s a kind of a freedom in it.

Erica: Oh, there is, for sure. So maybe a bit of important information is that I’m also a horticulturalist, so I grow plants for a living in addition to my art. And I recently started pursuing some extra adult learning courses in soil science, just because there was gaps in my knowledge that I wanted to fill to do my job better. And one of the most fascinating things I learned is that we don’t know, like we have never figured out why roots emerge and know how to go down.
When they first come out of a seed or when they first emerge from a cutting, we have a lot of theories as to why they go down, but we don’t actually know what makes them know how to go down.

Arin: Isn’t that amazing?

Erica: It’s just incredible to me.

Arin: There’s so much stuff that we are discovering on a day-to-day basis. It is magical. It is in a way. Like, it reaffirms the fact that, oh my God, there is always something new. There is always something to discover. There is always a way to further develop and enrich your knowledge and use that to interact with the world around you. And it’s just amazing.

Erica: Yeah, I find the more time I spend out in the natural world, and whether it’s studying it, like in these courses or just working with it, there’s always something that is just able to blow your mind almost every day.

Arin: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s absolutely wonderful. So how did you become a horticulturalist?

Erica: So I actually have multiple degrees from multiple schools because I really was not I wanted to be a teacher and I did teach for a year. And then I hated every single second of it. I just, I don’t know. I had spent so much of my life saying that that was what I was going to do. So I went and I got my first my Bachelor of Arts in French and Psychology. And then I got my Bachelor of Ed and I went and taught for one year and I hated it, so no.
So then I went on to get a master’s in psychology of linguistics, thinking that maybe if I pursued the PhD and taught in a university level setting that it would be different. And throughout that time, getting all of these degrees, I was working at this farm that I just knew about through random connections in the community. When I finished my master’s, I called back my old boss and I just asked if I could come back, because it was the most enjoyable job I’d ever had. And it was kind of a bit of a hit to the ego, saying like, I went and got all these degrees for nothing and I actually just want to do farm labor. But it’s so nice being able to just sink your hands into the earth and work with the seasons and be outside every day. It’s just such a great job.

Arin: You know, the clips you post on Instagram, it looks so rewarding.

Erica: It is. And, you know, there are days like today was just over 40 degrees.

Arin: Oh yeah, it’s miserable.

Erica: A bit of a scorcher. And then, you know, there’s rain days where I question whether or not I should be doing this. But 99% of the time, it’s just so great to be out. And you don’t lose that attachment to your work the same way you do in, say, like an office job; or even teaching, I found a lot of what you’re doing feels so intangible and you don’t really feel connected to it. But you don’t have that with working with plants. You’re connected to it at all times.

Arin: Yeah. And it’s a living responsive thing. So it’s not like you’re just creating something and it sits and waits.

Erica: Right.

Arin: You know, you are co-creators in a way. There’s a give and take that you participate in it together.

Erica: Yeah. That’s true. I haven’t even thought of it that way. I like that.

Arin: So how does your work in the natural world intersect with your exploration of your art? How do they inform each other?

Erica: They’re so tightly braided together. I find that when I’m out in the farm or out in the plants or just paying attention to the natural world around me, you start noticing things; it’s like the art of noticing. You start noticing all of these teeny little details. And if you pay close enough attention, I feel like there’s a message or a lesson that you can learn from every minuscule detail. So what I like to do is I listen, both to my plants and the earth and the soil and the people around me. And I try to gather up these stories and I look for these common themes. And once I’ve found one, I run with it until I feel like the theme’s been exhausted.

Arin: What do you take back to the natural world from your art?

Erica: Well, that one’s a lot harder. I had to think about this for a little bit, but I think a lot of what I do in the studio can be sort of ritualistic. There’s a lot of ritual involved in creating, and there’s a lot of things like intuition that come into play where I’m listening to my pieces and I’m trusting my gut on where to go next as I’m creating. And I think honing those skills in the studio make me better as someone who’s out in the world. So I think they kind of work together where when I’m in the studio, I’m developing my intuition, and then I take it back to the world, and that intuition is what lets me see these little pieces of magic.

