We had the good fortune of connecting with Erica Whitley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Erica, what is the most important factor behind your success?
I wouldn’t say there’s one factor….but two. The most important factors behind my own success is my ambition and not caring so much about the outcome. There are literally millions of designers. Some know exactly what they’re doing, others (like myself) are just winging it. AND THAT”S OKAY! As creatives we sometimes struggle with those annoying, every day thoughts of “What kind of designer am I?” – “What am I going for?” – and the new classic “What’s my aesthetic?”. Once you let go of the narrative…..the story unfolds itself.
In 2019, I could not design anything from my own mind for the life of me. I was stuck. Work was exhausting, life was changing, I honestly didn’t have the capacity to design for myself. I wanted to, but didn’t have the confidence. When I met a new coworker (who is now one of my closest friends), I saw how ambitious and bold she was. She was designing things that almost didn’t make sense….but it just worked. And it looked great! The way she spoke about her art was the way I spoke about food…….with passion. As the year rolled by, I was overwhelmed and dissatisfied with my design career. I finally got the push I needed to look for a new job.
2020: The year of Change.
A lot shifted in my life. I landed a new job, I became happier, and there was a pandemic that shook the world. Instead of traveling and eating out…my nights were spent inside. As the first month of quarantine occurred, I found myself lacking. I had nothing to do. No gym, no restaurant, no……anything. All I had was my laptop. Honestly, I didn’t know where to begin. What should I design? What would people like? WOULD people like MY DESIGNS? So, I started off with something simple…..from there, I got more and more creative. That May, I bought an ipad pro and my designs went to the next level. I finally had that ambition. I finally found a passion of speaking through my work and encouraging others through colorful simple designs.
At one point, I had to really look inside myself and ask:
Why do I design?
Do I design to be liked?
Do I do it for recognition?
The hardest part was answering NO because I do want my designs to be liked. I do want to be recognized for my work……but not at the cost of losing my ambition to design. My success has purely been because I believed in my self, my work, and my designs. I don’t care if people hate it, I LOVE IT. I don’t care if it’s not as interesting as my talented friends. We’re different designers, different people. Once you realize that…..the world is yours. I’ve made mistakes….gone back and forth with different projects. I probably have 5 or 6 uncompleted projects in my Q, but that’s a part of the journey. There is no rubric for starting your own side hustle. Whether you’re freelancing, designing stickers, or creating graphics for apparel, do it your way. If people like it, they like it….if not, who cares! On to the next design!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Most of the artwork I’ve been producing has been faith based. I’m a believer and I love working on my relationship with God. So, a lot of times I get inspiration from what I’m reading, hearing, or seeing. My focus always changes though. If I’m on a health kick, I start thinking of designing something representing health. If I’m reading a scripture, I start thinking of different typography to display it. Honestly, my mind is a smorgasbord of ideas and I just go with the flow. I try not to define myself by what I design. It’s kind of all over the place and I love it. Currently, I am working on putting some of my sticker designs on t-shirts so that’s exciting.
Professionally, I got to where I am today by just working hard. At one point, I took a pay cut and worked part time because that’s what was available. I needed a job and I took it even though I didn’t want to. But after 6 months, I got hired full time. Sometimes your expectations don’t match reality, and though it’s a hard pill to swallow….you have to make things work in order for the greater good. My professional career was not easy. The first job I had out of college was working at a gun parts manufacturing shop. I would sand blast barrels, run metals through a HAAS machine, and pack orders from amazon. I did it all. This didn’t deter me from becoming a graphic designer, it was just a detour. Now, I’m at one of the greatest companies in the world helping people grow.
People lose sight of the journey you have to go through in order to be successful. Even now, I don’t consider myself “successful”. To whom’s success is mine measured to? This is just a part of my story. I will continue to grow, continue to change, but in the end….I just want to be happy and love what I do. My career, my business, and my life are going to be every changing which is exciting to me. I measure my success on where my growth is. Am I where I was last year? Spiritually, mentally, career-wise, design-wise? Have I grown as a designer, coworker, friend, daughter? That is my brand. That is my story. Growth of Self. Having fun. Loving yourself as an individual. My brand is a representation of me. I don’t have an audience. I don’t have subscribers. I design what fills my soul. If you like it, great, if not, that’s great too! I know I won’t be able to please everyone….but the most important person I need to please is myself. God has my back and I trust Him. So I trust myself.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If we’re talking Post-COVID——
I’m from Oxnard, CA so usually my friends land in LA. Depending on what time they arrive at the airport, we GOTTA hit Roscoes Chicken & Waffles. It’s a staple in LA. To-go or dining in…doesn’t matter. It’s a must. When we get to my hometown, I love to hit up the local breweries. Honestly our breweries have the best food. Institution Ale and Topa Topa Brewery in Camarillo , and Fluid State in Ventura are my favs. Pizza is kind of a popular thing around here so at some point we’d get Toppers Pizza. Their ranch is unmatched. I’ve been doing a lot of activities up in Santa Barbara and I would definitely take my friends parasailing. It’s a great experience floating on top of the ocean. That view is insane! SB also has an area called the Funk Zone, so wine tasting would be in our itinerary for sure. Another great place to check out would be our farmers market in Channel Islands. You never know what to expect but it’s always something great so bring a lot of cash. We have so many talented people in Ventura County. Oh! Did I forget we have an array of beaches?! Yes. During the summer we have Soli Sunday’s! A huge group of friends get together at the beach and hangout almost ritually every Sunday in the summer. There’s old friends, new friends, food, drinks, music, kids, corn hole, football, the whole shindig. It’s truly amazing to have moments in time where you’re just simply enjoying everyone’s company and socializing without excessive use of electronics. To end our adventurous weekend, we’d hike a trail in Malibu, get some food from Neptunes Net, and then end the day by watching the sunset on the beach. Because I mean, come on…..it’s Malibu. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First of all, I want to shout out God for blessing me with the talent and skills that have pushed me to become the designer and individual I am today. Secondly, I’d like to shout out my parents for always encouraging me to be confident in my designs and pursue my career. I have a lot of support around me so it’s nice to hear feedback before I release a design. I also want to give MAJOR KUDOS to Alexis aka Alexis Camille Artwork. She truly came into my life and inspired me to do more and not just settle for the day in and day out work. I had the corporate life down but I was lacking confidence in my own skills. She really helped me rediscover a passion I had lost. She is so talented and I am thankful to have her as a creative mentor. That’s what this industry is all about. Artists helping artists in different ways.