Creativity abounds inside Erika Ziegler’s soundside Frisco abode from which she runs her art business, ELA Designs.

The 36-year-old Hatteras Island native has a host of projects underway that she’ll sell at craft shows and the local farmers market. She creates wood burning designs, paintings, drawings and crochet crafts, but her fountain of creativity sprang from a love of drawing.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a day where I haven’t picked up a pencil or a pen and just doodled,” Ziegler said.

This sensitive soul has embraced and responded to her surroundings since childhood. Her series of mermaid portraits tantalize with their flowing hair, lovely faces, and idyllic seaside surroundings. They also convey a deeper message. Inspired by a friend of Ziegler’s who has vitiligo, missing scales on a beautiful female form indicates a loss of pigment, which is a symptom of the skin disease.

Ziegler has brilliant, long red hair. Like her mermaids, she grew up one with nature and fearlessly explored the island’s waters.

“My backyard was the soundside,” she said. “I made up fantasy islands in my head, and my German shepherd was my best friend.”

Ziegler said she loved to walk around in the sound and find things. Her diligence allowed her to watch a stingray give live birth and to discover buttery soft seahorses. This nature lover studied art at the knee of Marta Martinez, the now retired art teacher, who instructed Ziegler from kindergarten through 12th grade.

But there were other catalysts for Ziegler’s creativity: She took graphic art classes online and her father is a wood craftsman. She learned to crochet from her paternal grandmother, and her maternal grandmother introduced her to painting and supplied her with canvases and paints. Her mother read to her from day one, and by age 15, Ziegler wrote a novel. Her graphic designer cousin held “Doodle Mondays.”

“He’d show me different techniques and what makes the best oceans,” she said. Hanging over Ziegler’s kitchen table is a painting of the ocean with the moon rising, lightning sparks in the sky, and a tree, covered in Spanish moss, reflects in the water.

“So, I put everything I love in that painting,” she said. “I like spiders, and spiders live in Spanish moss, and I love a good storm.”

Despite being blue/purple color blind, Ziegler created an atmospheric painting that sings with violet and blue tones.

Ziegler uses a broader color palette when she works on her Tree of Life designs. A friend laser cuts a circular piece of wood into organic, lace-like patterns to form a tree. Working from a theme, for example, Outer Banks history or her husband Jeff’s favorite band, she draws across the large surface with a wood burning tool. Then, using colored pencils, acrylic paints and watercolors, she adds color to the designs. The result is an eclectic ode to any subject a client can imagine.

While Ziegler has many creative avenues that she explores, wood burning is her current focus. Along with her signature Tree of Life designs, she does wood burning on boxes of all sizes. Little surprises hide in some of these keepsakes. Ziegler burns designs on the lids, decorating them with anything from colorful sea creatures to American flags, unicorns and snowmen. She also wood burns and paints ornaments.

“I personalize them however they want,” she said of her clients.

As if Ziegler doesn’t have enough projects, she also paints murals, tabletops and signs for local businesses and residents.

From the moment when Martinez noticed her sunflower painting in kindergarten to today, Ziegler has been striving to express herself, learn new techniques, and improve her skills. It’s only been about two years since she launched herself into the art festival world. Having a husband who supports her goals is important.

“Jeff pushing me, (saying) go be an artist, he is my rock,” she said. “Him and my dad are my biggest fans.”

To her dad, everything she does is perfect, said Ziegler with a laugh. Her husband is more discerning and offers constructive criticism. Ziegler also appreciates the support of fellow artists; she’s a member of the Hatteras Island Arts & Crafts Guild.

“I am always looking for someone better than me to teach me something new,” she said.

Mary Ellen Riddle has been writing the Coast’s art column for more than 20 years and brings to her work a BFA in painting from East Carolina University and a profound passion for the role the arts play in society.


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