Milk, laundry and PB&J: Erika Lee Sears paints the objects from motherhood
Alongside motherhood, the Portland-based artist looks to her daily life as a key driver for her work. Whether it's the laundry, peanut butter and jam sandwiches or various household items, each is a key protagonist.
- Ayla Angelos
- 26 November 2019
“Like most kids with rational-minded parents, they told me that I needed to get a real job,” says Erika Lee Sears, a Portland-based painter who did in fact go and get herself a ‘real’ job. But as it turns out, the corporate world wasn’t for her. Even though she had a job in finance, “a 401k pension plan with all the benefits,” got married, had a mortgage – basically ticked every box of a traditionally successful adult life – she was “completely unfulfilled”. Meanwhile, Erika would paint at night and on the weekends, adhering to a goal of making 10 paintings to show at a local street fair. “I did it and sold my first painting,” she tells It’s Nice That, “and from then on I was hooked.”
Now painting full-time alongside motherhood, Erika has exhibited her work at numerous local galleries in Portland, Oregon, has collaborated with Portland Community College, Uncommon Goods, Adam’s Peanut Butter, has been published in Juxtapose and Upper Case magazine and has even graced the television screen on shows such as Portlandia and podcasts such as Artist/Mother – one that interviews working artists who are also mothers. Motherhood is a key driver for the art she creates; milk, laundry, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and household items are the key protagonists to Erika’s paintings.
“It all started with me having a terrible day where everything went wrong,” Erika says while on the topic of where she pulls her influences. “I can’t exactly remember what all the things were that specifically went wrong, but it was just a regular off day.” Picture this: her two children Everrett and Nora were bickering, “as siblings do”, the dog threw up, the car ran out of battery… the list of little things went on. It’s enough to give anyone a bad start to their day. “Then, I would find a moment in that bad day when the kids weren’t crying, or something didn’t need to be cleaned, or the laundry didn’t need to be folded, or I finally had the luxury of taking a shower,” she continues. “Usually it was me in the kitchen pouring myself a cup of tea, slicing up a lemon and having a piece of crunchy toast – it was for those couple of minutes in the day that I savoured and I wanted to remember. I started painting those moments.”
Hyperreal and instantly gripping, these mundane objects are traversed into the supernatural. The light and fine details are impeccable – proving that Erika has a knack for turning something from the everyday into a fascinating scene. At present, she is working to create an original piece of art every day, while sharing her process and journey online – something she’s being doing for the past five years. “The reason I started this project was because of the birth of my son and being a mother is one of the toughest jobs around,” she explains. “I knew when I was pregnant with Everett that I needed to go all-in and be consistent in my art making or let it go.”
Of course, Erika’s day is still filled with the usual motherly tasks, but no matter how busy she gets, she will always make some time to paint. This can take form in the morning or after picking up her son from preschool in the afternoon – either way, her passion finds a way to break through her routine.
GalleryErika Lee Sears
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.