Erin Thompson Studio

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Erin Thompson preserves memories. That makes her an artist for our time. Our world and our community have experienced a lot of loss lately: of people, of time with those people, of connection. She sees those gaps and fills them with her art.

Like many artists, she is an emotional person engaged in an intense process that drains her of emotion as she captures that of others. Videos on her Instagram account depict a time lapse of her working on pieces, with pauses and hesitations edited out.

She is best known for her images of people and places. Much of her work centers on people, preserving them as they were in a fleeting moment of time. She is also renowned for her depictions of buildings, homes full of happy memories, and businesses that were and are the locus of community, although her focus has shifted lately to the moments.

Thompson‘s work started with a focus on fleeting family moments, such as this one between two brothers.

Thompson comes to her work from a personal perspective. After the loss of both parents in 2022, she and her sisters went to empty her parents’ apartment. Thompson came upon her father’s slippers, still askew where he left them.

They were a monument to his memory. “I was really hesitant to throw them out because I saw his presence in them, in his absence,” Thompson said. In the slippers she saw the indentations, the impressions, the wear of his daily life. “It made me just so aware of his absence but his presence at the same time,” she remembered. “So I think it’s kind of that essence of there’s something still there to hold on to.”

Thompson has a gift: she can see that space. Her art often depicts the memory that fills it. She has made that skill her business through Erin Thompson Studio, her home studio near Lincoln Park where she depicts memories of individuals and communities through commissioned works in ink, graphite and watercolor.

Her business has grown quickly. You’ve probably seen her work. She has donated her artwork to promote the 2023 Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) annual House and Garden Tour; designed adapted logos for neighborhood blog The Hill is Home and her drawing of a home an Christmas tree appeared on the cover of the December 2022 issue of the Hill Rag.

These days, her work is now available on towels, holiday ornaments and cards online and at shops throughout the Hill. She is an official weekend vendor, appearing about once a month at Eastern Market.

But Thompson’s journey to work as a full-time artist was less direct.

A Path Back to Creativity

After finishing college in Delaware in 2000, she came to DC to take a job with the Federal Trade Commission as she considered whether or not to enter law school. The verdict: law was not for her. She then took a position with the FTC’s Office of Consumer and Business Education where she was asked. to do “creative things,” reconnecting her to her artistic side. In 2009, she went back to school, picking up a career in graphic and web design. As her youngest child reached preschool age in 2019, she decided to go into business for herself, just before COVID-19 hit the District.

Opening a business with so much uncertainty in the background, , Thompson decided to make her first Mother’s Day promotion in part a fundraiser for some of the organizations working to bridge gaps created by the pandemic, such as Ward 6 Mutual Aid and the DC Diaper Bank. She asked patrons to pay what they could. “It was pretty popular,” she said. “I did lots and lots of pieces for people.”

Emotional Roots

Thompsons’ work is rooted in emotion —hers, and that of her patrons. She struggled emotionally as her son went to school, realizing that her last child was no longer a baby.

Although she has paused architectural commissions, she still makes time for these types of works as she builds her business. Courtesy: Erin Thompson Studio

It was very therapeutic, she said, as she created images of herself nursing her son, or with her daughter when the latter was young. “So, I started thinking: well, maybe other people would find having images of them comforting,” Thompson remembered.

She started by capturing those fleeting magical family moments. But soon she branched out into capturing a sense of home, when tenants of a multi-family apartment asked her to draw an architectural portrait for a retiring building manager as a thank you gift. It was her first attempt, but she enjoyed it and the residents were pleased with it.

“That sort of spiraled,” Thompson said. “Buildings have meaning to people; [they’re] people’s childhood homes.” When she heard Capitol Lounge was closing, she went to photograph it, wanting to capture the feeling before it was gone, sensing it would be important to neighbors. “And it was,” she said. Those works were extremely popular, and she depicted several other businesses over the years following.

As she worked, Thompson heard stories of people pulled away from their homes, particularly during the pandemic. Many didn’t expect to leave so suddenly; they did so having loved the homes they were leaving. They wanted a way to preserve the memory of the space where they’d brought their children home, or of the fond memories of the family time spent at that house together. For many, Thompson said, the depiction is “somehow like the holder of all these memories, and I think when they see it, they see all the little details that are specific to that home and that place and that time.”

Making Time

Thompson has a long wait list, and she grapples with how to handle it. “It’s wonderful, it’s gratifying,” Thompson said of the wait list. “It shows the need, I guess, that’s out there that people have for ways to capture these things that are meaningful for them.”

By March 2024, she had completed her 120th commission. Thompson usually has two or three simultaneously on the go, so that she can keep her approach fresh or allow for drying between stages.

Scan this QR code to watch an Instagram time lapse video of Thompson working on the East Capitol piece from start-to-finish — or CLICK THE IMAGE TO WATCH Courtesy: Erin Thompson Studio

Recently she put a temporarily pause on accepting new commissions for these architectural works. But she is still making time for art capturing the human moments. It’s never too early to plan a gift full of loving memories, so Thompson encourages interested parties to email her with ideas and reference photos.

Her prices vary and depend on size, style and complexity of subject matter. Works start at around $1,500 and increase from there. Art as a business is difficult, she said. She doesn’t want to restrict art to those who are affluent. At the same time, she has to make a living.

Over the last few years, her business has evolved to include prints, cards, wooden ornaments and even kitchen towels. You can see the full collection at www.ErinThompsonStudio.com where you can place an order and then pick up from her home near Lincoln Park.

This summer she opens her first show in the office of Dr. Nisham Halim (27 Sixth St. NE).

You can subscribe to her newsletter at erinthompsonstudio.com. Select items are available at local businesses such as Frager’s Hardware, Frame of Mine, East City Books, Sweet Crimes Bakery and Groovy DC.

Want to know when she’ll be at Eastern Market? Follow her on Instagram @erinthompsonstudio. View her portfolio at ErinMalickThompson.myportfolio.com.