When it comes to art and design, Erin Miller Williams, creator, designer, and producer of visual arts and experiences, does it all. From hand-lettering and murals, to art direction and production design, Erin's unique sense of form, color, and pattern brings a rich exuberance to everything she touches. Though Erin's work ranges from everything from neon, in-your-face street murals to moody, deeply textured weddings, there's a common thread of movement, a profound knack for color, and an undeniable sense of fun and fancy in all of it.
We recently teamed up with Erin on a fun collaboration between words and patterns. Check out the results below, and read on for her thoughts on finding her unique voice as an artist, creating hygge, Neil Armstrong, and more.
Hygge & West: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to do all that you do, from hand lettering to event design.
Erin Miller Williams: I love doing. I love creating. I love getting messy. I would choose working on a ladder over working in front of a laptop any day. The dirtier my hands are after a project, the better. I also love taking an idea and seeing it to fruition. So I've stayed busy my whole life juggling art, design, acting, and producing. All of these things somehow combusted into one over a period of time and landed me in the career I am today. I would say that the short answer to this question is that I got into all that I do by saying yes to opportunities. When I first moved to L.A. from Memphis, I was pursuing a career in entertainment, but I still had a craving for art and design. Not knowing anyone out here and also attempting to figure out what I wanted to do with my life as a 23 year old started with saying yes to a LOT of different kinds of creative jobs. With each yes, I learned more skills, and with more skills came bigger projects and new kinds of opportunities to explore production and design. I started working on jobs ranging from set design to festival production, to murals and lettering menu boards. I actually got into hand lettering by chance through my church. At the time, I was itching for a way out of my bartending job and joined the design team at my church. During an installation, we were rushing to meet a deadline and the last piece of the project was a giant hand lettered quote on the floor of the entry. Everyone was so tired by the end of the night, the paintbrush was put in my hand and I lettered the piece. It took me about an hour total to complete it and people kept walking by in amazement of what I had drawn. I think I was in even more amazement that they were in amazement. I guess at the time I didn’t realize this was a skill some people didn’t have. It was in that moment that I realized this could be something special. This could be a cool way to reach people and send a beautiful message. From that project, I was asked to do another, then another... teaching myself how to letter along the way. Lettering got me into weddings, which got me into event design, which threw me deeper into a more serious pursuit of installations, art direction, and creative production.
H&W: We're so excited about the hand-lettered quotes you created for some of our favorite H&W papers. Tell us about that.
EMW: Each of these wallpapers is so unique and to me, gives off a very specific tone when you see it in repetition. As with words, you read or hear something and you immediately digest that phrase into your own personal interpretation. There is definitely a specific vibe for each of these patterns, which made it fun to see how different each lettering piece turned out.
Moons: To me, Moons was dreamy and playful, so I got a little crazy and silly with a brush pen. There is a youthful yet romantic feel to this pattern, so I tried to give the font that same look. And the red shoes amp up that wallpaper and give it a little bit of "wild nights" feel… like when you go on date with someone you like and run home, jump on your bed, and kick off your heels dreaming about when you will see that person next. It’s the best feeling. And this is the best wallpaper.
Cosmic Desert: Cosmic Desert was one of my favorites to create. This pattern is so bold and rich, but also has a weird, Joshua Tree vibe to it. It feels modern and cool with the blue and gold, but also has a little bit of an unexpected wildness to it, which is what desert life is kind of like. I wanted these letters to be simple and clean, but with the right amount of interesting and weird… strong and sharp, but free to tilt a little in the wrong direction too. I love letters that aren't perfect. I love art that isn't exact. It gives you something more to think about and experience. Plus nobody's perfect. So my letters shouldn't be either.
