I’m excited for this second installment of the new blog series called Spotlight Saturday. Every month I will feature someone and their creativity – whether it is a crafty mama selling her creations on etsy, or a Catholic artist bringing beauty into the world or a blogger spreading the light of Christ through her (or his) words. I think it will be a great way to support the people who are making the word a little brighter with their God given talents.
* * * * *
Today our feature spotlight is for Erica at Be A Heart.
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Erica and I am the owner and designer at Be A Heart. I grew up in Phoenix, went to DePaul University in Chicago and studied Sociology. After graduation I was a volunteer with Heart’s Home, USA in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil for a year and a half and then moved to New York to begin my adult American life, and lastly moved to Los Angeles last summer to be closer to my family.
2. When did you first know you wanted to be an artist? Where you always artistic?
I love this question. You know, I loved doing crafts as a kid. I used to hand make all my holiday cards and birthday cards. My grandma used to tell me at every holiday that one day I would be a card maker. I would brush that comment off because my dream since age three was to be a teacher. It’s a bit of a long story of how I switched degrees from elementary education to sociology so I won’t bore you with that. However, I always saw myself more as an “intellectual,” not an artist even though I have family members who are in artistic fields.
After graduating, I backpacked through Europe by myself for six weeks. I spent hours upon hours in museums and was so moved by all of the art across cultures and centuries. I have always been battling depression and other issues of low self esteem and the beauty that I encountered in those six weeks healed me in a way that I had never experienced before.
A few months later in my orientation program for Heart’s Home someone quoted Dostoevsky, “Beauty will save the world,” in a session on beauty. It really struck me. When I got to Brazil, they put me in charge of the schoolhouse. I still had to learn Portuguese so I turned to art. I developed an arts based curriculum (I had kids from age 2 to 14). These were all children who had experienced traumas in their young lives and through learning about different artists and cultures and then practicing on their own, I saw them grow and heal.
This was really the beginning of my own growth as an artist. They opened something in me. They taught me how to be inhibited in my work.
3. What was the inspiration for the name “Be a Heart?”
Again at my Heart’s Home orientation in some session, someone said, your job as a missionary is to “be a heart, nothing but a heart.” I remember writing it down in my notebook. I could do that, I thought. Really the charism of Heart’s Home is compassion and the organization does not go into these slums to build hospitals or schools or churches. They go to be little hearts, they go to build friendships with the lonely. I named my blog Be A Heart, which I would update with my measly one hour of internet a week. When I came back to the states, the name rolled over into my new blog, where I wrote about what it was like to still be a heart in New York City.
I’m really self conscious about the name—like what kind of business name is that?!! But by the time it came to create an actual business out of my design work, I had already built this brand of Be A Heart and I had to just roll with it. It’s a good daily reminder for me to actually be a heart in this world that can so often be heartless.
4. It’s obvious that you have a love of God and strong faith. Does your faith affect your artistry or how you view beauty in the world?
I think part of this question is answered above, but I will expand a bit further. So how after all of these experiences did I become a calligrapher, designer, business owner? I was working at a school in Brooklyn. I was really unhappy, I answered in myself once and for all that, despite my childhood dream, I was no longer feeling drawn to be a teacher. I was working in administration—working on events and logistical matters. I needed something to do in the evenings after work that was using my creative juices, but also that didn’t make a mess. I recalled my mom teaching me calligraphy as a child so I ordered some things on Amazon—all the wrong tools, mind you. I was terrible. I was looking for a new job, had no idea what I was doing with myself, was pretty unhappy.
I did a novena right before Christmas that my grandmother had framed for me for my confirmation that her mother (my great grandmother) had handwritten. I prayed for a new job. At the end of the novena, in some weird inspiration, I told a friend that I was going to be a calligrapher for a living. A job was not presented to me right away, I totally forgot about it even, had started making plans to move to LA.
A few months later, someone saw my terrible attempts at calligraphy and asked me to make her a print. Then someone asked me to do the calligraphy for a wedding. Which led to a wedding invitation. By July, I had registered Be A Heart as an LLC. It’s a bit of a blur since then. There have been a lot of unseen curves in the road. A lot of “what in the world am I doing??” moments.
