Graduation Day! BFA

Northern Illinois University School of Art
At 46 years old, I ended my last day as an undergraduate in December, 2013. I lingered in the room until one by one all my classmates walked through the doorway to start a new adventure. I didn't want to leave. I stayed there trying to capture the memory of the room, the feeling, the scents and sounds.

I had left university back in 1987-88 school year. Money was in short supply and although I was in my senior year and loved school, I just couldn't make it happen. I always wanted to go back, but never seriously thought that would happen. Life flowed away from that dream and time was spent on other priorities. That is until I started living on my own two years ago.

I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. I needed it to prove to myself that I was worthwhile and able and that my artwork was up to snuff.

It took only 3 semesters to complete my Bachelor of Fine Art (B.F.A) in 2-D Design, Illustration track. During that year and a half, there were many situations which tried to pull me away from the goal of graduation, yet I kept as strong as I could and am proud of the artwork which was accomplished during my time at NIU. I received straight A's to boot!

During that same time, I continued my freelance business, worked (as close to) full-time at my position as a Graphic Designer at OC Imageworks, and managing my home life. It was hectic and each area of responsibility suffered, each in turn. My son, family,  co-workers, instructors, and clients were all very flexible and generous with understanding. There definitely times when I felt it was all too much, but I just kept on going.

For my 20-something classmates, today – graduation day – is a new beginning. Their whole life will change overnight. For me, however, I'll start Monday morning at work as usual. Life as a student will seem only a reverie. Now my time at Northern Illinois University is over. Just like that a goal was achieved. I have a new goal.

The only difference between today and yesterday is that I'll have that single sheet of paper which no once can take away. With it I have the knowledge, as well as an outward sign, that I can do anything I put my mind to.

What is my new goal?  I hope to continue my freelance business, to grow it and nurture it: to use the talents, experiences and life that God gave me. I want to find his purpose for me and go after it with the same tenacity and gusto.

Erin K. Nolan, B.F.A.


"Buck up, Bucky!"

I am worn down and tired out by the everyday struggles. I imagine a person being pulled down by the weight of smokey wisps that stick like dew and then take hold layer after layer. It isn't a single thing, it is the many troubles all at once for a long, long stretch.

Then I stop myself and try to be mindful of all the good things that happen. I try to practice thankfulness for everything I have been blessed with. There are so many amazing things happening in my life. I have to enjoy the happy moments as they appear.
  1. 1. I have passed my classes and, as of this Sunday, will be a graduate of Northern Illinois University with my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration. It is taken me a total of 28 years from start to finish. What going back to school has taught me is that I needed self-confidence. My instructors and my classmates have walked with me on this adventure– giving advice, offering suggestions, laughing with me, sharing with me their experiences and their life journey.

  2. Just this week my car's transmission went to pot. It happened right in front of a auto dealership with a repair shop. When I heard the bad news that the repair would cost more than the car was worth, I didn't know how I was going to get through this, but I didn't panic. Everything has a reason and a time and a place. Tonight I drove my "new to me" car off the lot. I hope I did the right thing by making this purchase! Kelly Blue Book tells me that it was. All I know is I have a way to work tomorrow and most likely the next many tomorrows. And for that, I give thanks.
  3.  The snow was so beautiful yesterday and we are supposed to get 3-4 inches overnight. I love the way it lazily floats down from the sky to form diamonds in the moonlight. If only I could collect all the diamonds and keep them sparkling forever – without the bitter cold.
  4. At 46 I went to see a dermatologist and my skin is slowly getting clear. My new personal appearance certainly helps with my self-confidence.!
  5. There are two art shows this week. Both are for the NIU-BFA graduates. It is pretty cool to be able to show with these amazingly talented group. If you have a moment, peruse my classmates' and instructors' websites. If you like their work, let them know!
  • Brittany Sherman
    • Playful images based on current environmental issues
  • Andrew Carlson
    •  Andrew is a Midwestern artist working in digital and traditional media. Aveteran of the United States Marine Corp, his imagery reflects his experience.
  • Stephanie Tunnell
    •  Stephanie's work is narrative with a distinctive mood-driven color palette.
  • Dan Kurnick
    •  Intricate patterns and intense color define Dan's current work.
  • John Carter
    • Atmospheric Sy-fy landscapes and detailed character design are hallmarks of John's work.
  • Erin Nolan
    • Conceptual and editorial artwork based on symbolic color, pattern, and texture.
  • Kim Kline
    • Figurative character design with a whimsically dark nature.
  • Autumn Tahara-eckl
  • Michelle Goans
    •  Michelle uses a glowing, surreal lighting and complementary color palette.
My instructors:

