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"Under The Pencil" by Erica Robinson - An Explorative Project and Exhibition

"Under the Pencil", a twist on "going under the knife", is a collection of artworks that are a combination of portraiture and handwriting, highlighting the uniqueness of a breast cancer diagnosis in adolescent and young adult (AYA) women. After her own diagnosis in June 2021 at 34 years old, Erica Robinson's relationship with her camera became a complicated one, the one form of communication she'd understood her whole life and based her career on. When writing became her therapy she combined self-portraits, and has since worked with 15 other women to bring them through the same cathartic process that set her free. Scroll on to learn more about how Erica is using photography and writing to empower breast cancer survivors, and for details on the November 5th exhibition.


Can you give us a little background on your passion for storytelling through photography, and how it's evolved through this project?

"I caught the travel bug back in college, and this blew the doors to my small world wide open. It brought on an insatiable need to learn and welcomed me into the world of storytelling and story sharing. I noticed really early on that there was a little fire inside that grew each time I spent time with a new place, person, language, or landscape. But sharing the stories of others is very different from sharing your own. Sharing your own requires you to get personal with yourself, something that is much easier said than done.

"This project initially began as a self-portrait that came from a deep place of fear, pain, exhaustion, depression, and a dark space that is not easy to publicly admit to the world.

"But I also knew there was a beauty that could come from this vulnerable admission—that there were others who needed a space to let out what they’ve been keeping in. Just like me.

"So my passion for storytelling evolved when I met the new version of myself. She was ready to be honest about some really personal moments."


We love that you combine two channels of expression - photography and writing - as a means of processing and healing. Does adding a print component bring this full circle?

"Absolutely. In the workshops I teach, I always tell my students to, once they return home, make sure to print some of their images and not just leave them trapped on a hard drive. Images come to life in a beautiful way when they’re printed, especially on a large scale.

"For this particular project, these art pieces are going to be printed 24x36” and displayed from the ceiling where visitors will walk through them and around them, which, in my opinion, is more interactive than walking up to a wall. It will be as if they will have the opportunity to interact with the woman in the image herself.

"Printing these images also means the world to the women sharing them. During cancer treatment, you can often feel like just another patient, just another number on a wristband. But these are individual human beings that deserve to be treated as such, and printing them shows them they matter."


Which Bay Photo print medium did you gravitate toward for the exhibition?

"For this project, I chose 24x36” prints on Moab Entrada Bright Rag fine art paper mounted on Gatorboard. Printing them on such a large scale not only supports the viewer when reading the written words, but it also creates an opportunity for the women who’ve been photographed to see themselves take up space. The paper itself has a little sheen, which keeps the writing readable for the viewer. It also balances color beautifully for portraits. I chose to have them mounted on Gatorboard because of the style in which they will be displayed. Being displayed from the ceiling, they need some weight and back support to not curve or bend."


Your story is incredibly impactful and inspiring. Are there any words of advice or encouragement you'd like to share with our community?

"Let go of expectations."

"These could be expectations you’ve built for yourself or ones that others have placed on you, and you’ve obliged. I chose this time as a moment to break the creative routines I’d gotten myself into that stunted my growth as an artist. I had to learn to trust myself and that “failing” isn’t actually failing but instead promotes growth.

"Photographers often talk about the idea that everyone “has” a story. I like to think of it as everyone “is” a story, and to remember we are also a part of the process. When my health took an unexpected turn, I became overwhelmed by the expectations to document and create art out of my trauma. When I let go of this expectation and remembered I’m a person who “is” a story, I sat with my own feelings long enough to reconnect with art again.

"So, my biggest piece of advice for any creative who may be navigating health complications is to spend time with yourself, even if that means it’s only 15 minutes every morning. In those 15 minutes, you could learn something new that could change your entire trajectory."


Special Thanks to Erica Robinson

To learn more about "Under the Pencil", and for details on the exhibition, visit her website.

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