Arin: Right. So it’s a cycle of its own.

Erica: It seems to be, yeah. There’s a really nice balance between, I guess, what you would say would be like a typical masculine energy and a typical feminine energy. By that, I mean like internal and external.

Arin: Yeah, like receptive and projective.

Erica: Right, right. So in the studio, I find I can be quite receptive. And when I’m out in the world, I can be quite projective. So when I’m out on the farm, there’s a lot of me that’s able to put out a lot of energy. And then in return, I get all of this magic. I come back to the studio. I’m able to put out that magic in the studio, but I’m also able to bring in my own energy.

Arin: That’s great.

Erica: It’s a great cycle.

Arin: Yeah, yeah, it is. So how do you find the seasons affect your projective and receptive energy then?

Erica: This is probably embarrassing to admit. It took me a really long time to figure out that I should be working with the seasons in the rest of my life, not just at the farm.

Arin: No, you know what? Don’t feel bad about it. It’s something that a lot of people do struggle with, because we tend to think of spirituality as something that’s… not separate from us, but something we have to move to, rather than recognizing what already exists in our own lives and our own patterns. And it’s something that I’ve been working a lot with, too, in the past decade or so, realizing that you’ve got a germination, a growth, a harvest, and a decay-slash-wintering cycle to absolutely everything. You know, be it smaller projects, your own life, relationships with people. So no, I think it’s something that everybody has to work with to realize on their own terms and in their own situation.

Erica: I found it silly how long it took me to figure out because I’ve done it naturally on the farm, right? We have spring. Spring is rush season. We’re working at least 60 to 65 hour weeks. And you’re on all the time, but you also have the most daylight hours. You have so much productivity that’s just naturally inside you. And then, you know, in contrast, winter at the farm is slow. We’re in a barn. It’s dark. We’re just potting. And then I come home to my dark studio and like it should be a season of dormancy. But it took me a while to figure that out. Now I’ve kind of got it sorted. And I mean, it’s still obviously a bit of a balance, because when you do something like art, you want to constantly be creating, to always be in here. And sometimes I have to rein myself back a bit and say, you know it’s dark, it’s late, it’s cold, you’re allowed to hibernate.

Arin: Yes. And actually, I feel that’s important for the creative process as well.

Erica: Oh, yeah.

Arin: Because you can’t just produce and produce and produce. Eventually, you drain yourself and there’s nothing more to give. And as I’m sure you know, with plants, if something does overproduce, it’s going to take a long, long time for it to get back to a condition where it might be able to produce again, if it ever does.

Erica: Right. So sometimes you’ll get plants like magnolia or lilac that is meant to bloom in the spring. And if you see them bloom in late fall, that’s trouble for that plant. You know that that’s trouble, because it doesn’t have the bud set for spring now. And if it doesn’t produce at the right times, then it’s going to get out of sync with its pollinators. And I know this looking at the plants, but sometimes it’s still hard for me to look at myself and be like, are you living at the wrong time?

Arin: Yeah, yeah. It’s really hard. It’s a lot easier to look outside of yourself.
Erica: Definitely.

Arin: And see, recognize the cycle and recognize when something’s out of sync, then to look inside. Because it’s a question of parallax, right? I mean, you’re in a better position to observe the exterior than it is to look inside, where there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot going on inside, and it’s really hard to dig through things and to wonder how valid an observation is. Like, am I coming up—am I coming up with this complex illusion to try to fool myself into doing something, or is this really what’s going on? It’s hard. Trusting yourself is difficult.

Erica: Oh, for sure. I think, again, that comes back to that intuitive practice, right? But it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Even if you think you’ve got it nailed, there’s going to be times where you completely ignore cues from your own body.

Arin: Yes, yes. And that’s something that I really enjoy, watching you document how you work through a collection as you’re developing it and exploring it. And you share your frustrations, and you share those creative blocks and those feelings of almost despair sometimes. Like, “I’ve worked myself into this corner and I don’t know where to go from here. This one piece is dark, and I can’t sort through the emotion I need to to bring this piece to fruition.” And sharing that as a creative can be really, really vulnerable.

