The Grand Rapids Press: Young printmaker finds success after following her heart

By Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood | The Grand Rapids Press
on February 15, 2015 at 6:25 AM

Erica Lang has always known she is an artist at heart.

"When I was younger, I got a drawing table for Christmas one year and I would just stay up all night long and draw," the 24-year-old said smiling.

Pastels were her favorite and she drew so much that she developed a bump on her drawing finger. She couldn't get enough of art, but didn't plan to pursue it professionally.

"The dream was always to be an artist," she said. "I was just scared to follow that path."

In high school, "I actually purposely avoided those classes and took math and science because I was so worried about not being able to get a job."

Job security was on her mind when she enrolled at Saginaw Valley State University to pursue a degree in nursing. Unhappy with the program, she transferred after a year to Central Michigan University where her brother was in the ROTC program. But when it came time to sign her ROTC papers, she couldn't do it.

"This isn't right for me," she said, recalling her thoughts at the time. "I'm not a fighter."

Only after trying to will herself into two other careers did Lang finally acknowledge her passion and begin taking general art classes. Her fate as an artist was sealed when she took her first printmaking class.

"I fell in love with it," she said.

Practical to her core, Lang called her aunt who is a designer and asked her what was the most viable art degree she could earn. Her aunt suggested she study industrial design so she transferred to Ferris State University's Kendall College of Art and Design to pursue a degree.

"I was in it for like a semester and I hated how technical the designs were," Lang said.

So she changed her major again and threw herself into printmaking.

Lang started collaborating on paintings and drawings with a friend she met in the industrial design program and they sold their work under the business name Woosah while they were in school together. Lang says the slang word for relax is intended to bring a sense of inner peace when said out loud. Lang used to say "Woosah" to her collaborator when her friend was stressing over classes.

"It feels good to say," Lang said.

The more Lang got into printmaking, the more she wanted to make prints for Woosah.

"I remember sitting in my classes drawing stuff for Woosah and not working on what I should be doing in class," Lang said. "I think that fear of not having a job when I graduated, that's what made me make Woosah.... like setting myself up for something that I really wanted to do when I graduated."

As time went on, Lang's Woosah collaborator was loaded up with industrial design work and eventually ended up taking a job out of state, so Lang busied herself with keeping the brand alive.

She started shopping for an etching press online.

"I was searching on Craigslist every single day," Lang said.

She found a 700-pound Laguna etching press with a 60-inch printing bed for sale. The seller was located in California so she had to pay a hefty freight bill to get the press delivered to Dinderbeck in Grand Rapids where she rents studio space.

With the press in place, Lang began creating more woodcut designs that she prints on T-shirts, hoodies and paper. Since graduating from Kendall in last spring, Lang has taken on several commission jobs as her Woosah brand has grown in popularity.

"It's an art and apparel brand that features woodcuts, which is my favorite technique in printmaking," she said. "But it's also a lifestyle which I promote through my artwork which is all about appreciating nature, slowing down and being present. I hope it really encourages a creative community to create and express themselves."

Bears, hiking boots and the mountains are common themes in Lang's prints, which highlight her appreciation for relaxing time outdoors and the environment.

Immediately after graduation, Lang worried a lot about how she was going to pay her bills working as a printmaker. "But then I realized... it didn't do me any good to worry about it," she said. "So I decided to just put all my energy into the projects I'm working on and just put out the energy that I want to make art.

"I know that may sound weird, but the projects kind of just come to me," she said. "You kind of attract into your life what you want. I really believe that."

In recent months, Lang has worked on projects for local small businesses as well as Patagonia and a UK surf company.

"It's cool to work with these companies that are very environmentally aware," she said.

Lang is approaching her one-year anniversary as a college grad and hopes to mark the anniversary holding keys to a new retail/studio space on South Division Avenue in Grand Rapids, MI. If all goes according to plan, this summer Lang will be selling Woosah goods directly to her customers, printing on site and teaching workshops, too.

She's going for it and having a blast.

"What I wish I would have known while I was in school was just to not doubt myself," she said. "Do what makes you the most happy and don't be afraid to get it out there... Find what it is that excites you and you're really passionate about and put everything into that and just give it your all."

Find out more about Lang's work at spreadingthewoosah.com and listen to her tell her story on episode 155 of the CraftSanity Podcast at CraftSanity.com. Contact Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood at jennifer@craftsanity.com or write P.O. Box 888192, Grand Rapids, MI 49588. Follow @CraftSanity on Instagram.