How often do you hear of an illustrator that takes inspiration from challenging herself to make the worst possible drawing? Erin Lancaster does, because she’s not just any illustrator. Erin’s portfolio includes work for Discovery Channel and Apple. Her illustration style is minimal, but like a comic or editorial cartoonist, she tries to say 1,000 words about the state of the world or get across an authentic message in one neatly packaged line and image. Erin’s style is well-practiced, yet raw and light-hearted. It’s the kind of work that disrupts a mindless scroll. We dove back into her Maryland roots to find out how she came across her methods, what inspires her, and what tools she can’t live without.
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in Maryland. I grew up playing basketball, but drawing was always something I did on the side for fun. It wasn’t until toward the end of high school that I decided to lean into my artistic side and pursue a career in the arts.
After graduating from college, I found a job as a graphic designer through Craigslist at a small marketing company in Northern Virginia. I was there for 2 years, then freelanced a while. After that, I worked at Discovery Channel for about 2 years, and now I have been contracting at Apple as an Art Director for the past 5 years. (Oh, and I still find time to draw for fun.)
Where do you start? What do you usually have on or around you? What is your creative process like?
I am always surrounded by notebooks and pens. I feel naked without one in reach.
I write a lot. I try to write about something I’m interested in first and then draw it. I think that’s how my most meaningful work comes about.
However, sometimes I just really feel like drawing a certain scene or trying a different style, and I’ll go for it. Later on, I’ll try to add meaning to it, even though it’s harder to not make it feel contrived.
I try to have deep messages with a lot of my illustrations, but there’s no shame in creating and sharing something just because it looks cool.
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You have a very unique and defining style. Can you tell us what the process of finding that style and perfecting it has been like for you?
I still feel like my style is all over the place. My style for pen and ink drawing is different than my style for digital illustration. I learned a lot from Tom Froese about exaggerating bodies and simplifying them when possible. Once I learned those principles, I felt like I could draw any boring scene or person and make it fun and interesting looking. I still am working on how to evoke an overall tone/emotion/sensibility to my scenes.
Your illustrations are lighthearted, raw, and evocative. What inspires your work?
I listen to a ton of self-development podcasts and audiobooks. I also love comedy. I try to get across inspirational messaging in a light-hearted, funny and “real” way.
What is one tool at your desk or workspace that you couldn’t live without?
Pilot G-2 0.38 pens are the absolute best.
What do you do to get out of a creative slump?
I tell myself to just try and make the worst drawing ever. It takes the pressure off.
I believe perfectionist thinking is the root cause of creative slumps.
Can you tell us a little bit about your favourite project, and why it’s your fave?
#100daysofinspirationalfood. It was my favourite project I undertook because it was so interesting to see what people took away from it, even though it didn’t really make any sense. At the time, I was overcoming a lot of “food fear” mentality, so I was just obsessed with drawing food that was “off plan.” Then I just combined it with a poignant phrase, and it surprisingly spoke to a lot of people. It was also my longest project.
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What’s next for you?
My Art Director contract at Apple just started up again. I’m excited to have a more structured schedule again. I plan to just continue making work. Drawing has always been something I do for fun/to relax, and I plan to keep it that way.