Erica: Well, it does feel a little bit like I’m naked on camera, but at the same time, I think a lot of that was a reaction to my own frustration with not seeing that. And not just in the art world, but just online in general. We often are curating things to look perfect all the time. And I mean, it’s a problem in the art world as well, right? We want to share finished pieces more than we want to show you a half-finished one that still kind of looks bad. But I think back to when I was starting to share my art online, and how scary any of it was, and how much it would have meant to me to see people sharing their mistakes and their trials and their art block and whatever. So I try to make a point of sharing it all, because I don’t know. I don’t have anything to be ashamed of. We all go through it, so why not share it?

Arin: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think, you know, there’s a spiritual parallel to that too. We tend to asking for help is hard. And admitting that you’re going through a rough patch where you don’t know if you can trust yourself or your feelings or you feel like you’re not connecting with the world around you in a way that would be fulfilling or supportive to the degree that you would like it to be. And so many people… there’s this stigma about talking about hard times, especially spiritually, because it does feel like you’re admitting to a crisis of faith in some way, shape, or form. And that’s not what it is at all.

Erica: It’s just growing.

Arin: It’s growing. Exactly. Growing is not easy in any way, shape, or form. It’s uplifting for me to—and I’m not saying that it’s great that you’re going through this horrible thing—but I love that you do share it because it’s a great illustration for other people, spiritually or creatively, to see that, look, here is someone who can create amazing things, but who is working through this issue right now, and a lot of it does come down to trust.

Erica: Yeah. Well, I often say that our biggest fault is that we don’t think we have faults or that we don’t want to share those faults—

Arin: Very, very much so.

Erica: And I think sharing those faults can connect us so, so strongly to one another.

Arin: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s something that, I don’t know, maybe we just don’t know how to talk about problems and darker times and those faults without the fear of being judged, or the fear of somehow letting people see the cracks inside.

Erica: I mean, yeah, it can be really difficult either because you don’t feel confident sharing them or you feel too exposed. And then there’s also—I struggle with this sometimes is—am I oversharing the dark? Because I don’t want to just share dark, right? I want to share the light too. I want to share the magic and the beauty. So sometimes I’m wondering how much of the good versus the bad should I be sharing? And sometimes I get in my own head about what percentage I’ve been, you know have I been too dark lately? Have I been sharing too many struggles?

Arin: It can be tricky. But I think it’s important to remember, I mean especially since we’re coming at this from an angle of magic and interaction with nature and spiritual inspiration, I think it’s important to remember that darkness is very much an important part of all of that because it isn’t all sunshine and starlight. I mean, we do need that darkness, just like we need that fallow dormant period of winter in order for everything to decompose and break down and rejuvenate the soil to a point where it can sustain life again. And I think maybe because it is, we do perceive it as a dark period. Traditionally, darkness is scary for us because we don’t know what’s coming, right? That’s why somebody’s always the fire keeper. And you know there’s always somebody awake to watch for the bad things while the rest of us sleep. But working through, you know, the concept of the descent to the underworld in so many mythologies where you have to go, you have to face that dark in order to learn something, and bring something back to enable that growth to take place. You know, it’s something that maybe more people should be talking about.

Erica: I mean, I think it would make us all feel a little more comfortable if we had to be less perfect online. I don’t think anyone would argue with that.

Arin: Agreed. But you know one of the things I like about your art is you use metals to highlight. And it’s so great because you’re talking about, you know, where’s that spark of light in the darkness? How do I find my way through? And you use those metals to highlight certain places.
And I’ve seen the video clips of you applying it so, so carefully and so delicately to bring something out or by contrast to let something else recede. And it’s just… it’s wonderful.

Erica: It’s as much as I love abstract, it can be really hard for people to grasp.

Arin: I imagine.

