How Artist and Podcaster Erin Williams Obliterated Her Childhood Doubts

How Artist and Podcaster Erin Williams Obliterated Her Childhood Doubts

When Erin Williams was growing up in Washington, D.C. her mother glanced at her childhood drawings and told her her work was ‘primitive.’ Williams felt so deflated by her criticism that she found it difficult to draw or paint for twenty-five years. In 2018, she attended a book signing by artist Mari Andrew and decided to start working with watercolors. Williams also launched the podcast, In Which I Talk to Artists, to learn about other creative journeys and keep herself inspired and informed.

Not Real Art Artist Of The Day Series

Williams is working on an MFA in Illustration and Visual Culture at Washington University in St. Louis. She has led workshops at the National Partnership with Women and Families, and the Network For Victim Recovery in D.C. Her goal is to devote as much time and energy as possible to becoming an artist after years of self-doubt. Although she was deterred by her childhood critique, Williams credits her family for instilling an awareness of her history and a commitment to civil rights.

Because of my being raised in a home where Black history and civil rights and culture were of the utmost importance, my work gravitates towards showcasing the images of women and minorities who are living and achieving or have achieved great accomplishments in life. I create what stirs me, which is demonstrations of wholeness, fairness, and equality. I take great pride in being an artist, largely because I feel like it’s mine, and that I was never pushed into it at the behest of others.

Williams’s paintings of inspiring figures in African-American culture and politics, such as Shirley Chisholm, Tina Turner, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., have a fluid and natural style. By depicting her subjects with closed or absent eyes, she creates intimate portraits of her childhood role models that look like they were caught off guard. Her approach to portraiture is refreshingly direct, blending glimpses of her childhood sensibilities with adult self-awareness. One could easily see Williams creating a book to encourage young artists to follow their dreams.

Table of Contents

Erin Williams — Artist Statement

The power of opinion through the tongue is enough to alter the course of history. I know this first hand because at the age of five, I was told by my mother via a parentteacher conference that my drawings – my kindergarten illustrations – were ‘primitive.’ Ever the inquisitive kid, I asked my mom what she meant and she told me that when asked to draw a stick figure, my figure turns into a blob with feet.

I took that in stride, but the severity of that statement formed the opinion in my mind that I was unable to draw. And I carried that opinion with me for the next 25 years. I found confidence to attempt a number of crafts to great delight and personal acclaim, but my mind would always drift back to making art – namely painting and drawing – and the annoyance I would feel that I just could not do it. It was this same notion that carried me to a book signing in March of 2018, where featured artist and author Mari Andrew was discussing her creative journey, which had only begun a handful of years prior. As she shared about her decision to try watercolors on a whim, buying a palette from Walgreens and then just making a few backgrounds and figures, I, for the first time, took a serious look at her work and realized how one-dimensional it was. How her simple illustrations, coupled with her words and intentions were able to convey such talent and emotion. I realized – and she said as much – that if she could do it, anyone could. That weekend I purchased my first palette and paper, found a few easy classes to follow via Skillshare, and it was off to the races.

At first, I almost exclusively sketched food, with a fondness for sweets in particular. Cookies, slices of cake and pie, s’mores, tarts – I sketched and added watercolor to it all, just astonished that I even possessed the power to make such ordinary art – and slowly escaping the weight of how heavily that opinion had shaped my self esteem. Over time, I’ve evolved into painting florals, small profile sketches, sculpting and abstracts on canvas, the latter of which has allowed me to move past structure and into individual expression, relying on mood, color, and energy to create the look I want. I’ve been mostly self-taught, and have actually led a few small classes and workshops for people to get together and add color to my pre-drawn illustrations.

When I first began making work, I thought it would be a fun hobby, then thought it would be great to be a commercial artist, and later realized that I had the potential for my work to be observed on an even broader scale, potentially in galleries and museums. Over these past years, I learned that I want all of that, or at least to aim as high as I can in achieving personal and professional success.

Erin Williams – Grant Submission Work

Erin Williams. Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm
Watercolor on paper
Erin Williams. I am a Man
"I Am A Man"
Acrylic on canvas
Erin Williams. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Watercolor on paper
Erin Williams. Signs of Spring
Signs of Spring
Watercolor on paper
Erin Williams. Cicely Tyson
Cicely Tyson
Watercolor on paper

Erin Williams – Artist Bio

Erin Williams is a visual artist based in Washington, D.C. Her work focuses on watercolors and abstract acrylic creations on canvas and paper. She has been featured in Quarantine Folk: An Online Exhibition Presented by Calico, online newsletters The Ann Friedman Weekly and The Sunday Soother, and has led classes and workshops at The Lemon Bowl, National Partnership with Women and Families, and Network For Victim Recovery of D.C. This fall, she will be entering Washington University in St. Louis to earn her MFA in Illustration and Visual Culture from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts.

Erin on the Web And Social Media

Here is where to find out more about Erin Williams on the web and social media:

About the Artist of the Day Series

All artworks have been published with permission of the artist. Our "Artist of the Day" series is a regular feature highlighting artworks from the 100's of grant applications we receive. The "Not Real Art Grant" is an annual award designed to empower the careers of contemporary artists, and this is one way we honor all entries we receive. Find out more about the grant program here.


africanamericanartists, Blackculture, book illustration, civil rights, diversity, history, incusivity, painting, podcast, politics, portraits, watercolor

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