Hill exhibit celebrates the beauty of black women

by Len Lear
Posted 11/11/21

Erika Richards is a professional illustrator who has mastered the technique of blending watercolor and Prismacolor pencils in her Afrocentric work, with an emphasis on black female portraiture. It is now on display through December at 8133 Germantown Ave.

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Hill exhibit celebrates the beauty of black women

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Thanks to the Chestnut Hill Business Association, several previously empty storefronts on Germantown Avenue are currently exhibiting the work of local artists, a win-win for the artists and for pedestrians who enjoy looking at beautiful artwork instead of empty spaces.

One artist whose brushwork, texture and color convey the joy that she lovingly pours into her work is Erika Richards, a professional illustrator who has mastered the technique of blending watercolor and Prismacolor pencils in her Afrocentric work, with an emphasis on black female portraiture. It is now on display through December at 8133 Germantown Ave.

Richards, who graduated with a BFA in illustration from the Moore College of Art & Design in 2017, is the recipient of the Philadelphia Watercolor Society Award in 2017. She also won a second place award for “Best Illustrator” at the 34th Annual Fall for the Arts Festival in Chestnut Hill in 2018, a first place artist award for the 11th Annual Gloucester City Cultural Arts and Heritage Society in 2019 and the Philadelphia Fellowship for Black Artists Mural Arts in Philadelphia, 2020.

“My artistic focus is black women of grandeur and fantasy,” she said in a recent interview. “What motivates me to focus on black women in my art is that I want to see myself reflected in my work. I am reminding the world that black people’s existence surpasses the story of American History. We are deeply woven into human existence. I want the viewer to have an epiphany, seeing the majesty of black people penetrating the world far beyond class, race and culture.”

In the summer of 2019 Erika started her business, Erika L. Illustrations, LLC. Erika gets a big boost from her mother, Sherida Douglass, who is the business' chief financial officer. “My mother is not artistically inclined,” Erika said. “At times I wish she was so I could get some artistic feedback on my work. That is something I miss about being in school and having other artists and professors critique my work. That being said, I couldn’t be happier and more blessed that my mother has a background in finance because that is something that hinders and kills a lot of artists, having lots of talent but no knowledge to manage their business … My mother has made the biggest contribution to my life, earthly and spiritually.”

Speaking of professors critiquing the work of student artists, Erika wanted to take this opportunity to praise a former teacher at Moore. “A professor who was very helpful to me and still is, is my illustration teacher, Joe Kulka. He always told you the truth and never sugar-coated anything, even if it was hard to hear. And Joe was never shy with bragging about his stellar students. I still contact him frequently to ask for his advice about my art business.”

Erika, who began creating art at the tender age of three (“I've always had a soul for creating”), grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and graduated from George Washington High School.

The pandemic affected her artistic business, as it did most others. “It tried to suck the life out of it,” she said, “but the Lord keeps us in all of it and still does every single day He blesses my art business. Both my mother and I contracted Covid early in the pandemic, but I am happy to say that both of us are healthy, fully vaccinated and eager to get our booster shots.”

Occasionally I like to ask interviewees if they could live in an earlier era, which period would they choose and why? “I would say either France during the 17th century or England during the Victorian era,” replied Erika, “simply because I love the art and fashion of that time. But please don’t ask me to dig any deeper because I know the social, political and religious norms during those times would not be ideal for a black, female millennial.”

Gallery hours to see Erika's work at 8133 Germantown Ave. are Wednesday to Friday, noon to 7 p.m., and Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. For more information, visit erikarichards.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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