Erica: And part of what I want to do is make sure that my art is accessible to people, which also, I mean, of course, that means things like having captions on videos, but it also means things like explaining metaphors, even at the cost of losing some of the magic of how it can be interpreted any way. So as much as the ground brass that I use, like the mixed metals that I use in the pieces, can be a little bit heavy-handed on the metaphors, I think it’s so important for me to be like, this is the darkness in this piece. This is what it represents, and now we’re going to put some light in.

Arin: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the amount of layers of different planes in your art is just remarkable. You know, it’s got this fluidity, this cloud-like and liquid-like feel to it. But there’s also that lightness. You know. And it’s amazing. You know, I honestly cannot remember how I came across your art, but I remember it was relatively early when you were starting to share things, because I remember you posting about, “wow, I never thought I would do this,
and you guys have given me such a great reception.” But I remember looking at your collections and feeling they’re abstract, yes, but they capture such a sense of spiritual dimension.

Erica: Ah. The dream!

Arin: It’s so hard to explain. And I don’t know, maybe it’s because it is abstract. But yeah, there’s such a sense of depth and… I’ll say the word magic, you know, because it’s remarkable. And your pieces inspire me as a person as well, because the things you talk about and the themes you work with in your art, in your different collections, I can always find something in them to draw a parallel with in my own work or my own beliefs or my own feelings. So in that way, I feel it’s very universal, and yet somehow still it feels unique. You know?

Erica: It is at times oddly specific, but I do find the things that I’m specific about so many of us go through that we still all manage to relate to. It’s such a magical thing to me. If you had told me like 10 years ago that this is what I would be doing with my life, I would have just laughed at you. And I wouldn’t have even said that this was possible. But yeah, I’m able to pick up on a story from someone and put it into art and other people feel that. It does feel mad. It feels magical to me too.

Arin: Right? Yeah. It’s amazing. What were some of your inspirations for starting this kind of art? Like, what drew you to start working with abstract and alcohol inks?

Erica: Well, I had gone through this period of, I would say drought, like a drought in my creative practice. This was right after my mom had passed. And I grew up only with a mom, like only—I did not have a father in the picture. And so it was just my mom and my two sisters. And she was, I mean, just an amazing woman, most encouraging mother you could possibly have as a creative kid. She was constantly like, she signed me up for art classes. She was hauling me around from this studio to the next, take me to exhibits, whatever. She was just such a big encourager. And so after she passed, I struggled for years to—I couldn’t create at all. There was like a little bit, maybe, where I would come in the studio and dabble, and then I would just leave. And I certainly wasn’t sharing it with anyone.
Maybe three years after she passed, I started creating more consistently, but I wasn’t really prepared to share it with anyone, so I would just paint. And then when the piece was done, I’d put it in a pile on the floor. Eventually, my stack got built up big enough, and I had some friends over and they were like, “you really, like, you’re going through something, and maybe you should consider talking to people, like connecting with people again.” And it had brought me so much joy before sharing my art when I was a teen.
So I started just throwing it up on Instagram saying, yeah, I made this. And I didn’t, like—I certainly wasn’t communicating what was inspiring me behind those pieces, because I wasn’t comfortable yet. I needed to put it somewhere, so I did. So once I started doing that more consistently, people started asking to buy it. And then I guess it sort of accidentally turned into a thing, an actual thing where I would paint and people would buy them.
And then I think what happened was there was just this moment of pressure where I started putting pressure on my own creative practice to serve other people. So instead of painting what I wanted to, I was painting what I knew I could sell. I did that until I basically worked myself into a corner of art block that I could not get out of.
I was—usually when I would have art block issues, my husband and I would go walk around an art store and just kind of look at supplies and discuss like, oh, I could buy this and make this and, something to get out of your own head out of the studio. And we were just walking through the one day and I saw this bottle of alcohol ink. I had never seen it before. I’d never even heard of the medium. And I was like, well, I wonder what I could do with this. So I happened to pick up four. I think four, my first collection had four colours in it, and that was it. Took it home, created like 10 pieces in one sitting, and was immediately hooked. Whereas, like, not only do I not have art block, but this is just like flowing out of me. Like, it brought joy back into the studio, and it was instant. It just, it was love at first touch.

Arin: That’s amazing.

