Artist/Coast Guard spouse Erica Hunter’s take-your-dreams-by-the-reins-and-enjoy-the-ride attitude is exactly what we all need right now as we go into the summer. If there’s an art genre you’ve been anxious to try, toss aside those hesitations and go for it.
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Erica: I grew up in a coastal town, Port St. Lucie, FL which used to be smaller, but today it is one of the fastest growing cities in South Florida. I realized at a young age that I loved to create things, but I wasn’t sure what my favorite way to express was. I have tried literally everything from ballet, music, graphic design, video game creation, coding, pottery, jewelry; you name it, and I have probably tried it. Painting has always stolen my heart. I don’t have classical training from a fancy school. Developing overtime, I discovered paint in my 20s, and it was one of those things that just lights a fire inside of you and you say to yourself “That’s it!” I realized that my whole life I wanted to become an Artist, but I just didn’t know my medium. I’m glad I followed my childhood dreams.
My journey as a military spouse began almost 11 years ago and has been very spontaneous! We Are a proud US Coast Guard family. My husband and I tied the knot in our home town surrounded by all of the people we love. Thirty days later, I had to say goodbye to everyone I knew and move. Every time we move, it’s cross country. I have literally lived in all four corners of the United States. I began my journey as a spouse in Huntington Beach, CA where we adopted 2 fur baby cats. From there, we moved to Key West, FL, Cape May, NJ, Seattle, WA, and you can now find me in Mobile, AL. Crazy, isn’t it? My art career began in California, took off in Key West, but was put on hold for a few years to become a stay-at-home mom and take care of our new baby girl. While we were in Cape May, we welcomed a beautiful daughter who is now 3 years old. Within the last year, I have been dipping more into graphic art. However, in the wee hours of the night when I get that creative itch, it’s been my paint brush that I have been picking up. As a stay-at-home/working mom, I’ve been appreciating my craft and learning as an Artist more than ever.
MilspoFAN:How did you become a painter?
Erica: I actually fell in love with my creative side for as long as I can remember. Aside from having a super crafty mom, my grandmother played the piano beautifully. I was gifted a tutorial sketchbook when was about 9, and I learned to sketch realistic faces. I eventually stopped for a while, losing interest to just being a kid. I started up again, drawing comics in my notebooks during class in high school. This is where I also started to dip my feet into the graphic art world where I was professionally taught by an amazing coding and graphic art teacher. I loved it so much that I stuck with it ‘til I graduated and became a certified designer out of high school. On my 20th birthday, someone gave me one of those art kits you see at the craft stores. I picked up that paintbrush and those cheap paints and never looked back!
One of my fellow Artist friends saw my work and encouraged me to start putting myself out there. I started out in a small coffee shop I worked at, but eventually I got myself into a local art gallery where one of the most amazing Painter’s I’ve ever met took me under his wing and guided me on improving my skills and learning new techniques. At this point, my husband and I were recently married. Since the beginning, he has literally been my rock as he has supported me through thick and thin and has encouraged me to keep going with it and to never stop. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I am so eternally grateful for his huge heart and his love for me and for what I love to do. Three years into our marriage, he helped become a full-time professional Artist.
MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as a painter- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?
Erica: Military life has impacted my work so much! I love to surround myself with creative people who just love life and are so much fun! I have met and made friends with so many creative military spouses and local Artists of all of the communities the Coast Guard has brought us to. The military is actually filled with Artists, and you would never even know it. I mean everything from Writers, Painters, Sculptors, Graphic Designer, Jewelry Artists, even people who create stage backdrops from scratch! We are an amazing group of people!
Creatively, it got me out of my box and gave me an opportunity to challenge myself. I was a small-town beach girl and I probably would still be living in my home town. I felt like I had the little push I needed to see what else was out there, and man was it worth it. I have been getting graphic design jobs for different Spouse Club Logos and small businesses run by military spouses. I have created custom paintings for people all over, virtually taught Girl Scouts in DC during Covid-19 lockdown how to paint, taught women how to professionally paint and learn a new skill; I have learned from these people; I have laughed and even cried with these people. These outrageously creative people who I love to call friends are dear to my heart and always will be no matter the distance between us! We always find a way to connect, share, and inspire. My life and my art would not be the same without my military family.