Good night, all, be blessed.


The December 2013 NIU-BFA Show!

Flier created by Erin K. Nolan (hey! that's me! lol)
Reception: Wednesday, December 11th, 6 – 9 pm.
Beverages and food will be served.
Located at NIU's Gallery215 located at 215 N. Fourth Street, DeKalb, IL

If you are in the DeKalb, Illinois area, stop by and say, "hey!" I'd love to see you!


Best of the Bunch

Blue Heron - Intaglio Print ©2013 Erin K. Nolan
Homework done. This is the best of the bunch of printmaking experiments. Graphic Chemical ink was used along with a stencil to keep the colors from mixing too much. I am very pleased with it and want to continue with this medium after graduation.


Intaglio Printmaing Outside the NIU Studio=FAIL

With only one week left of school before finals, I finished up some printmaking homework using a baby press that my brother, Al Stark, and I purchased together earlier this year. The Northern Illinois University print shop was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday break. This was the first time I had the chance to use the baby pressand I was excited to get started. Ta-da! Here is is:
My co-op baby press!

Using this baby press has taught me several things. First, intaglio printing is properly fun only when using a fully-equipped print shop with a full size press and a myriad of inks and modifiers.

Second, water-based inks suck and oil based inks are far more easily cleaned when using toxic and/or noxious chemicals.

Lastly, that I am going to have a fully operational print shop straight away because I love the colors, the level of detail that can be achieved, and the sheer glowing beauty of intaglio or dry etch. If anyone has a press they want to get rid of just email me!! I live in Illinois, so the closer the better!

Now, don't get me wrong. I am a woodblock print artist and enjoy that medium immensely. I love the way the wood feels under the blade. I love how a drawing is transformed by the wood, how the ink soaks into the wood, the natural and organic nature of the woodblock; BUT intaglio does offer so much detail in such a small space. I imagine making a series of postage stamp size pieces just for fun.

Although, my baby press experiments are not stellar by any stretch of the imagination, I know that I just need to get used to new equipment and I'll find my way. I just didn't have time to really explore today. Here are the failed experiments and my findings.

Akua water-based relief ink with tack thickener - Experiment fail. The first experiment involved using some inks I already owned: Akua brand. They were intended for relief printing, but my inexperience led me to think that if I could just thicken the ink enough it would allow ink to get into the valleys of an etched block. Quick answer?  No way, no how.  No matter how thick I could make the Akua color with the tack thickener, the ink remained on the surface of the plate. I'm not sure if you can tell from this phone photo, but the lines of the etch are actually white.
Water-based Charbonnel ink in Sepia - Experiment fail. The Charbonnel ink came in a tube and was much thicker than the previously used Akua inks - which are liquid.  It was not as full-bodied as the Graphic Chemical intaglio ink though. I liked the effect of this relief ink on an etched copper plate, but did not like the unevenness of the print.
Graphic Chemical oil-based intaglio ink - Fail. Ok. I finally used an ink intended for intaglio printmaking. I thought there was no way for this one to fail. I carded on the ink and used the tarlatan confident that THIS print would turn out. Unfortunately for me I do not have enough experience on my equipment to set the pressure correctly. Three strikes and I was out for the day. 