Erica: Oh, it felt so good. So it did take me a while to actually commit to sticking with inks. I went back and forth for a long time. I knew I was really worried about leaving behind my clients who had purchased all of these acrylics and even the oils before. I didn’t want them to feel like I’d abandoned them. And I actually went on a women’s circle retreat a few years back, and I talked to the girls there about this idea that I just wanted to pursue inks, and I wanted to go full abstract, and they were like, “I don’t know what you’re waiting for. Like, girl, just do it.”

Arin: Yeah. It can be hard when you’re in a situation that’s familiar. You know, you’ve built up a relationship with certain people, and you feel like they expect you to do certain things. Stepping out of that is—I mean, on one hand, it can be uncertain for yourself; but you do, you end up wondering about, well, what’s this going to do to my relationship with all these other people and this existing community? It’s tricky.

Erica: I was so worried that they would feel either betrayed or just like they would hate my new style and they would just cut off all contact. I’d lose them. And I mean, the opposite happened, plenty of them, plenty of these people that had purchased my earlier work still purchase my inks now. So I don’t know why I was that level of scared, because people are much better than we often give them credit for.

Arin: This is true. This is true. But I mean, art is, it’s a reflection of ourselves, right? And if someone says, “well, I don’t like that,” it can very much feel like that means you don’t like me.

Erica: Exactly.

Arin: Because as a creative, we tend to identify pretty strongly with our projects, right? And we know we shouldn’t.

Erica: Exactly, exactly.

Arin: And we know we shouldn’t. We know we should be able to separate ourselves, but it’s hard. It is. It really is hard, especially when you’re starting something completely new, like you did. I mean, you were stepping outside your comfort zone and you tried a completely new medium.
But I think it’s wonderful that it unlocked so much like that right away.

Erica: Oh, and I mean, the best part, I haven’t had like a serious bout of art blocks since. Like, I mean, I’ve gone through obviously the ups and downs of creating where you try something and it comes out poorly or whatever. I’ve got my drawer full of rejected pieces. But I’ve never had that intense inability to create that goes on for months. I haven’t had it since. So I don’t know what took me so long to commit to it, but I should have dove straight in immediately.

Arin: Well, you needed to work through something else first, right?

Erica: Right.

Arin: So who are some of the other artists around these days or in the past who inspire you?

Erica: So this group that I went on this women’s circle with, I am so beyond fortunate. These girls found me way back still in my acrylic days. And I don’t even know how we ended up connecting, just on Instagram somehow. But this group is Ember and Solis. So it’s a group of female creatives, and they run retreats for female creatives to go back together into nature, just be wild for a week or however long. Their retreats vary in length and in, like, location as well. But we just, we go, and go wild for a week, get back into nature, get back into play and childhood and all of those beautiful things. Those women are everything.

Arin: That’s amazing.

Erica: Lindsey O’Sullivan, she’s a photographer. She’s one of the founders. And then Sam Rueter, she’s a portrait artist, feminine portrait artist. She’s another founder. And then on my first retreat, I was lucky enough to go with Karly Fisco, who’s a videographer and just, oh my goodness, the talent that drips out of this girl. And Megan Moeai, who is also like a feminine portrait artist, but very dark, feminine. They’re just, they’re such incredible humans and they inspire me on the daily.

Arin: That’s amazing. Inspiration and recharging. We kind of touched on this with the whole sort of dormancy idea before, but what do you do to recharge?

Erica: For me, definitely it’s travel. It’s getting back out somewhere. So I did recently just do my big art road trip. Second one I’ve done like that, where we start at one end of a coast and drive to the end and then back up. So this one, we bit off a little bit less. We started at LAX and we drove up to Seattle, and we hit all of the national parks that we could fit into the journey on the way. The one that we did last year was down to Florida and back. That was a little bit longer. But I love just getting back out into the world, out into nature, out into the wild and just having no plans outside of “I’m going to see a big tree today” or like “my plans for the day are to go look at moss and ferns.” Sign me up! I take my little bag with my inks and brushes in my sketchbook and I head out into the park for 12 hours, come back hungry and tired and so full of inspiration.

