erin the great: Finding Beauty in the Dependable Aug24

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erin the great: Finding Beauty in the Dependable

There is something whimsical, something a bit mystical and magical, and even something a bit dichotomous about fine artist, author and illustrator, erin the great. I mean, seriously – how many people do you know with a last name of “the great”? Alexander the Great; Herod the Great; Catherine the Great; Frederick the Great. Yet unlike her “the Great” predecessors, erin isn’t a conqueror or ruler…unless you count the hearts of small children and their parents who have experienced her delightful picture books. Perhaps in that vast realm, she actually is a conqueror.

erin chuckles gently when asked about her nom de plume. “I was homeschooled until 10th grade, and I was quite shy,” she explains. “I always thought it was funny that Alexander the Great had that as a name. I mean, how do you get to include ‘the Great’ with your name? I decided to try it out, probably as a means of overcompensating for my shyness. I’d introduce myself as ‘erin the great,’ and it just kind of stuck. It was almost like people thought, “Well, of course that’s who you are.’”

Not that there is a lot of self-aggrandizement involved. erin intentionally lower-cases the name. “I never thought of myself as being very proper,” she explains, “so I didn’t think I should be a proper noun.”

A student of drawing, erin earned her BFA from The University of Tennessee, where she also studied oil painting before shifting her focus to watercolors after becoming pregnant. “You can’t really paint with oil when you’re pregnant,” she says. “But I’ve enjoyed the illustrative quality of watercolor, so I’ve been sticking to it.”

Embracing her adopted hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, erin delights in hiding her gnome friends and all things magical around the city. Friends and fans and random strangers encounter erin’s charming work on the Atlanta Beltline, in local art galleries, on television and in her children’s picture books, such as “Man in the Moon” and “Where’s Wilson?” with author Kelly Young-Silverman, and in her upcoming, innovative “wordless” children’s picture book, “Mr. Mailbox Man Goes to Work,” which releases to retail through WordCrafts Press in September 2017.

“We moved around a lot when I was a child,” erin recalls. “And I developed a strong love for writing letters, which I’m afraid seems to be a pastime that has started to disappear. I think Mr. Mailbox Man represented all those relationships that I had to say goodbye to but wanted to maintain. He was that beloved character that represented my best friends from the past.”

The character took on additional meaning to Ms. the great when her niece, Piper Jane, was born with Cerebro-costo-mandibular syndrome (CCMS). Among numerous other challenges, Piper Jane has only 13 ribs, with makes it a struggle for her just to breathe.

“Piper Jane has been on a ventilator her entire life,” erin muses. “We often hear that a kid’s job is to play, but for Piper, her job is to breathe. Her job is doing something that we all take for granted – breathing. I think what Piper does is extraordinary, but we all have jobs to do that are not easy. It’s a beautiful thing that we still all show up and are dependable, rain or shine, and never give up.

“Mr. Mailbox Man represents that kind of person to me; the one who is dependable, who does his job everyday, rain or shine, without us even noticing that he is there.”

As an adult, erin loves to write and receive letters, but she confesses to being more comfortable with the world of the visual than the world of words, perhaps because as a child she experienced more than her fair share of anxiety with reading and language processing.

“I’m not much of a conversationalist,” she admits. “I can get a little anxious when talking or reading, but I love creating stories that children can share with their parents or caregivers. ‘Mr. Mailbox Man Goes to Work’ is essentially a wordless book. It provides direction, but it doesn’t ‘tell’ the story. It allows the child to be creative with the conversations that might go on between the characters. It’s kind of backward from the traditional process of a child bringing a book to you and saying, ‘Mommy, read me a story.’ It engages the child’s imagination and lets them tell the story. It gives children the same opportunity to get comfortable with experiencing a book, but without the anxiety of reading the text correctly.”

Because art has had such a profound affect in erin’s life, she has partnered with Atlanta-based drawchange, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to aid global change by supplying the world’s children with empowering art experiences, offering both financial and volunteer support.

“I discovered drawchange on Instagram while browsing through art images, and I just love what they do,” she explains. “I never had an art outlet as a child, so being able to help provide that experience to children who might not otherwise get to participate in creative art was important to me. They are a small, local organization that focuses on children and art. I’m a children’s book artist. It seemed like a great fit!”

To learn more about erin the great, visit her online at http://illustratorerinthegreat.com/

To learn more about drawchange, visit them online at http://drawchange.org/