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Portrait of a Rising Artist

Erin McCollum

Erin McCollum

Some people quip that Erin McCollum ’16 must be a vampire, since she managed to graduate magna cum laude while also finding the time to become an award-winning artist. Yet, to the new alumna, academics was actually the easiest part about Stetson — and being an art major was not the cakewalk many make it out to be.

“I feel like a lot of people have this unfounded notion that art students have it easy, or that we are essentially majoring in ‘arts and crafts,’” McCollum says. “This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The average amount of time I spend on a painting is probably 60 extracurricular hours. I produced around 12 pieces during my senior year, excluding commission work.”

Given that the average Stetson student spends approximately 12 hours a week in the classroom, with the remainder of time used trying to balance homework, extracurriculars and a social life, McCollum often found herself living a nocturnal lifestyle.

“I’m not a person who likes to compromise any aspect of their life. I was essentially a student by day, artist by night,” she says. “We have a running joke in the studio art department that ‘The Artists Come Out at Night,’ and we must all be vampires to be able to pull the studio hours that we do. In fact, it was incredibly rare that I was ever in the studio when the sun was up. So many days I was running on about three hours of sleep. Safe to say, I balanced student and artist life with a big cup of Matcha green tea in the morning and a heaping spoonful of determination.”

Illustration of girl in Stetson t-shirt

This illustration by Erin McCollum was featured in the Fall 2014 issue of Stetson Magazine.

Despite the rigorous routine, McCollum managed to keep her good sense of humor and vitality intact thanks to Stetson’s environment and those who compose it. “The environment at Stetson definitely had an impact on me as an individual,” she says. “Not only was the campus almost always vibrant, beautiful and peaceful, but I also felt those same good vibes in the classroom.

“My professors and mentors in the art department noted my established skill as an artist and worked with me as an individual to make sure I was excelling and producing pieces to my personal standards. I was also given thematic freedom in my pieces, which I believe is optimal for creative expression. By being able to paint and sculpt things I found interesting and meaningful, as opposed to predetermined projects, I could dive into creating and practicing techniques with newfound voracity.”

With such passion, McCollum was able to garner the Stetson Award for Most Outstanding Graduating Senior and the Maris Prize for Outstanding Showcase Art Presentation. On top of that, her sculpture “Gilt” won a Stetson University Private Collection Purchase Award. In both 2013 and 2015, she took home Best of Show at the Stetson Juried Student Art Exhibition. Several of McCollum’s pieces have been sold — including two separate art pieces purchased by the university.


McCollum hopes to continue spending the rest of her life doing what she loves as her career.

For the past four years she’s spent her vacation time working for Universal Creative at Universal Studios Orlando as a creative consultant, producing storyboards, concept sketches and key art. She labels the work a “wonderful developmental experience.” In August, McCollum will work at Universal as a full-time illustrator.

For now, during her ‘off’ time, McCollum has been traveling around the country, looking for inspiration for her next series of paintings.

“I was working large scale with political concepts during college, so in this time of relaxation I am toning it down by painting smaller, more intimate pieces,” she explains. “More recently, I’ve been motivated to create art based on the political and social climate of our modern world, especially in the wake of the unfolding 2016 election.”

Yet, McCollum is inspired by so much more. “Sometimes I see a beautiful fabric or a specific shade of paint and get this vision of what that material could become. I love looking for potential energy in objects. Thematically, I consistently find myself being drawn toward esoteric mysticism, mythology, science and personal experience. I also love the Victorian, Rococo and Baroque stylistic periods, which have definitely influenced my work,” she says.

In addition to housing art in Stetson’s Hand Art Center, she is currently discussing potential solo exhibitions with various galleries. “Getting my work professionally shown and marketed is a huge move for me in pushing my artistic brand, so it’s a very exciting time!” she comments.

When asked what she’ll miss most about Stetson, she responds: “My art family.”

“The hours we kept allowed us to bond in ways that I have never bonded with any other group of individual,” she continues. “The studio was, in a way, our clubhouse: a place to share stories of our experiences, our food and our hearts. We laughed together, we cried together and, most importantly of all, we created together.

“Much like the studio itself, I feel like we were each other’s escape. The friendships that resulted are lifelong. I know when I look back at my Stetson experience in the future, that is where I will wish I could be again, in Sampson Hall at the stroke of midnight with some of the best friends I’ll ever know.”

To see McCollum’s work, visit her website at www.erinmccollum.com.

By Nicole Melchionda ’16

Note: As a student illustrator, Erin McCollum was a regular contributor to Stetson University Magazine.