Arin: That’s amazing. That’s absolutely wonderful.

Erica: It’s great.

Arin: On a more local scale, then, how do you recharge when you can’t do a big trip like that?

Erica: Well, when I can’t do a big trip, I’m dreaming of the next big trip. But I live in an area—
I’m surrounded by the Great Lakes, which is great. So it’s a great region to just there’s not necessarily like the big hikes. You can’t go up too many mountains in this area, but it’s a great area where you can just sit and look at a lake or a river or a waterfall. Right beside me is Hamilton, which is the city—

Arin: Oh, the escarpment!

Erica: Oh, there’s a waterfall every 10 steps if you know where to look. And I love that I can just do that in like a 15-minute drive at most.

Arin: That’s great. That’s great. And what about weather?

Erica: What about the weather? (Laughter)

Arin: The seasonal shifts. We are both lucky enough to live in a region where we go from subarctic to subtropical weather. So how does that fit into your creative drive?

Erica: Well, I always jokingly say there’s no bad weather. You’re just poorly dressed for it. But it’s not really true because if you know me, you know how much I hate the cold. And I firmly believe I don’t own enough layers for some of our like minus 40 days. I do find like in those colder, darker seasons, I’m not outside as often because as bundled as I am, I just don’t like it. I don’t like the cold on my face. I don’t like feeling cold for hours on end. So I do try to get out, especially on like a sunny winter day, but there are some days where I’m tired. I’m going to hibernate like a bear. I’m going to watch TV and I’m not going to do anything else.

Arin: Well, that nourishes too, right? I mean, interacting with or being exposed to other art or other creative projects feeds our own creative process in our mind too. Like we have to take in that creative nourishment in order to feed the creative process.

Erica: Oh, for sure. I am… So I do not write poetry, but I am the world’s biggest consumer of poetry.

Arin: Oh, wow.

Erica: Oh my goodness. So I read a poem every morning because I signed up for Poem a Day on to get a fresh poem every day in my inbox, which I love. And then I’m constantly just taking out poetry magazines on the Libby app and reading them. It’s almost addictive to me. I just love—I’m so mind-blown by poets and their ability to manipulate words and meter and story and come up with something so small but impacting. So I just, it’s kind of gross how often I’m reading poetry.

Arin: No, I know what you mean. I know what you mean. But you know what? A poet would look at your paintings and think something very similar, right? Like, I mean, “well, she’s used like maybe three different shades of ink, and she’s got that touch of brass. And how does she do it?” You know? So yeah, we all have our different expressive media and, you know—I love that creatives can interact with pretty much any other kind of creative project and pull something from it.

Erica: I love—I mean, art creates more art in a way. And not just art, like fine art, but like all creative practices create more. And I find that so life-giving as a concept because you can sit and listen to a really good album. Like, oh—I don’t know if you have listened to Noah Kahn’s Stick Season?

Arin: No, I’ll write it down!

Erica: Oh my goodness. It’s a little bit my current hyperfixation album, but my goodness, you sit and you listen to that and tell me you’re not inspired in some way, shape, or form to go create something.
Arin: We’re so fortunate.

Erica: Oh, so lucky.

Arin: You know, for all its drawbacks with social media and the internet, there has so much good has come of it. We’ve been able to interact with and collaborate with people all across the globe that we wouldn’t have even known had existed.

Erica: That’s so true.

Arin: It’s such a rich, rich interaction. And as you say, like art begets art, creativity begets creativity. And I think that’s maybe one of the reasons why we don’t talk about creative blocks as much as we could, because when you’re not creating, it almost feels like, “well, if I tell another creative about this, I don’t want to somehow infect them.”

Erica: You know, I actually did have someone tell me online that I was bringing negative energy. I was talking about a struggle that I had on a particular piece. It was just one piece in this current collection that was tripping me up. And it was this, the concept of showing the parts of yourself that you’re ready to show. And so it was inspired by a poem written by my friend Ashley, who she had written this poem about the moon, showing parts of herself when she’s ready. And I asked her permission. I used it in the piece, and I could not get it right. I was going too dark, over and over and over again. And I talked about that online. When I had finally nailed this piece, I showed the process of me making it and I explained the struggle. And someone had actually accused me of bringing negativity into their practice by sharing that.

