How would you describe your art?
I am best known for a portfolio of artwork that touches a variety of genres and styles depicted through the Washington, DC native’s jazz, landscape, abstract paintings, and signature “Heart Series” that puts the heart at the center of everything from history to pop culture. You can view a video of my work that was featured on UNC-TV below:
How did you know you were an artist?
Art came naturally for me. I starting creating from the time I can remember and never stopped. We all start out that way, creating, but most of us stop. I kept going. My first accolades came in first grade at Powell Elementary School in Washington D.C. After creating a bulletin board, I was validated by several adults and knew I created impact and enthusiasm through my art.
Where did you attend art school?
I attended Maryland Institute College of Art, where I took a range of different classes.
I have now been a full-time artist for 17 years. My art has been shaped by real world experience, boots on the ground kind of experience. I feel like I have more to offer as an artist because I have had lived outside of art too.
Did you come from a family of artists?
I came from a family of contractors and entrepreneurs.
Tell us how you turned art into your own business:
I have always worked as an artist of sorts. I started working as a graphic artist at the age of 16. I have been involved with graphic design, illustration and fine art. Passion gave me a curiosity and a desire to learn.
What are some “must-haves” for an artist to be successful?
Passion, discipline, and a fire in the belly! An artist must have passion that is very intimate and be able to filter that passion through discipline. Persistence is necessary in any line of work. You cannot casually have an ability and expect to be an overnight success. Most artists are not that productive or get caught up in trying to live the artist’s “image.” Andy Warhol is a great example of someone who made art, but didn’t get caught up in the lifestyle. I am humble and live similarly. I make art because I love it, not because I want to project a certain image. I take my work seriously, but not myself.
What impact do you want your art to have on people?
I love connecting my art to people and enjoy seeing people connect to my art. I want them to feel the love in my work. I love being witness to the joy they receive. My relationship with my art is like a romance that I pass on with each piece.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Inspiration comes from day-to-day living- places, people, narratives, landscapes and so on. I also do commissioned artwork, so inspiration comes from talking with people and hearing their visions.
What does the creative process look like?
At any given time, I have six or seven pieces in progress, sometimes as many as ten. Art is like cooking for me. I move from one to the other, tending to each one as needed until it is done.
Why is quality so important to you?
Creating art is like creating a brand. Once you are established and have made a name for yourself, you can’t start cutting corners to increase profit. Some brands fill in the gaps to create the perception of quality. I never compromise. I always produce high quality work. I want my artwork to be looked at for the substance. I have created 100’s of landscapes, abstracts, and collages all with determination to make each one the best.
Are there any artists who inspire you?
Picasso! I admire his range of style and have brought that range of style into my own work. While painting jazz for over 20 years, I have also been developing various styles simultaneously. Therefore, collectors of my work can own five to ten pieces that all have their own style.
How have you balanced art with family?
Before having my son and daughter, I used to create art six days a week, sometimes nine or ten hours a day. While I am always thinking about the creative process, I can’t be in the studio that much anymore. I want to be with my family. While I am not producing, I have an awareness of what I want to produce. My kids have grown up coming into the studio, where they have painted, drawn, made collages, and watched. My daughter at one point claimed it was her studio because she was there so much.
Do you want your kids to become artists?
I don’t encourage it. You don’t want to force your life onto someone else. It has to come organically. I see my son being more of an engineer than an artist and I support that fully!
How do you market yourself as an artist?
For the last 17 years, I have led that charge myself. I have been very involved with promoting my career, my art. The promotional side requires me to invest a lot of my time and energy. Recently, I partnered with Jim Wiggins of JLT Communications Group to assist with the promotion of my art.
What experiences as an artist are you still waiting for?
I have created so much artwork, yet seldom does someone criticize or analyze my work. I would love to experience the depth of a conversation like that.
You teach classes. What can people expect?
What I can do is teach anyone to create, and help those who attend my classes tap into their creative spirit. My classes are fun and interactive- a great way to relax, be productive and leave with your own artistic creation. In addition to offering group classes, I teach privately as well.
Where can people find out more about your class schedule?
Classes are being taught now through July. The classes are designed for elementary and middle school artists in a variety of weeklong summer-camp workshops in Raleigh and Cary. I am also offering multi-week summer art classes for ages 16 and over in Cary at the Cary Arts Center. For more information about the art classes I offer and learn about my work, visit my website ericmcray.com. You can also schedule a tour of my art-space studio in downtown Raleigh.
You love to give back! Tell us more:
As a leading art advocate in the Triangle, I recently donated some of my artwork to a Cary Visual Arts fundraiser, renewed my relationship as an underwriter of Shaw University’s jazz centered radio station WSHA 88.9 FM, and partnered with the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake to teach my “Master Class” at Holly Springs and Sanderson high schools.