Erica Gibson: Creative Repurposing for Art

Erica Gibson: Creative Repurposing for Art

Erica is a mixed-media artist who uses both reclaimed and natural materials, including our Earth & Mineral Pigments, for her fascinating 3-dimensional work. She's based in Portland, OR. 

Thank you, Erica, for taking the time to share your artistic story with us!

When did you first become interested in making art?

I’ve been drawing and sculpting in some form since childhood. Starting in preschool, I would draw on the concrete patio in our backyard & make crafts out of sticks, rocks, and leaves. The found object sculptures I make now, started when I volunteered at SCRAP, a local creative reuse & education center. It is like a thrift store for art supplies. Many weird and wonderful things came through that place and the people who came through the store shop were endlessly creative. It was an inspiring place to imagine ways to turn donated materials into art. 

Where did you grow up and did that environment affect your early introduction to art?

I grew up in Kent, WA just south of Seattle, and moved to Portland, OR in my early 20’s. I have always lived in the Pacific Northwest near forests and rivers. The maternal side of my family is part of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes of Western Montana. I would spend time there each summer with my extended family. It’s a beautiful area surrounded by mountains, trees, lakes and rivers. I loved being able to see so many stars at night under the big sky.

All of this contributes to feeling connected to nature, especially trees. I largely attribute my fondness for the outdoors to my Indigenous heritage which is intimately attuned to the seasons and with respect for animals, plants, and other elements in the natural environment. The reverence I have for nature inspires me to create with materials that have minimal impact on the earth such as the natural pigments and second-hand items I use in my art today.

Do each of your pieces have a specific story behind them? Or does the artwork unfold based on how each vintage piece affects you?

Both, but mostly they unfold as I make them. I may have a sketch that sparks an idea or find a unique second-hand item that speaks to me. I find I’m most pleased with the pieces that aren’t forced and simply reveal themselves along the way. All the thoughts and influences during the creation of a piece swirl their way into my pieces, often without me knowing until the end. I usually don’t title them until I’m finished. I set a finished piece on a shelf in my bedroom so I see it when I first wake up, when my mind is at its purest and clearest, free from any outside influences encountered throughout the day. The most authentic titles are created this way. 

You mention that you’re inspired by myths, magic, and philosophy. Do you have a favorite myth or time period that has inspired your art?

I’m drawn to stories that teach something meaningful in a creative way, like in metaphor. They help illustrate deeper thoughts that let a personal story be told in a way that feels less vulnerable and more universal. My sculptures usually have an accompanying small story or phrase that shares a deeper thought.

For example, in my sculpture titled “Seeking the Counsel of Clouds,” the accompanying story reads, “Looking up to the sky for answers. A few slow-moving clouds pass by and block the intense heat of the sun for a moment so you can settle back into the comfort of a calm mind.” The sky represents a mind full of thoughts and emotions. The sun represents intense emotions that don’t seem to go away. They feel hot, intense, and maybe even painful. The clouds symbolize moments of calm when a comforting thought comes to mind momentarily taking your focus off the hot and intense emotions.

I’m also influenced by the fiction writer, Erin Morgenstern. Her book The Starless Sea has inspired many of my sculptures. Her magical realism whisks me away to dreamy places with its illustrative and poetic writing. My favorite chapter tells the story of a Star Merchant who sells stars in many forms: fallen, lost, and stardust to use for magic. One night, the merchant meets a traveler who asks what the merchant sells and is unimpressed with the answer, saying that he does not care for stars. The merchant laughs: “Everyone wishes to grasp that which exists out of reach. To hold the extraordinary in their hands and keep the remarkable in their pockets”. I like to think that creating art is like creating magic…imagining something into being.

Did you have any interesting experiences or realizations as you were creating your outdoor tree paintings?

Ephemeral art is quite different from art in a gallery. The tree paintings were made with powdered pigment, both dry & wet with no sealant. They will slowly fade and wash away with the weather. It was a good mental practice to spend so much time & effort on something that can’t be purchased & taken home. It can only be viewed in person or in photos. I was able to experience the joy and freedom of making something that can only be viewed for a moment in time. 

Why is it important to you to use natural art supplies? When did you first try Natural Earth Paint products and which products do you use?

One of my core values is being kind to the earth. There is enough ‘stuff’ in the world already and I don’t think we need to add more to it. Creative repurposing, using natural materials, and purchasing locally all contribute to keeping a small footprint on the planet.

I first used natural earth pigments about 5 years ago. I mostly use Burnt Umber powdered pigment for shading my sculpted clay faces and a variety of colors were used for the outdoor tree paintings. 

Is there one piece of art that you’ve created that was a profound experience for you?

The outdoor tree paintings for the Terra Incognita land art exhibition were an incredibly profound experience. They were unplanned and weren’t part of my original proposal, which was to sculpt mud faces onto trees and add pigment to color the mud. The mud dried too quickly and kept cracking so I decided to change course and use the pigment directly on the trees, ditching the mud.

I wanted to create an experience of discovering awe. I wanted people to walk around the property, and just happen upon a face where they didn’t expect it. The first one I painted was on three different trees. A nose on one, and an eye on two others. The face reveals itself when you stand in a particular spot. I also painted a large blissful face on a majestic cedar tree. People have shared that they had a profound experience with the trees and felt the trees had come alive or that they felt the spirit of the trees had been revealed. I couldn’t ask for better reactions.

The entire experience pushed the limits of my imagination and painting outdoors among the trees was a delightful and welcome experience in contrast to being inside the studio. I look forward to doing something similar in the future and seeing how it affects my studio work.

Where can our audience see more of your work?

Instagram: @ericagibsonart 

See Erica's cedar tree painting in collaboration with fellow artists Deborah & Richard Bloom by clicking on the video below! 

 "Cedar Eye painted by Erica Gibson in collaboration with Deborah & Richard Bloom of Obsidian Windchimes ( who created the hanging devil's claw orb."