Arin: What?

Erica: Yeah, I was…

Arin: Oh, my goodness.

Erica: It took me back a little bit. And then I kind of explained why I share the way that I share. And he was still pretty upset. So I let it go. Eventually, it was like, okay, we’re just going to have a difference of opinion. But yeah, there was like, I was very surprised. I haven’t had that with another creative. And I had shared it intentionally. I had waited to share that struggle until I had actually overcome the struggle.

Arin: Right. So you could show the resolution.

Erica: Right. And I had thought that this was the right way to go about it, but there are obviously still like hiccups that you encounter when you’re sharing the dark that sometimes people are going to be too receptive to the dark and not receptive enough to the hope and they might blame you for it.

Arin: And you know what? As an artist, as a creative, there was that we were talking about distancing yourself from your product before. And what you create, once it’s been created, you have no control over how somebody receives it.

Erica: That’s true.

Arin: And that’s nerve-wracking.

Erica: And awful.

Arin: And awful, right? Because when you create a piece of art, you pour so much into it. It’s got so much energy and so much emotion all wrapped up into it, and then you present it. And when people take it in a completely different way, you immediately start, “Oh, what did I do wrong?”

Erica: Yeah.

Arin: “How did I fail in this?” And we forget that the audience, the viewer, brings so much to that piece of art as well. And how they react—

Erica: Well, not to be like too much of a plant nerd here, but I find this happens with plants too. And sometimes it just blows my mind when someone will order a specific plant. I will bring that to them. And in my head, I’ll be like, this is a great plant. It’s beautiful. It’s in flower. It’s whatever. And someone will reject it for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s they ordered the wrong thing. Sometimes it’s a different size. Sometimes they looked at the flower colour and they said, oh, you know, I asked for purple, but it’s kind of like a light purple and I want a dark purple and whatever. It’s so easy for me to take that plant back and be like, it’s okay. You’re still a great plant. No problem. But when it’s my art, I’m like, oh my goodness, what happened?

Arin: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And it’s something, I mean—when I took a lot of art history classes when I did my degrees, and something that absolutely fascinated me was the fact that you can hand the same piece of art to 10 different people, and depending where they are on their personal journeys or how they woke up that morning, you know what’s happened to them earlier that day, they can all receive it and interpret it completely differently.

Erica: Right.

Arin: And, you know, as a creator, that can be, that can be scary. But at the same time, it means that your art has a life of its own, you know, and it has the power to speak differently to different people, you know, even one piece. And the other wonderful thing is, if those people come back and look at that same piece a year later, two years later, five years later, they could have a completely different relationship with it.

Erica: That’s very true.

Arin: Yeah. So, the person on the receiving end of the art has a very large role to play in how it’s taken. And maybe that guy just, he was at a place in his art where he was seeing dark and he was struggling with his own darkness in his own work, and just picked up on that part of what you were doing and not the rest.

Erica: Yep. What’s that saying that you can be the nicest, juiciest peach in the world and someone’s always going to hate peaches? You just, you can’t control how people receive it. And as terrifying as it is, you just have to let it be received whichever way that’s going to go.

Arin: Yeah, and that’s tough.

Erica: Oh, it is.

Arin: That’s really, really tough. And in spiritual practice, too. I mean, you can prepare an amazing ritual you know to lead people in. And it can fall flat, because of the energy people bring to the ritual itself. If there had been a different person or if they’d had a different day coming there, you know the experience might have been different, but we have to take it at face value. We have to say, OK, this is the experience I had, and it is valid. It might not be comfortable, but it is valid. And I think that’s applicable to a lot of art, too.

Erica: For sure. So I occasionally will do tarot readings for people, but I am very protective of that now. I only do it for so many people because there are times where the cards are going to flip up and it doesn’t matter what you say. They’ve seen a card that they’re not happy with, and they’re going to receive it in whatever way they’re going to. I mean, you could give them the most beautiful reading. They could have like three of cups and the lovers, and you could still end up with them walking away upset by the way the reading went.