Just to prove that a nice quality print is possible with the baby press, here is my brother's dry-point print. I like how it looks like a graphite drawing.


The Altered Consciousness of Zen Blue Brain

©2013 Erin K. Nolan  "What Happened to the Honey Bees?"
There are times when I become engrossed in a creative task.  Time seems to pass more quickly; my attention to the project at hand is all-encompassing.  I am not aware of human needs such as food, drink, or sleep. The next thing I know hours have come and gone. It is almost like a productive trance. I call this state my creative hum.  Other creatives that I’ve spoken with have this same sensation. Thanks to science, we now have a name for it: the Blue Zen Brain.

While reading an article by Ann Holm I recognized a description of my creative hum.  It is called a synchronous brain state–where all regions of the brain are working together in harmony and at maximum amplitude. The mind is both focused and relaxed and is shown as blue on an EEG.

This state is often achieved when a person is engaged in an area of expertise; however, it is also reached when grappling with an unfamiliar problem or envisioning the future. The entire brain is activated in order to realize an answer. This answer is many times a fully-actualized, complex solution; yet how the person arrived at this solution is difficult to discern or verbalize.

So, why would one want to achieve this state?  Through personal experience, I find that I am more creative, have enhanced problem-solving abilities, am productive, focused, happy, and can work on a single project for longer periods of time.  Left-brain, right-brain theory agrees. 

Now that we are “living in the future,” there are devices such as NeuroSky which teach a Blue Zen Brain state through biofeedback.  The device, which is worn like a set of headphones, monitors when a mind is simultaneously alert and calm–just the right state of mind to learn mathematics or a new language. There are brain wave sensor products for gaming, academic, business and medical applications as well. 

In my life, working on my artwork activates this altered state of consciousness, but others find that repetitive tasks, music, or simply daydreaming takes them there.

What activities do you participate in which activate your Blue Zen Brain?  Let me know!


"My Little Hummingbird"

by Erin K. Nolan, 2013

From the Heart of Rockford –Art for Healing strives to bring together the vibrant talent and the spirit of generosity that springs from our community to make a positive impact in the wake of the events that cut short the lives of 26 innocent students and their teachers this past December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. The purpose of the event is not only to raise money but more importantly, to donate to the Newtown School District the very thing that is at the heart of our own community—our art. Our intention is to donate 26 pieces of our finest Rockford area art to the community of Newtown.
At the Art Show, featuring the work of 26 of the Rockford-area’s best artists, attendees will be able to purchase the sponsorship of one or more pieces of artwork, which will be donated to the community of Newtown, Ct. Each piece of artwork will be paired with a Rockford-area student artist piece. The sponsor of each piece will be recognized as the donor on a nameplate that will accompany the donated piece and they will be able to take home the student artwork, which will not be donated to Newtown.
Piano music for the art show will be provided by Michael Campa, a student of the Music Academy in Rockford, followed by a live choral performance by the Elysian Voices.
40% of the proceeds generated from the sale of the art will be donated to benefit Healing Newtown, an arm of the Newtown Cultural Arts Commission and a partner with the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut, while 50% will be donated to Ceasefire Rockford. The artists will be given 10% of the art sales proceeds. All profits generated from door donations and a raffle during the event will be split 50/50 between Healing Newtown and Ceasefire.
This event is partially funded by a grant from The Rockford Area Arts Council, as well as by the generous contributions of: Rockford College, The Law Office of Christine Garner, The Music Academy in Rockford, Wallblank, Greg Lang Design, and Elysian Voices. 

 Spot Illustration created traditionally in Acrylic by Erin K. Nolan, 2013

Editorial Illustration created digitally by Erin Nolan, 2013
It seems no one under 35 has ever heard the phrase "cut the apron strings."
None of my fellow classmates understood the image and were very confused by it.

