by Natalia Radcliffe
Erica Eriksdotter is a self-taught, third-generation fine artist whose life purpose is to create meaningful, personal art that connects with her clients. Many of her commissions are of beloved pets, memorialized through her realistic portrayal of the animals.
“I paint not just the image of the pet, I paint the spirit,” she said.
She uses a traditional Scandinavian surname, Eriksdotter, which translates to “Erik’s daughter,” in remembrance of her father, Leif Erik Larsson, who passed away when she was 20. Even though he was a busy man, he still found the time to spend with her and her siblings. Using the surname is “very sentimental and meaningful to me,” she said.
Depending on the type of painting she is working on, she can spend up to 80 hours diligently and carefully constructing the portraits to produce artwork that can be treasured for years to come.
Her story starts when she was just a child growing up in Sweden, with Viking ruins standing as silent spectators while she played outside. From the age of six she had a beloved Yorkie named Lucas, her constant companion and friend, until he passed when Eriksdotter was around 17 or 18.
“Lucas was like my baby brother,” she explained.
The dog was such a part of the family he even got a cake on his birthday.
He was “my companion, my friend, the one who never judged me,” Eriksdotter said.
She was utterly devastated when Lucas passed and still becomes choked up when talking about him.
Fifteen years after Lucas’s death, Eriksdotter was living in the United States, happily married, when a stray cat literally walked into her life, becoming the catalyst for Eriksdotter to begin creating pet portraits.
“I would sit out in the beautiful sun and read on the patio. She would come out of the bushes and lay on my lap,” Eriksdotter described.
She begged her husband to let them foster the cat until they found a home for her, and from the minute the cat walked into the house, it became fairly apparent the animal was not going to go anywhere.
“Because she was a stray, she kind of forced her way into our family,” she said. “She curled up on our king-sized bed and slept.”
Needless to say, Eriksdotter didn’t put that much effort into finding a home for her. After a few weeks went by, she and her husband made it permanent and gave her the name Lola. A few years later, they adopted their second cat, Rasmus, to keep Lola company.
The feline had the most mesmerizing, “ocean-blue eyes,” Eriksdotter said. “As an artist, you see so much detail in the eye and surrounding the eye.”
With Lola, “there was an ocean of depth,” but she worried about accurately translating her look onto canvas. They were more than just a stunning color; they reflected the animal’s endearing personality in them.
Next, the artist turned to her customer base, asking if they had any animals they wanted her to paint. Years later, she is still creating pet portraits.
“It became such a popular thing that I just kept going,” she said.
She works one-on-one with her customers throughout the entire process, combining their memories and descriptions with her skills to create artwork that not only captures the heart of the animal, but also heals the owner’s grieving soul. The paintings look so real you can almost feel a softness of fur or stroke a velvety nose.
“That’s the connection,” Eriksdotter said. “We go on a journey together. They’re with me from the start to the finish line.”
The artist knows firsthand the utter grief and raw pain that can come with losing a pet. But while she has done many pet portraits for other people, she has never painted Lucas, because it is still too painful for her.
For her customers, however, as they work in tandem with Eriksdotter, “they’re replacing that grief and sadness into something joyful,” she said.
The unique experience she offers, making active participants of clients, is paying off. She has a wait list that is over a year long and growing.
And for her, there’s personal time to reflect and rejuvenate.
“To me, painting is solitude and painting is full of gratitude,” said Eriksdotter. “It’s just the pet and me in stillness.”
For more information, visit her website: Studioeriksdotter.com.
Erica Shares some holiday memories:
During the holidays, she tries to incorporate cultural aspects not only from her husband’s side, but also her Scandinavian roots.
As a child, she experienced the full force of a Scandinavian Christmas.
The highlight of the month would be Christmas Eve at her grandmother’s house, when a family member would dress up as Santa Claus and come to the house to deliver presents that night. The person would carry a sack full of presents over the shoulder, a walking stick, and a lamp. The sky outside was black, casting the world in darkness, and snow covered the ground. The driveway was long coming up to the house, perfect to build up the suspense. The first thing she would see is a lantern lighting up the shape of Santa. She and the other children were full of excitement and anticipation as the figure came closer and closer.
“You were so nervous you would hide behind somebody,” said Eriksdotter.
She described the experience as a mix of being terrifying and awesome at the same time.
Now, as an adult, she strives to recreate the magic and wonder for her own son.
“All of December is the holidays for me,” Eriksdotter said.
She enjoys making ginger cookies from a recipe of her great grandmother’s, and making glögg, a Swedish drink made of mulled wine.
On Christmas Eve, she and her family celebrate in the Scandinavian fashion, including eating ham for dinner and exchanging gifts with each other.
Christmas Day they spend the American way. Eriksdotter joked that for her son, the day is all the presents.
She does her best to make the holiday “hyggeligt,” a Danish word roughly translated to mean cozy or warm, like the feeling that is experienced when spending time with good friends or loved ones, both two-legged and four-legged.
The magic that comes to life during the holidays does not dissipate after the Christmas lights are safely packed away, however.