I asked my spiritual director in a panic if I was crazy. Was this what God wanted me to do?! And he said, “Oh, Erica. God doesn’t have some really hard puzzle for you to figure out. He wants you to live in love. Can you love in your design work? Then, God is very happy for you to be a designer.”
It freed me totally. Father Michael often reminds me that God is my boss so when I am ready for more work, I ask him. None of this is my doing and I have very aware of it every day. Just yesterday, I saw my to-do list and my August income. I realized I could take on some more work. I got on my knees next to my desk and asked for it. Within an hour (literally, this is not an exaggeration) I had three projects in my inbox. It blows my mind. But I should also mention that this took a few months of practice to get it down—a few panic attacks happened in the mean time. Now I have months of evidence that everything will be cared for so the anxiety has lessened greatly.
When I had a salary and regular pay check, I think I thanked God when I got the job. Then my check was just deposited every two weeks and I took it for granted. Now, I could get a $5 check and I thank Him for it.
Then there are moments when I am designing a wedding invitation for a couple. It can take months for the design process and I get to pray for this marriage between these two people. I get to lift them up as they are going through marriage prep. Wedding planning can be so stressful so if I can make one part really lovely and thoughtful, then I am being a heart.
5. I love how you said in your blog that you have been dealing with your anxiety by cultivating gratitude. Have you seen a difference?
Totally and completely. Sometimes I forget to be grateful. I’ll go days without making my gratitude lists. But then I go back and fill it in when I’m feeling anxious. Being grateful for what I have takes me away from what I don’t have and that always calms the anxiety.
6. I really want to learn how to do handlettering and I purchased your practice sheets. Do you have any tips for a beginner or tools that you recommend?
I have to tell you the main thing is to practice practice practice. I spent hours and hours and hours being SO TERRIBLE. You can look back on my instagram and see. Not even that long ago, I was still not that great. But I just kept doing it. I picked up a few things by looking at other people’s letters, but I also tried to work with my natural handwriting.
If you want to do calligraphy, I suggest getting a Zebra G nib and any kind of pen holder. You have to use Bristol smooth surface paper for it or else it will catch on the paper and cause splatters. I only use sumi ink.
For brush lettering, I like to use round brushes—size 0-4. I dip in the sumi ink or use watercolors. I use a marker paper for practicing and watercolor paper for more finalized pieces.
Take a class if you have any in your area. Even one will help you visualize how to use the tools. I’m working on setting up some video classes for people who live outside of areas where I travel and teach.
7. What projects are you working on right now?
Let’s see, what is on my dock. I am working on some products for Blessed Is She. That is sort of an ongoing project. I am working on a book cover for a client and I got a lot of custom print orders recently. I am also working on the final pieces for a couple’s wedding, which is at the end of the month—escort cards, table numbers, menus, programs, etc. And working on someone’s website design. There is always so much going on simultaneously!
8. Any last words?
I’ve already said a lot 🙂 Will be surprised if anyone makes it down here. But if you do, know that God will provide for you if you can be open to it and take risks and move past the uncomfortableness in life. Open your heart. I feel so blessed to get to do this for a living, but I also believe that we can all “be hearts” in so many capacities in our work. It’s about how we answer the phone or respond to an email or put an extra touch of thoughtfulness in a package. It’s about how we greet our coworkers or smile at our customers. And like my spiritual director said, as long as you can love in what you are doing, then God will be delighted.
* * * * *
A big thanks to Erica for opening up and sharing so much of her loving heart with us. I have always admired Erica’s work but now that I have learned more about her, I admire her on a deeper level as a person!
I have purchased a number of Erica’s products over the year and I would love to share some of her beautiful creations with you. Join the “Be A Heart” Giveaway and you could win an item of your choice (up to $20 value) from Erica’s shop. Join the rafflecopter giveaway below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
PPS – This post contains affiliate links.