Artist Lisa Ericson on Surrealism and Nature

Published in
4 min readAug 7, 2018


Terrarium II by Lisa Ericson

Painter Lisa Ericson has been described as “a multi-hyphenate, utilizing her visual talents as an artist, illustrator, and designer to craft meaningful images.” Based in Portland, OR, Ericson’s enthralling artwork manages to be simultaneously hyper-realistic and wildly imaginative. In many ways, this perspective exemplifies precisely what is needed to surmount many of the most pressing issues facing us today: a combination of pragmatism and creativity. Her clear love and admiration for nature’s intricate genius is immediately apparent when faced with her work. For 29 years, Bioneers has chosen an artist and piece of artwork to provide the look, feel and visual inspiration for our annual conference. We were overjoyed when Lisa was willing to donate an image of her print, Terrarium II, to Bioneers as the featured image for this year’s annual Bioneers Conference. Terrarium II is part of a series of images displaying different species of turtles carrying collections of ecosystems on their backs. The images evoke beauty, bounty and fragility and one can’t help but recall creation stories of many Native American tribes that refer to our collective home as Turtle Island.

Bioneers caught up with Lisa following the conclusion of her recent show at Antler PDX to talk about her art and her life as an artist.

Bioneers: How long have you been an artist? Where did you go to school or get your formal training?

Lisa: I got serious about art in high school and went on to major in painting at Yale. I struggled to find the time and energy after I left school to pursue art outside of my regular non-art related job and ended up not doing much painting for about ten years. I took classes in graphic design and spent time doing freelance graphic design and website design work, but eventually, after that lost decade, I found my way back to painting. This time around, older, hopefully wiser, when I had a chance to get back into painting, I didn’t look back. That was five years ago now and I’ve been working steadily ever since.

Bioneers: Where does the magical realism come from?

Lisa: I like to take the wonder of the natural world and tweak it just a bit. I enjoy the play of the hyper-realistic way I paint and the surrealistic subject matter.

Bioneers: Can you talk a little bit about your process, praxis and theory?

Lisa: Well, I paint from photographs and I have a rather lengthy and intense process of putting together a composite image to I work from. I work out my ideas, as well as composition, light, and color during that time. When I’m happy, I print out the composite image, transfer the sketch on to a panel and start painting. I work in acrylics and I always start by painting the black background, leaving the white under the image so it has a much light and glow as possible when it’s fully painted. I usually do an under-layer, getting the basic color/values down. Then I do an intensely detailed final layer.

Bioneers: Are your images meant to bring awareness to “environmental” issues?

Bloom by Lisa Ericson

Lisa: Yes. Although my pieces are far from scientific — I take whatever liberties I feel a piece needs — they often have their roots in current environmental issues. The whole series of mini mobile coral reefs connected to fish began after I read about the massive bleaching incidents happening on the Great Coral Reef a few years ago. The series of mobile habitats on the backs of turtles started with ideas of animals being displaced from their habitats due to climate change or other human-related factors.

Bioneers: What is your favorite accomplishment as an artist?

Lisa: Maybe it’s because of my history, but I feel a sense of accomplishment and deep satisfaction whenever I finish a piece. My favorite time with my work is when they’re all hanging up in my studio before a show.

Bioneers: Who are some of the artists that you’re excited about at the moment?

Lisa: I think Jeremy Geddes is pretty phenomenal. I love Tiffany Bozic’s work. And I admire the work of a lot of the artists in my own Portland art community — Josh Keyes, Zoe Keller, David Rice — as well as some of talented people I’ve shown with — Josie Morway, Lindsey Carr, Vanessa Foley.

Bioneers: Why did you decide to donate to Bioneers?

Lisa: I don’t think there are many issues more important right now than taking better care of our planet, and I love the idea of using nature’s own systems as inspiration for human ingenuity.

Thanks to Lisa for the interview and use of her images. Be sure to check out her website and Instagram.