Born in Gilroy, California, Eric Merrell was raised there and in Rochester, New York. Returning to California, early art classes included watercolor painting with Diane Wallace followed by figure and portrait painting in oil with Jim Smyth at the Pacific Art League of Palo Alto, California. Moving back to the east coast for college, Merrell took classes with Al Gury at The University of the Arts and The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, both in Philadelphia. After spending two years in the city he moved back to California, transferring to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
While at Art Center, Merrell worked for a time at the Norton Simon Museum, where the long hours offered plenty of time to study and sketch from the collections. In January 2000, he also began working and exhibiting with the California Art Club (CAC, founded 1909), researching and uncovering lost historic material on the Club.
In April 2001 Merrell graduated from Art Center, receiving a BFA with honors. Continuing to paint on location, he sought out further study with artists Peter Adams and Daniel W. Pinkham, both known for their use of color and poetry in their work. In January 2002, Merrell made the first of several visits to Minnesota to interview Evelyn Payne Hatcher, the daughter of Edgar and Elsie Payne, early CAC members.
Working extensively on location, Merrell has painted throughout the Sierra Nevada and San Gabriel Mountain ranges, the Mojave and Colorado deserts, along the Pacific Coast, plus east coast locales like Cape Cod and Maine. In late 2002 Merrell traveled to France and painted in the countrysides and cities of Lyon, Chamonix and Dijon, among many others. In April 2004 Merrell was invited to stay at the Old Battersea House in London and paint along with ten other young artists; his paintings were featured in a subsequent group exhibition held at The Forbes Gallery in New York City in January 2005.
In 2009, Merrell was selected as one of six artists from around the world for a two-month long Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency in Joshua Tree, CA. In July 2010 Merrell presented a solo exhibition at The Forbes Galleries in New York City; the following July he held another solo exhibition at American Legacy Fine Arts (ALFA) in Pasadena, CA. Merrell was elected to Signature Artist Member of the CAC in early 2013. He continues to teach workshops throughout California.