Houghton College Fine Arts Seminar

I was flattered to be invited as a guest speaker at the Houghton College Fine Arts Seminar in upstate New York. Students, where faculty and community members attended the presentation about my illustration career. It was such a warm reception and boost to my creative ego! The Houghton art faculty were so influential in my own undergraduate journey (over 15 years ago!), it was certainly rewarding to reflect on my evolution as an artist.

Here is a blog entry about my seminar, as told by Houghton College sculpture major Tricia Powles:

Houghton College Fine Arts Seminar: Erin Bennett Banks
April 2012
written by Tricia Powles

It’s always exciting to hear a Houghton art major success story, and Erin Banks’ story was even cooler/weirder than the norm for me personally. My family used to subscribe to Focus on the Family’s “Clubhouse” magazine, which Erin has done illustration for, and I am pretty sure that I’ve seen her work in issues that might even now still be floating around my house. It was a little bizarre to meet her, and hear about her practice and work since Houghton, but really great at the same time.


Erin studied graphic design at Houghton, graduated in 2000, and went straight to getting her MFA in illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design. She was interested in the fusion of traditional and digital media while at Houghton, but decided to revert to using only oil paint in grad school. She’s been working in oils ever since, to illustrate everything from financial magazines to children’s books.

The thing I love most about Erin’s work is how unique and immediately recognizable it is. She uses a limited palette for each piece but always has incredibly vibrant colors, not even including the vivid pink underpainting that she leaves visible as a bright outline around her figures. She paints with angular, geometric shapes and is not afraid to exaggerate certain aspects of her figures (as seen in the neck of the “Paisley Lady” above) to accentuate her style. Because of this style, as well as the pink underpainting (which I really, REALLY love), her work always seems to have a lot of movement and looks very alive and exciting.

She spoke to us a lot about audience and the ways she has been able to find work as a freelance illustrator, so not much of what she said applied to me, an abstract sculptor. But one part of her talk that I did find very helpful to my own practice was when she addressed defining herself as an artist. I am graduating in one month. I have an internship lined up for the summer and I plan on going to grad school at some point in the next few years, but beyond that, I have no idea where I’ll be going or what I’ll be doing. I’m slightly terrified. But I was comforted by Erin’s assurance that “Even if you don’t know where your career is going, if you know who you are as an artist, it is a lot more sustaining in the long run.”

I know nothing about my future, but I do know that I am an artist, and that I am passionate about the work I do. It doesn’t sound like a lot from where I am right now, facing my imminent ejection into the “real world,” but if such a huge Houghton success story tells me that’s enough for now, who am I to argue?

 -Tricia Powles

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