"Caged Bird"—Traditional acrylic painting with gold leaf with digital edit by Erin K. Nolan, 2013.

"Portrait of John Muir"—Digital painting by Erin K. Nolan, 2013


438-Project 1: Anatomy (in progress, proof 1)

(Anatomy of a human body) still a long way to go, but it is coming together nicely I think! I am so glad I photographed the crackle pattern I made last semester!! It is a good addition to my texture arsenal.


Gerald "Jerry" E. Stark, My father

Obituary For: Gerald (Jerry) E. Stark | Butala Funeral Homes & Crematory
Gerald (Jerry) E. Stark, 69 of Sycamore died Saturday, January 5, 2013 at the Bethany Health Care and Rehab Center. 

He was born July 30, 1943 in Aurora. The son of Elmer G. and Patricia M. (Neylon) Stark. He married Linda S. Dieter on Oct. 2, 1965 in Warrenville.

Jerry was a graduate of the Wheaton Community High School, Class of 1961 and attended Northern Illinois University.

Jerry worked for Commonwealth Edison as a senior marketing engineer, retiring after 33 years of service. He was an avid gun collector, bird watcher, photographer and woodworker. He enjoyed the outdoors and loved nature, with fishing being one of his favorite relaxation getaways. Later in life, Jerry also became a wonderful cook and made many delicious meals for his family.

He is survived by his wife, Linda of Sycamore; one daughter, Erin (Paul) Nolan of DeKalb; three sons, Gerald E. (Lisa) Stark of TN, Alfred (Elinor) Stark of DeKalb and Paul Stark of CO; four grandchildren, Jacob Nolan, Adam, Joshua and Sophia Stark; four sisters, Kathleen (Warren) Schramer of Stillman Valley, Donna (Ray) Pattermann of CO, Janet (Perry) Miciunas of Carol Stream and Patricia (Michael) Kuropas of Chicago; and numerous nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents; and one infant brother.

A Visitation will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 9th from 4:00-6:00 PM at the Butala Funeral Home and Crematory in Sycamore, with a Memorial Service beginning at 6:00 PM. Burial will be private.
In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to the American Cancer Society in care of the Butala Funeral Home and Crematory, 1405 DeKalb Ave., Sycamore, IL 60178. For info or to sign the online guest book, go to www.ButalaFuneralHomes.com or call 815-895-2833.


2012: The Year of Lost and Found

The Year of Lost and Found 
it happened



January 18th, 2012 changed my life forever. There are very few dates that stay with a person for a lifetime: the date I was born, the day I was married, the day my son was born – 01/18/2012 has been etched into my mind as strongly as any of these.

On the 17th I was told that my family was being evicted from the house we called home for the 9 years prior – that was the longest I had ever lived at one place in my entire life. It was comfortable. It was home, not just a house.
For me and my son, this information came out of nowhere. Quite literally in 12 hours we lost everything: our home, my husband/his father, our pets, our things. Because we shared on Facebook that we were being evicted, my husband’s extended family evicted us from their lives as well. My son was told that he was no longer part of that family and that he was never welcome back. He also quit college because he thought that he would need to assist me in providing income for the both of us to live on.
At first we stayed at a hotel, then on an inflatable mattress and couch at my brother and sister-in-law’s house. My son and I were in shock and needed time to work though the emotional upheaval we had just gone through. My son is an amazingly grounded and responsible young adult.
  • LOST:                    home, studio, things, husband’s family
  • FOUND:               caring family, supportive co-workers, helpful friends


