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Meet Trailblazer Erika Rhein Givens

Today we’d like to introduce you to Erika Rhein Givens.

Erika, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in Marin County with a fascination for drawing and building Lego cities. Focused on becoming an urban planner, I graduated from UC Santa Barbara (Environmental Studies/Political Science) but the pull toward art eventually lead me to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. After graduating, I landed at the Nokia Design Center in Los Angeles to work as a Senior Graphic Designer for the Asia Pacific region. I later moved on to other creative pursuits at various design firms in the Bay Area. My corporate experience at the time spanned from art direction, graphic design, and copywriting, to branding, identity, exhibit and multimedia design. Several of my projects found recognition in various publications worldwide, like I.D. Magazine and one earned a spot in the New York Film Festival.

In 2004, I got an itch to venture out of the corporate world and whip up a little fun on my own. I launched GLEAUX (pronounced *glow*), an uber-custom San Francisco-based stationery and invitation design studio. Here, I (along with the help of my wonderful non-artsy husband) spent years of grueling, but strangely satisfying, late nights masterminding and meticulously hand-assembling elaborate, out-of-the-box paper creations. Before I knew it, without ever spending a dime on advertising, a feature story in the SF Chronicle Magazine and mentions in the Oakland Tribune, InStyle, SF Magazine, 7×7, and NBC’s Today Show carried me the rest of the way. : )

After relocating to San Diego in 2012 along with that wonderful husband Chad, and three young children, Luke, Reid, and Brooklyn, I expanded my studio into a robust maker of sorts, where I have been designing, drawing, building, sculpting, dipping, drafting, and glueing ever since! My bright and colorful home-based art studio in San Diego’s Del Sur neighborhood is where I craft fresh and original creations that can be found on the walls of the La Jolla Gallery, as well as, online at the GLEAUX shop (

Has it been a smooth road?
The journey so far has been mostly smooth but not without its bumps. I am very much a type A personality and a chronic nitpicker, both obsessed and haunted by the minutiae, the details, and the precision in the creative process, I often put such emphasis on its rigid perfection that it overshadows the end result! So, I try every day to let go a little, relax, flow, and trust a bit more in the organic universe.

Also, being my own marketing department and mastering the ever-changing world of social media has had it’s rough patches and do-overs. Presenting a cohesive and consistent brand to the world, especially when you love experimenting with diverse genres, styles, mediums, themes, and moods presents an on-going challenge!

My advice to young or fledgling female artists just starting out is to really sit with yourself, take a long hard look at who you are, or want to be, as an artist. Try to quiet all those voices pressuring you to be a certain kind of artist, have a certain vibe/style, create out of certain angst or rebellion or irony or smugness, or have a certain commercial appeal. Instead, find an authentic voice and process that is all your own. You must be IN LOVE with your work (if you don’t love it then don’t do it), as well as, have a deep understanding of the WHY behind your creative expression. Ask yourself what original or provocative question, viewpoint, angle, perspective, reaction, or emotion viewers might experience from an encounter with your work? And lastly, by all means, do not let these things intimidate, stifle, or creatively block you… just dive in, do what you do, do it with all your heart… the deep understanding and all rest will come if you’re true to yourself along the way : )

We’d love to hear more about GLEAUX Design.
I make things that put my mind at rest and soul at peace. I am a devout worshipper/artisan of all things handmade, organic, geometric, abstract, textured, curiously meticulous, and peculiarly beautiful. I find myself mostly working in paint, pencil, clay, as well as, 3-dimensional found-object-collage, a wide assortment of organic mixed media materials, and sometimes photography. My works are one-of-a-kind labors of love. While communicating their own visual cadence and dimensional rhythm, each piece represents a different process and aesthetic. The individual materials are typically hand-manipulated from natural objects, then resurfaced, arranged, and applied in such a way as to become a new abstracted whole. The inspiration behind each tends to spring from geometry, graphic maps, micropatterns in nature, the Golden Rule, and the Zen-like meditative process of repetition.

So much of my work is driven by the process, which tends to be meditative and steady, rhythmic and repetitious. I try not to overthink the planning or visualization of the end result. I just sort of give in to the flow. Sometimes, the graphic designer in me wants accuracy and precision, to stick to a design brief, while the photographer in me has been trained to be more fluid, roll with the spontaneity of changing moods, lighting, and energy of an evolving piece. I toggle endlessly between the two worlds. Often times the end result of my work is a complete surprise, eliciting either utter joy or a complete disappointment. Either way, I usually recover quickly because the creative process, if I was true to it and didn’t fight it, was WELL worth it.

I also find inspiration from taking long drives out of my bubble, notebook and Canon in hand, on an endless personal journey to study, practice, and celebrate the art of seeing. While on this journey, I try to immerse myself in the awkward, flavorless, lonely, forgotten, perplexing, inelegant, and uncultivated corners of California and beyond. It is in these settings that I more easily and earnestly notice true raw color, light, energy, and form. I return home to create in the comfort, familiarity, balance, discipline, and structure of my home studio. This duality ignites my creativity!

Which women have inspired you in your life?
I’m certainly not original in thinking this but I believe women historically have not been taken as seriously as men when it comes to having an entrepreneurial mindset, being risk-takers, problem solvers, highly analytical, or mathematical thinkers. This is a seriously unfortunate perception, crippling growth mindset and contributing to the challenges female trailblazers, on the whole, have faced over time. I do think attitudes are changing and we, as a global society, are starting to see an evolution in the realization of what women are capable of as leaders and pioneers in the creative realm and beyond. I feel quite blessed to be a working creative in 2019!


  • Art pieces range in size from roughly 14 x 14″ to 48 x 60″ and beyond (pricing can be anywhere from $500 – $8,000 based on size, material, labor)

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
all original work created by Erika Rhein Givens

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