Nethercote: The Secret Garden was one of my favorite movies growing up, so when I saw this quote for Nethercote, I knew this piece would be whimsical and wild with a touch of romance and elegance... just like a secret garden. I think the pattern on this wallpaper is exactly that as well. I think Nethercote can be used in so many different settings and live amongst many aesthetics. It can be for a formal dining room or a casual back patio. You could find it in a feminine powder room or a cozy reading nook. It was important to make a lettered piece that also could be found in any of those places - and with the right framing, match that aesthetic. I think the letters look beautiful and free, like a garden growing in all directions, but everything in its intentional place.
Dog Park: Dog Park is just straight up awesome. I love that this wallpaper pattern breaks the rules just by being exactly what it is - dogs on a wall. HOW COOL IS THAT?! The pattern works though because it has simplicity to it. To me, the dog illustrations have a vintage feel, which inspired me to go with a "sign painter" look to my letters. It's an amped up, looser version of the actual look often seen on hand-painted signs. Instead of a brush, I used a fat sharpie to create this guy because of the small surface area. It compliments the fun, casual feel of Dog Park and still makes a bold statement.
Cities Toile: Cities Toile was the very first piece I lettered. I was so excited about this project with Hygge & West, when I first saw this pattern, I immediately knew I wanted a sophisticated, clean, original font next to this rich, dark, elegant pattern. I wanted to give this piece a strong, masculine feel with a little bit of a unique edge. I use this font in lots of my installations. It's a go-to of mine because it works well with so many aesthetics. The setting of this photo was inspired by travel and beautiful stories told in classic books. When I first saw Cities Toile, it reminded me of an old romance story of crossing seas to find love or a new life. My hope was to depict that dreamy, adventurous feeling you get when you read a wonderful book that takes you to a new place and time.
Knots: Knots is one of my favorite wallpapers because it is clean, yet interesting, and has a modern take on a whimsical illustration. The pattern is soft, but still makes a beautiful statement in repetition. So for Knots, I decided to create a lettering piece that would have that same unique quality. One of my favorite things to do is repurpose something old and make it feel new again. I collect old paintings from flea markets and Goodwill and letter on them as a fun side project. It gives these pieces of art an interesting new interpretation. So pairing Knots and an old vintage oil painting with a modern, clean font together achieves a wonderful eclectic aesthetic. This is wallpaper and a lettering piece that would be found in someone’s house who is adventurous and not afraid to take a risk in design. It adds a little bit of quirkiness mixed with a formal elegance that would add a unique feeling to any room.
Daydream: Daydream is just plain wonderful. It is airy and light and has such an interesting visual with the line designs in the clouds. I love this quote because it is simple and honest, just like this pattern. I wanted to make this setting simple and feminine. The letters are my interpretation of the free-flowing lines of the clouds and by adding the bold gold frame, the piece has a very elegant tone to it. This would be great in any room from a nursery to an office or powder room.
H&W: Like pattern design, hand lettering seems to be as much about the presentation of a concept as it is about the concept itself - no two artists' depictions of the same quote, motif, etc. will ever look the same. How do you put your unique spin on every one of your projects?
EMW: Putting your “unique spin” on a project is my favorite part about design! Seeing how people depict things differently... I love it so much. It's what makes design interesting and makes it all worth it! One of my favorite experiences was standing next to some of my pieces at an art show and listening to what people would say about each piece. It was incredible how differently everyone experienced the same thing. It really puts into perspective how unique we each are. I learned the hard way how important it is to trust your own intuition and experiences to guide a project. Use your own life, thoughts, feelings, and inspirations to guide what happens in your design. For a long time, I would look to other artists and designers for "help," not inspiration. And those are two very different things. For a long time, I wasn't trusting that my design interpretations were good... or enough... or that people wanted to see MY work. So I leaned on Pinterest and Instagram to follow the lead of other, more successful designers. And while social media is a wonderful platform to learn and be inspired, I was using it out of fear. So my projects weren't resonating with me. They felt false. So one project, I shut it all off. I turned off my phone, kept my laptop closed, and went back to the basics... a paintbrush and pen. I turned on music and trusted that the ideas and inspiration would come. And sure enough, without the pressure of trying to recreate something that I knew already worked, I created something brand new from my own brain, experiences, and feelings. And it turned out beautifully. And I had more fun through trusting that freedom to just be me and create something I loved than I ever had before. So to answer your question, my unique spin is me. Bringing what I like and think is beautiful into a project. Shutting out the negative thoughts I create in my own head. Allowing myself the freedom to take risks and try new things that represent what I think is a true representation of what a client wants will make my design different from anyone else's every single time.