My Grandmother gave me a gift which allowed us to get an apartment in the middle of the month. My mother dropped off pink roses as a welcoming gift.
A loan from my parents allowed me to purchase an excellent, quality bicycle for transportation. Work is only 2 miles away and on very cold, wet or snowy days my son woke up early and gave me a ride.
Things started looking up. We had a place to call home now. My son was able to salvage one class from college and I had a steady job.
Then my Grandmother passed away. She was old and had been in poor health for so long, that it was a blessing. My young aunt was hit the hardest. She was close to her mom until the end. It was nice to see all my cousins, aunts and uncles at the visitation and funeral. I hadn't seen them in years.
I entered the Rockford Midwestern Biennial through the Rockford Art Museum. It took on a  very symbolic meaning for me. If I could get into a show despite all that happened, my art could always be there for me – no matter what craziness was going on otherwise. Artwork could be my one constant.
  • LOST: Grandmother
  • FOUND: apartment, transportation, the real character of my son as a man, extended family


March came in like a lion! With new found purpose, I tackled five new print editions and brought them up to Chad Luberger at Plum Bottom Pottery for his review. Being in Door County in March was a new experience. It was a mild winter and wasn’t that cold. For traveling companions, I invited my brother and sister-in-law to come with. We all stopped at Kohler-Andre Park and walked the sand dune trails in the fog as sandhill cranes called in the distance.

In Door County we stayed at the Newport Inn Resort – their off season prices are phenomenal! In Baileys Harbor at The Ridges, the spring peepers were warming in the sun and floating in the swales. Sandhill cranes were flying over our heads and pussy willows were wet with dew.
The shock was beginning to wear off and my son and I were developing a new routine in our new life. I say this, but I was still very tense. I was having difficulty dealing with what had happened and it was coming out as a pain in my chest that pressed down harder and harder until I couldn’t catch my breath. I went to the clinic and they thought it was my heart, so I was sent for overnight observation at the hospital. What the doctors didn’t know was that my physical heart was just fine, it was that my heart was broken.
  • LOST: many, many tears, cost of an overnight at the hospital
  • FOUND: purpose, direction, temporary peacefulness while in Door County


A company I had illustrated for in 2011 contacted me out of the blue for another project. It was a huge undertaking and upon its completion allowed me to pay back the loan  my parents had given me. That gave me a boost of positivity.
It had been a quarter of a year since the eviction. I still had many unanswered questions. I was still trying to figure out the “why” of it and the truth is there was no why. It just happened and I had to accept it instead of fight against it. Holding it all inside was hurting me and nobody else. Besides, I reasoned, people can’t be held responsible for things they say when in that state. So I decided to forgive the people that hurt me. I visited my husband’s mother and spoke for the first time. We talked and she understood how I felt and I understood how she felt. I believe we had come to an understanding and that helped immensely.
My brother and sister-in-law visited the International Crane foundation in Baraboo, WI. I wanted to photograph some sand hill cranes close up as reference for future prints. It was great to see new country and laugh with them all day.
  • LOST: Pride, anger
  • FOUND: Compassion, empathy, income


The Spring just felt luscious. The winter wasn’t that cold, but seeing the birds come back, feeling the warm sun on my face, watching the sprigs of green sprout from the black earth… renewal. Finding joy every chance I could took priority. I needed to  fill my cup.
  • LOST:
  • FOUND:


My sister-in-law graduated from Robert-Morris College with a degree in business. I had watched her work so hard to achieve this goal and now she had something that no one could take away – a degree, an accomplishment, the start to a promising new future that wasn’t possible before.
Her niece and nephew celebrated their first birthday and I made a woodblock print of her niece with their Tia. It was entitled, “Here there is love.” Their birthday was celebrated by a huge group family and friends. Seeing families interact in such a loving, joyful manner is always wonderful. During the party, I found a baby snapping turtle making its way to the lake.
Before the eviction, I spoke of wanting to go back to school and get me degree. I had to leave college in 1989 during my senior year. I had filled out FAFSA and applied to Northern Illinois University just to see what would happen.
  • LOST:
  • FOUND: Self-confidence


