We had the good fortune of connecting with Erika Firm and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Erika, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
Over time my work-life balance has changed tremendously. Early in my design career I worked around the clock, seven days a week. I did everything I could to accommodate clients: answering phone calls and emails at all hours, working all night to meet deadlines, and sacrificing family time for a paycheck. The inevitable happened: my health suffered and I essentially had to shut down my business. It took a few years of putting my health first and changing the type of projects I take on to get to a place I’m happy with. Today I realize that work-life balance is a myth. It’s more of a juggle. Paid work, licensing partnerships, parenting, family, health, fitness, housework, friendships, creative projects … there’s a lot going on all the time … and now throw in trying to juggle it all in the midst of civil unrest and a global pandemic! I try to pay attention to one thing at a time, and give myself a little grace when I drop a ball here and there.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My art is ever changing. I’ve never been known for my patience or for a long attention span. It’s not that I get bored — I don’t think I’ve ever been bored — I just like to try new media, new styles, and new subjects all the time. Sometimes I paint watercolor abstracts, sometimes I sketch on my iPad, sometimes I collect things from the yard to make natural collages. I think the one thing that ties my work together is my color palette. I lean toward greens, yellows, and muted colors. You’d be hard pressed to find purple in any of my artwork. Also, I have a very naive style. I didn’t go to art school and have no formal training, so everything I create is by trial and error and by instinct. My professional art career relies heavily on connections I made when I was working in the stationery industry. I design a lot of holiday cards for my licensing partners. For me, it’s always Christmas. Last year I designed roughly 500 holiday cards and I’m already working on new ones. A lot of what I do is “white labeled,” so my name isn’t on the products I design. I learned over the years to let go of my ego. I used to care a lot about having my “brand” on my work; I owned a stationery company and spent a lot of energy cultivating a look and feel for my product line. Now I’m happy to NOT have that in my life. The anonymity that licensing gives me allows me to try out new styles without fear of being “off-brand,” while still paying my bills with art. It’s a sort of creative freedom I never knew was possible.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I live on Johns Island, South Carolina, just a few miles outside of Charleston. Charleston is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, filled with amazing people with incredible stories to tell. I’ve lived here on and off since 1988 and I’m still learning new things about the city’s history and discovering new “favorite” spots all the time. A trip here starts and ends with food — we have the best food of any city I’ve visited in the USA, hands down. Day one I like to pick up boiled peanuts on Maybank Highway to snack on, stop at Angel Oak to marvel at nature, and grab a quick lunch at Southern General, then drive down Bohicket through a tree tunnel dripping with Spanish moss to Kiawah Island for a walk on Beachwalker Beach; the day would end with dinner at my favorite spot on the island: Wild Olive. Day two would start with a perfect cortado at Muddy Waters, a walk along the Battery, a visit to the Gibbes Art Museum, lunch at Poogan’s Porch, a stroll through the Unitarian Church graveyard, some shopping at the antique shops on lower King Street, and dinner at Rodney Scott BBQ. Other must see spots: McLeod Plantation, which was built on the riches of sea island cotton and on the backs of enslaved people; Boneyard Beach at Botany Bay; Calhoun Mansion and Nathanial-Russell house tours; and Caw Caw swamp trail for some gator spotting. Favorite shops include Worthwhile (clothing and treasures), Artist & Craftsman (art supplies); Billy Reid (clothing); Candlefish (candles and gifts); Preservation Society (locally made products and books about local history); and Shoes on King (shoes). Charleston is so packed with amazing restaurants it’s hard to narrow them down, but my favorites include Leon’s Oyster Shop, Babas on Cannon, G&M Fast and French, Goat Sheep Cow, Felix, The Ordinary, Chez Nous, FIG, and Basic Kitchen. I also love hanging out at Charleston’s fantastic bars, including The Living Room at the Dewberry Hotel, the bar at Husk, Bin 152, and the bar at Little Jack’s Tavern.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to my husband, John Arquette, for believing in me, supporting my creative business ideas, and for stepping in and stepping up always.
All photos by Elizabeth Ervin