H&W: How does pattern factor into or influence your work, whether it's in event design or hand-lettering projects? What role does it play outside of your professional life?
EMW: Pattern makes everything better! I love color and craziness and mix-and-matching the two. It doesn't always have to look insanely busy or over-the-top, but it should always be interesting and thought provoking. One of the things I dislike most is looking like anyone else. From haircuts to shoe styles, I will go out of my way to try to make my own statement. Just like art and design, I LOVE when people make a bold statement or take a risk. If someone tells you, "Only you could pull that off," I would say "THANK YOU" proudly. Because that means I'm doing me and I'm living a fearless life. And that's the only kind of life I want to live. I think patterns and color make everything a little more fun and my style will always reflect my mood or the experiences I'm facing at that time. For example, right now I'm wearing floral pants with a striped top. Because I can. And because I know no one else in the room will likely be wearing the same thing. So I try to remind myself to "do you" and have the most fun time being that person, because life is short. Go wild and hang the Dog Park wallpaper in your bedroom.
H&W: 'Hygge' is a Danish word that loosely translates to 'cozy.' Where and how do you find hygge in your life?
EMW: Honestly, I wish my name was Erin Hygge Williams because I want to be known for making others feel cozy and wonderful. When they enter my home, when we talk over coffee, when they see me on the street. I want people to feel safe and comfy and at home when spending time with me... because that's how I want my life to feel for myself. I think time well spent together along with encouraging and inspiring conversations are the best ways to feel cozy. I'm from the South and I'm really close to my family, who is everything to me. I also have a big group of friends I keep up with, going all the way back to 3rd grade, and new friends from my adult life who mean the world to me. So being comfortable and creating spaces and relationships that feel like home are so important to me. I feel full, and fat, and happy in that setting. I feel inspired in a safe and vulnerable space, and that can only happen when you feel safe and at home. My hope is that I can create spaces and build a life that makes others feel like they are at home too, and in turn they also start to create beautiful things. It’s sort of a big circle of cozy inspiration… building a cozy life for myself inspires others to build a cozy life for themselves, which in turns inspires me to keep creating wonderfully cozy things. I also always feel warm and fuzzy inside when I work on projects with my best friends. Their creativity and honesty makes me come alive – few other things can make me feel that happy. Their talents and creativity are constantly shaping me and helping me grow as a designer and as a person, building the kind of life I want. I think it’s so important to surround yourself with people who believe in you, challenge you to be better, and inspire you. These people and the experiences we share together make me cozy. And campfires. Love me a good campfire. The smell alone sends me into a tailspin of happiness.
H&W: If you could create your dream dinner party invite list, who would be on it - real or fictional, dead or alive?
EMW: This question is like when someone asks you what your favorite song is - it's the HARDEST question! For me, this answer is always changing. But one answer that is always constant is Jesus. Give me even just 30 seconds to shoot back an espresso shot with that man and my life would be complete. Other than that, I think I would sit down with my great grandparents, and even their parents. Not a day goes by that I'm not fascinated by the thought of who the ones were before us that shaped the lives we have now. So it would be interesting to hear their stories and learn about who they are. Are there any traits in me that I carry because of them? Who was their first kiss? How did they meet? I would just crumble hearing those stories. I'm not really obsessed with any one celebrity but I think it would be cool to hear from Neil Armstrong what walking on the moon was like.
filed under: Pattern Players