Arin: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. When you’re working with energy like that, what you give, once it’s been presented, it’s out of your hands. And it’s hard. It’s hard because as a creative, we are just, we’re so bound up in our work.

Erica: For sure. Yeah, I mean, it does feel like a piece of yourself. And it’s hard to let that go into the world and say, I have no control over how it’s received.

Arin: Yeah, yeah, it’s rough.

Erica: Yeah.

Arin: My last question for you is, what bit of advice or tip do you have for other creative people? It can be as mundane as you like. It can be as out there as you like. What do you think other artists could stand to hear right now?

Erica: I struggle with the idea of advising other people. But if I were to talk to younger Erica, who I would love to advise on a lot of things, and assume that this is what other artists might need to hear, I would love to tell her and maybe any other artists who happen to need to hear it, that there is a lot of magic in this world, and it’s your honour as an artist to get to see that and amplify it. What you’re doing is you’re seeing it, and you’re putting it on a canvas so that other people can see it. Don’t lose sight of the fact that that’s an incredible gift and an honour.
And if you do lose sight of that honour, you can always get it back. You just have to keep focusing on it.

Arin: That’s—yes, yes!

Erica: It was hard as, you know, as a younger girl and a younger artist, seeing that, but not understanding why you saw it. A lot of artists ‘ brains, creatives in general, actually, most creative people, our brains just don’t work the same way. You know, we notice different things, we see things differently, and that can be really hard when you’re younger.

Arin: And you don’t necessarily have the skill or the know-how to transform it in such a way that other people can see and understand.

Erica: Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Arin: There’s so much to do, and it can be hard to capture it and do it. It’s an ongoing work, I think. And that’s something that’s important too. I mean, further education, exploring new things and learning things. Like you were saying you went back, you were taking courses to learn more about soil and things to fill in gaps in your information. And that’s one of my favourite things to do is learn new things and try to see how they intersect with what I might already know, or how they might shed light on things that I know but hadn’t thought about in that way.

Erica: Or my personal favourite, challenge the things I thought I knew.

Arin: Yes.

Erica: I love that. I mean, for all of its ups and downs of what modern society entails, one of the best things is the access to knowledge that we have. It’s almost unlimited knowledge that we have access to. So for all of the things that we may have lost or sacrificed to get here, that’s a really nice upside that we could learn almost anything you want to.

Arin: It is absolutely amazing. And to have the freedom to learn new things and the right to reshape our opinions and beliefs with that new information and further develop as a human being is just… It is an honour.

Erica: It is. I think it’s the greatest honour of our lifetime is that we’re able to do to be malleable like that and to—the gifts that were given from wherever they came from, but the gifts that were given as creatives and as spiritual humans, to be able to take new information and transform it in some way, and then send it back out is such an incredible honour.

Arin: And it’s fun.

Erica: And it is fun. Most of the time.

Arin: Most of the time, I was going to say sometimes it really isn’t. But yeah, most of the time it is fun.

Arin: Thank you so much, Erica. It has been so wonderful talking with you today. I really, really appreciate the time.

Erica: Oh, I was so excited to join. Thank you so much for having me.


Arin: Thanks so much for choosing to spend time with us today.
You can find links to our guest’s website, social media, and whatever else they’ve chosen to share with us in the show notes of this episode, which you can find at www.arinmurphyhiscock.com/podcast. Sources, Creative and Spiritual Dialogues, is a monthly podcast about people using art to explore their spirituality and how they draw on their spirituality to inform their art.
Join me next time for another discussion with an artist about how their spirituality and creativity intersect. If you’re looking for more ways to interact, you can find me on Instagram and Facebook under Arin Murphy-Hiscock, or join my new Patreon. As always, you can check out my website, arinmurphyhiscock.com, where the show notes for each episode will be posted on the Podcast page.
Thanks for sharing this time with me. I’ll see you next episode. In the meantime, create joyfully.