MilspoFAN: Describe for us your creative work and the aesthetic of your painting?
Erica: My creative work is whimsical, colorful, and constantly evolving. If you’ve actually met me before and we had a conversation, that would literally be my personality. I’m bubbly and colorful, but I’m also a little fierce, and all of it shows on the canvas. My whole life, I’ve just felt like I had to hide myself. Every time I felt I could flourish, I was stomped on by someone’s opinion or words, and I let it get to me. I let myself become a hermit to almost everyone unless they were my best friends. I know what you’re thinking right now, stereotypical “Sensitive Artist,” very true! But once I picked up that paintbrush, all of that shade goes away, and I’m in my power zone where no one can dim my own sunshine. That’s the best way I can describe it. Every time someone tells me I can’t do it, I use it as my motivation and do it anyways. Something beautiful always comes out of it.
MilspoFAN: How do you cultivate your creativity?
Erica: I cultivate my creativity through my whole world. Sometimes I have to break the rules, or create new ones, but that’s just the Artist in me working its magic. Since becoming a mom, I’ve also had the blessing to see things through my child’s eyes, and it is the most amazing perspective on simple things. I guess I don’t see things like everyone else does. It took me maybe a year or two to learn realistic techniques, but it took almost my entire life to paint a vision through the eyes of a child and it stuck. It’s the child in me that has survived through thick and thin. I find inspiration everywhere, even in my dreams. An idea will literally just “puff” right in my head, and I all of a sudden have an itch to create it. I don’t totally have a plan; it pretty much just evolves while I’m painting and how my current mood is. I usually have a really good playlist going with a huge box of about 100 extra unplanned colors and textures ready to go on the palette at a moment’s notice. Flowing with the music is part of a huge part of where I get my creative vibes. I never know the end result of a piece until it’s done and signed.
MilspoFAN: Have the coastal themes you’ve painted made you more environmentally aware?
Erica: They have! I have always loved the water – being near it, being in it, the sights, sounds, and smell of the salty ocean air brings me home – so painting it and its wildlife has always been true love for me. As I said before, I’m a native to South Florida, but since moving to the Florida Keys, I have been able to see the true beauty of the coastal wildlife and reefs along with the impact humans have on it. It will either make you cry or praise the wonderful people of the islands who help sustain it and keep it beautiful. Given the humble opportunity to live in such a beautiful place and paint these wonderful creatures made me love it so much more! I paint coastal wildlife and fantasy mermaids where I proudly display them at local art shows, locally owned shops, and a Co-Op Gallery I joined.
I was hoping that the tourists who came to visit the beautiful chain of islands would take notice of the brightly colored paintings, through a whimsical, child-like view and bring their heart home a little. I wanted them to smile, let go of the day’s stress, and be able to see the beauty I saw in this very special place that I called home alongside the reefs. I wanted them to take care of our home when they came to visit the true natives that live alongside us. This beauty won’t be here forever unless we all do our part.
MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?
Erica: Honestly? Just let your freak flag fly and make time to be creative! Don’t schedule it or pen it into your cute little fancy notebook. When you get the creative itch, just do it. I’ve learned even if you have a creative block, explore and play around with anything; just CREATE. As Pablo Picasso says, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Try new techniques, new mediums, maybe even a whole new hobby. That’s what gets my creative juices flowing. It’s so important to have fun with it and not get your head stuck into the business mindset of what always sells. You know what I found always sells? Me. My soul burnt forever onto the canvas, making myself vulnerable for the whole world to see. Accepting the judgements and the compliments, not the tourist attractions. Art is an outlet to be raw, to reflect anything and everything into that creation. I always tell my daughter to be bold, be brave, move mountains, inspire others around you, but always be true to yourself without trying too hard to fit in. Let it flow, let go, and you will blossom like the wildflower you are meant to be.