Featured Member of the Community: Erika Simmons

Inspiration comes in many forms, and we see inspirational art everywhere we go in our daily lives. For a graphic designer, the primary medium for this inspiration is of course on the internet, and it is on the blogs we visit daily that popular digital art is often featured for us to be inspired from (such as Media Militia’s ‘Get Inspired’ posts).

Several graphic design blogs also feature interview posts, where the most successful artists of our time are questioned along with their featured works. However, it is often forgotten that we can be inspired by the works of other members of the graphic design community similar to ourselves; it is not as often that we see the stories behind aspiring artists, rather than established graphic designers. It is for this reason that I will be creating a series of interview posts that will question designers of all abilities in the community; allowing you to share your tips, inspirations, your own artwork and your own journeys.

Today’s post features artist Erika Simmons, a painter and sculptor from Georgia that explores creative and innovative techniques with recycled and donated materials. Although Erika is an already established artist, and has been recognized in various magazines and online sites, I feel that her unique approach to art can be really beneficial and inspiring to the graphic design community. Her works often feature famous portraits that are in fact made out of the subject’s work – almost as a homage to their legacy. Read on to find out about her passion for art, the process she goes through with her works and much more.

Erika, let’s start from the beginning, how did your relationship with art begin and where is it now?

I work as a professional artist full-time, but when I started making art a few years ago it was just a hobby. I wanted to explore different approaches and just see what happened. It was something to do when I wasn’t waiting tables.

You use a variety of recycled and donated materials/objects across your works in both innovative and creative ways – how did this idea first come about?

When I started I didn’t have ANY spare money to spend on fancy art supplies. I had recently graduated from university, so all my money was going to my student loans, so that is where the recycled element comes from – necessity. Now, I go with it because its a lot more challenging to reuse and reinvent.

Fernando Valenzuela made entirely out of the innards of a single baseball.

This set of articles is all about finding inspiration from other members of the artistic community such as yourself, but which artists would you say have influenced you personally across your career?

The artists who most inspired me were Ken Knowlton and Vik Muniz, who make incredible portraits out of crazy materials. When I saw that art like theirs was possible, I wanted to make my own version. I tried for a long time using whatever strange materials I could find – playing cards, magazines, credit cards – before I stared using the cassette tapes.

Artist Inspiration:

Ken Knowlton:

Vik Muniz:

You have a vast portfolio of artwork, but do have one that stands out as a favorite?

Beethoven is by far my favorite.

Your work on Beethoven is so intricate and detailed and must have taken hours, can you take us through the process and how you came up with the initial idea of the piece?

Last year I was invited to show some pieces at the Arizona Museum for Youth. They were having a music-inspired art show and asked me to lend some cassette tape work.  Then a few months before the show the curator said that they were having trouble getting art inspired by classical music- he asked me to make a portrait of a composer out of cassette tape. I thought sheet music would be more fitting!  He agreed and I began to plan the work… I started by getting some of Beethoven’s old, donated sheet music. Next I made a simple outline, like a contour diagram to give me a general design to follow (but its a lot like jazz where you don’t know exactly how its going to come together.)  I spent about 3 – 4 weeks carefully cutting out the music notes and gently shaping them into his portrait. I tried to keep as much of the “data” intact so people who studied Beethoven can still read the music throughout the whole portrait. Its a beautiful idea – the composer in his own music.

Progression of ‘Beethoven’:

Is this the same process you go through with every work or does it tend to differ?

Every piece is different and I use all kinds of techniques; sometimes I use a photo, sometimes I just work until I see something good and let it grow organically.

Featured Work – ‘Monet Portrait’:

Erika’s work on her portrait of Monet follows a similar concept to that of her ‘Beethoven’ project, where the piece is made up of the artist’s work. Using Monet’s ‘Woman with an Umbrella’, Erika has cut it up and rearranged the pieces to present Monet in his own portrait – a beautiful homage to the artist’s legacy. It is Erika’s respect towards the subject of this piece, as well as her use of modern vector techniques, that makes this such a unique blend between modern and iconic art.

One of the hardest things for an artist is to promote their work, how do go about showcasing your pieces? You’re options must be limited considering you are working with three-dimensional pieces.

I do sell and showcase my work, but I don’t advertise it a lot. I don’t usually have the patience to make 10 or 15 pieces according to one theme, so I make one piece at a time and sell directly to people who inquire.  I’ve got a simple website: for anyone who would like more information.  Right now I’ve got art on display in several US cities, Central Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Tokyo, and Australia.

A lot of your current works experiment with video and cassette tapes, are their any other materials you are hoping to explore in your future works?

I am trying to carve out some time in my time to experiment with old laces and nets. I would love to do this work inspired by world mythologies.

A lot of your works feature famous people, you’ve already answered who your artistic inspirations are, but who inspires you outside of art?

I get inspiration from everything, all kinds of books, but my favorite themes come from trying to convey a metaphor or idea visually. My favorite author for inspiration is Douglas Hofstadter.

It can be hard for a full-time artist to remain constantly focused and creative. What do you do in your daily routine to keep those creative juices flowing?

Haha… I have the opposite problem. I sometimes wish I could turn it off!  But when things get monotonous I go for a walk and try not to think of anything. That’s when great things happen.

For such intricately detailed art pieces, it must take you a long time to complete a project, but you obviously have the passion to create the work you do – what do you feel is important about using recycled materials, is there a message you hope to present?

I think its important to use what you have in all aspects of life, not just art. As for time consumption, some pieces take a few days, but the best ones take about 3 weeks!

Finally, what tips can you give to members of the art community to help them with their own creativity and own works?

Try everything. Try things you think are impossible; you will probably surprise yourself. The purpose of art is to thrill you.

Thanks a lot to Erika for sharing her thoughts with us. You can view more of her work either on her Flickr here ( or her website at

You can also follow me on Twitter for updates on my future posts and more!

About the author

Tom Bloomfield

My name is Tom Bloomfield. I'm currently studying a degree in English literature and language at Southampton university, England. Graphic design has been a hobby of mine for a few years and I'm very happy to be combining my two interests by writing you guys some posts! My portfolio can be seen over at


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