Erin always thought she would grow up to be an actor, but at Harvard she discovered that since she could also sew and draw, she could combine all her interests with theatrical costume design. Erin spent ten years after college focusing on building a life as a costume designer receiving an MFA in theater design from the Yale School of Drama, and worked professionally as a freelance costume designer in New York. She moved to Miami with her family shortly after having twins, however, and chose to leave professional theater to raise her kids. When the kids were two, she got out old watercolor paints and pencils and did a couple portraits of their favorite loveys that they have slept with since they were babies. Her kids were overjoyed. After posting images of the paintings on Facebook, friends started requesting their own toy portraits for their children, husbands, parents, etc. -- the business just grew from there. Erin named the business First Friends Toy Portraits, created a website where customers can place orders, and can now take commissions of portraits of favorite toys for children and nostalgic adults all over the world. Its amazing, a concept I absolutely love.
Greatest inspirations or influences?
My greatest inspiration is my own nostalgia - I'm ridiculously focused on the past. Painting portraits of other people's favorite childhood toys somehow lifts some of the burden of my obsession with discovering ways to reconnect with my own childhood. Its like therapy. I'm also very influenced by other artists and authors that attempt to lift the shadow of the past through their work. My favorite book is
by John Crowley - its dual vision of childhood wonder and adult regret is heartbreaking.
Most interesting toy or work you have done to date?
- I really love unique commissions - kids can be so funny and quirky in their choice of things to love. I painted two toy garbage cans for a little 2 year old who is obsessed with garbage. He never leaves the house without those tiny garbage cans.
- In spare moments outside of my business painting toys, I am also working on a series of watercolor paintings about my mother, who has early-onset Alzheimer's. As her illness progresses, she has become very focused on remembering important objects from her past. I think the objects take the place of memories of people and times important to her, because the memory of an object is a little easier to grasp onto. I am painting these objects as partially absent, so they can easily be mistaken for other objects entirely -- a ladyslipper flower looks like a beating heart, her old accordion looks like a book with a torn cover. Its about the fragility of memory and how easily memory can be distorted and lost.
Most interesting response to your work?
I've only been painting toy portraits for a few months, but I have received such amazing responses from my customers and from blogs written by moms who appreciate how important it is to preserve and honor their children's early devotion to a favorite toy. I just received a video from a customer of her 8-year-old boy seeing his toy portrait for the first time - his reaction is so unbelievably sweet - you could tell that he really thought it was amazing that his mom took his love for his stuffed puppy seriously enough to commission a painting.
Favorite websites, blogs?
In spite of receiving most of my positive press from blogs, I'm not a huge blog reader. I just don't have time! I'm lucky to get through my weekly New Yorker magazine. I'm starting to learn the benefits of Twitter, but it has taken me a while.
- Prudent Baby, Project Nursery, and Marriage Confessions were some of the first blogs to feature my work, and for that I will always be grateful!
Anything else youd like to share with our audience?
Custom toy portraits can be meaningful gifts for people of any age. I've received commissions from mothers for their grownup daughters, from husbands for their wives, from grandparents for grandchildren, from children for their mothers, and from parents who have lovingly chosen a toy for their child yet to be born. I work closely with my customers to decide if they would like to have the toy portrayed in its worn (or "well-loved") state or brought back to its younger, newer self. And I love to hear the stories of what makes the toy important to the adult or child - that's definitely my favorite part of my work. There is a blog on my website where I write about the toy stories from my commissions.