I turned 45 years old. My son brought me sushi for lunch! My co-workers gave sound dampening headphones because I have been easily distracted and they knew they would help me out. My husband purchased me a gift subscription to ancestory.com – the international version. I found many documents and photos of our family histories! It is history and detective work wrapped into one. He also took me out to the Mediterrano Restaurant in town. Mom and dad and my mother-in-law gave gifts which I used to purchase much needed clothing.
My brother and sister-in-law took me to Fourth Fridays at the Starline Gallery in Harvard, IL.  Art, wine, music and LAUGHTER! It was exactly what I needed and I will forever be grateful for that evening.
My husband’s nephew married the love of his life. I kept the promise I had made before the eviction to design their wedding invitations, reply cards, reception cards, etc. for the extended family because I believe that when a promise is made, it is your word and honor. It was a gift I gladly gave the newlyweds. I thought of them all that day and hoped their union finds within it many blessings. I wish I could have been there!
  • LOST: 
  • FOUND: A happy birthday


The late summer brought my husband’s class reunion. I had a great time playing volleyball and partaking in a cider or two. Everyone was super nice and I made some new friends

My husband and I went on a daytrip into Chicago to view the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River museum, then went for hotdogs at Navy Pier. It was a fun day. We even had a ride on the boat taxi.

Our son turned 19! We all went out to dinner with his uncle and aunt at his favorite Japanese restaurant, the Ju-rin, in Geneva. His uncle and him had a race... the younger of the two won.

  • LOST:
  • FOUND: New friends


The Art of the Land at the Starline Gallery in Harvard, IL! This was my third year participating in this awesome and growing event which raises money for The Land Conservancy. The group saves old grove oak trees throughout McHenry County. That allowed my brother who also participates and my sister-in-law to stay in Woodstock, IL overnight. That was were the movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray was filmed. The town square is so cute and I love visiting the stores. They were all decorated for Halloween.
Then the biggest news of all! At the last moment, my financial aid came through and I started back at Northern Illinois University’s Art Department in pursuit of my Illustration degree. I also was able to get a car during the first week of school. I am so very thankful for these blessings!
  • LOST: Spare time and relaxing hours
  • FOUND: Education, new friends, a growing sense of self-competence and self-worth, a car


October swept passed as working full-time, going to classes, trying to maintain a household and still holding on to relationships took every spare moment. Going to bed at 4am after homework and getting up at 6:30 am to go to work was the norm. This 45 year old body was having a difficult time – until I discovered energy drinks… then tried to wean myself off energy drinks… ugh, what a mistake. Now I just drink coffee. A LOT of coffee.
  • LOST: Sleep
  • FOUND: Accomplishment


Our son took off for the first time ever and went to Texas for a gaming event. He purchased his own ticket and made some really good decisions. He had a wonderful time!

I was nominated for our local ATHENA Award and found that I was one of four finalists! I felt very unworthy, but everyone assured me that my accomplishments over the years deserved community recognition. Overall, it was both awkward and rewarding.

Grace, my wheaton-terrier/maltese mix dog, decided to chase after a herd of deer and was stuck by a stick while running. She required 3 staples at the vets and received oodles of petting and soft talking to. I felt so bad for her! She loved the extra pampering.

School continued, life continued, without a moment to spare. Then Thanksgiving came. My husband, our son and I had a small gathering with homemade foods.
  • LOST:
  • FOUND: a few extra pounds around Thanksgiving, lol.


I did it! I passed both my college classes with a 4.0 GPA! I have a few weeks to ready the apartment and prepare myself for the next semester of classes and the next year!

Christmas was awesome. I made pumpkin pie, pork roast with crab stuffing, roasted balsamic potatoes, dinner rolls, and new peas in butter sauce. Christmas morning was nutmeg and mandarin orange french toast (using Italian bread). It was a lazy Christmas and it felt pretty dang good.

My friend started a new tradition for New Year's. She invited friends over and had a feast! We toasted one another and laughed all through the night.

My son went away with friends for the evening - the first time ever. I'm so happy for him.
  • LOST: Time
  • FOUND: A new year in which to try, try again...