Finding Woosah: Meet Erica Lang
With a rise of digital illustration programs like Procreate, Illustrator, and Photoshop, it’s both refreshing and important to find artists innovating with traditional mediums. Artists who forgo the digital stylus for a brush, swim in paint samples, and work without the protection of Control+Z. Skilled in one of the oldest printing techniques, Erica Lang of Woosah is just that kind of artist!
Erica opts for the Chinese practice of woodblock printing for her medium of choice, fusing Woosah, the outdoors, and intention in every piece.
Wait, what is woodblock printing?
Woodblock printing - a form or relief printmaking - is simple in concept. One carves the negative space out of a wooden block to create a stamp. Oil based ink is applied with a brayer, the block is pressed into paper or fabric, its relief is transferred as an inverse. Boom – art.
Art Historians date woodblock long before the invention of paper (c. 105 AD) with origins in China and Japan. Modern woodblock wouldn’t arrive in Europe until the late 14th century alongside the introduction of paper mills, evolving as a primary way to capture Gothic architecture and religious figures (riveting!). It wasn’t until German artist Albrecht Dürer’s arrival to the scene in 1500 that woodblock transformed into the expressive, dramatic work we see today.
And the woodblock process? Incredibly involved. It was once common to have three individuals – the artist, the carver, and the printer – working to complete a single piece. The artist designs the work backwards, the carver works with the wood, and the printer presses the block to transfer the design. Each role takes patience, diligence, and attention to detail.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and woodblock is still used today as artists skillfully assume all three roles. Pinterest is filled with DIY potato-stamping crafts for the kid-at-heart, while graphic designers use the woodblock method for highly original, organic pieces for clients. Whether you’re a rookie or a professional carver, each stage of the woodblocking process is easy to get lost in – similar to a yogi finding his breath, or a hiker experiencing the beat of trail. For artist Erica Lang, this is the state of Woosah, and simply saying the word brings “a sense of inner peace, calmness and stillness.”
Meet Erica Lang of Woosa
We had been itching to collaborate with Erica for a while. Her style is signature, palette inviting, and work saturated with both meaning and mystery. Erica’s inspirations come from a lifetime in the outdoors – rooted in her growing up on a lake, with stylings later influenced by the drippy, whimsical Pacific Northwest. The partnership was meant to be, and with both Erica and members of Team Sawyer based in the Grand Rapids area, locality was an added bonus. As the collaboration came to fruition, we noticed how organic it felt already. The design iterations were minimal. The connection was true. Erica seemed to effortlessly fuse midwest influences with the heartbeat of Sawyer, and we were stoked.
To learn more about the design process, we asked Erica a few questions:
What pivots in direction did you face along the way?
At first I wanted to capture the rugged outdoors and all the epic elements that come with that, because Sawyer produces some high-quality, heavy-duty stuff for backcountry exploring. But the bigger piece of the story for me was all of the great work they do providing clean drinking water to people in need. Water is such a simple thing that we often take for granted, especially here in Michigan where we are literally surrounded by the biggest source of freshwater on earth. So, I compiled all of these elements into a water droplet as one of the concepts. Secretly, this was my favorite, but I let the client pick and was stoked that the Sawyer crew on the same page.
During your interview with Full Exposure, you talk about the outdoor influences on your work. What about other people? Do you have any creative muses or folks you find yourself inspired by?
Oh for sure! A huge inspiration for me has been Geoffrey Holstad, he's the art director at Patagonia. I love his use of hand lettering, patterns and folk style approach to depicting nature. He's a talented guy who also cares a lot for great causes. Ty Williams is another inspiration, his playful sketches and work reminds me to always have fun and not take it all so seriously. Nathaniel Russell too, same page. His work inspired me to give into my temptations to take my work into the 3 dimensional realm with my jigsaw.
Woodcarving isn't a very forgiving process – not much room for an Edit > Undo. How do you best prepare for your mind for creating? Any mantras of your own?
I love that carving is not forgiving. I find myself very present at times, and at other times my fear voice kicks in and whispers naughty things like "Will this translate?" "Are you sure this will look good" "This isn't going to be a good graphic" or the very worst "will anyone like this".... my inner critic is a huge jerk sometimes. That's when I remember why I'm carving in the first place, it's a release, a creative expression of the soul and most importantly, for me. I'm not creating for anyone else, and if that's true then it shouldn't matter who likes it. Commercially though, it does add some pressure there. You have to sell things to keep making more things, but I think when you're genuine in your inspiration people can feel that. The physicality of carving helps with my lack of patience. I'm always spinning the block around and carving different areas out in no particular order. Keeps my brain at ease.
I imagine it’s difficult to press "GO" on executing inspiration and turning it into a craft. What tips do you have for those creating from roots in outdoor experiences?
Just start with where you're at. When I look back at my earlier work with Woosah, 10 years ago, I am shocked anyone wanted to buy it, HA. Again, there's the inner critic. But if I had not made work then, I wouldn't be where I am at now, and damn, I was having so much fun. There's no sense in waiting, practicing is active learning and growth won't occur if you just sit on your ass and think about what you want to do. You have to actually do it. Be gentle with yourself through the process and have FUN. If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong.
The teardrop piece, in Erica’s words, shows how “happiness can be as simple as a drop of water.” Like water, it can fuel adventures and bring life to others. To celebrate this idea, we are proud to donate a water filter for every Sawyer x Woosah T-shirt purchased!
To keep up with Erica’s latest work, follow Woosah on Instagram here.
June 2, 2022
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