On November 15, mixed-media artist, Megan Woodard Johnson visited period 7 Drawing Intensive artists. She talked about her work, her process, ideas, and inspiration. During her presentation they came up with a list of questions. Due to length of time allocated these questions were emailed to Megan for her responses.
Art Student: How long do you usually take to get your artwork done?
Megan Johnson: I can usually finish a piece in 4-5 days. There is a lot of waiting in my process- for glue to dry, for paint to dry between layers, etc. But once I’m rolling, the image tends to evolve really quickly.
I also frame all of my own work- which can take as many days as the painting itself. I save a lot of money this way, and have control over the details- but it’s time consuming.
AS: How do you sell work? Where do you find buyers?
MJ: The first thing to know is that I sell work by being patient and persistent: I start by having it out in as many different venues as possible: group juried exhibitions and art fairs; art guilds and art center events; art-making demos, open studio tours, and giving workshops. People do not always buy work right away- but they become engaged with me and stay connected via email updates or following me on social media. If they like my work enough to follow me, eventually there is a piece they like enough to buy.
I currently have work in the two John Kohler Arts Center gallery shops and a gallery in Cedarburg. Both opportunities came about because the owner/buyer had seen my work in other venues, and I had struck up a friendly relationship with them, so was easy to find when they had space for new work.
I participate in a few summer art fairs- and have had to do a lot of research to find fairs in places where I think the customers will be interested in actually buying my work. So far for me, that means people in more urban areas, with an appreciation for art and the income for purchasing art for their homes. (For me, large, well advertised shows in Chicago have been great – but I didn’t figure that out until I suffered through some very quiet, local, non-juried art and craft fairs).
I post new work routinely on Instagram and Facebook, and keep my website up to date with work and prices, so have made a few sales through those channels (followers DM me or email me and we take it from there).
AS: Where do you get your inspiration from?
MJ: I find a lot of great art on instagram and even pinterest that inspire my color palettes and sometimes my mark-making and technique.
As for my content, I’m inspired by how intricately humans are linked together, across the globe and across time. I’m also inspired by the things that humans make for practical use- especially old things that show the impact of time.
AS: Any doubts about your current career?
MJ: No. But that wasn’t true until 2 years ago- and I’ve been at this a long time: I graduated from college 20 years ago.
When I decided to stop doubting my work, I stopped doubting whether I was really deserving of the title ‘artist’. When I stopped doubting that, I stopped doubting whether I should put my work out into the world more, and take more chances with shows etc. When I stopped doubting that, my work began to find its audience.
AS: What is your favorite medium to work with?
MJ: There is no one favorite medium for me, and there is no working in one single medium for me- I love them all, but need to work with them all together to say what I want to say. I have found that I do not connect with photography or digital arts as a maker- I need messy hands and direct contact with my art. (But as an art appreciator and consumer- I love them!)
AS: Are you always proud of your work?
MJ: No way!!! I have made some ugly, awkward, awful and totally un-successful pieces – LOTS of them! I don’t resent them- but I also don’t frame them up and show or try to sell them.
AS: Do you feel that there are colors that you gravitate towards?
MJ: There does seem to be a pallette I pull toward- colors that have a faded, warmed-up quality. I love color in general, and have a very strong foundational knowledge of color theory. (Study color theory very seriously- I really believe it’s the underlying subtle element that will make your art work or not work.)
AS: You already found your ‘art style’. Do you ever think about starting or trying to find a completely new style?
MJ: I’m 42 years old, and have been making art seriously in one way or another for 25 years. I have a style that in some ways has always been a part of how I make art. Look at college and High School work of mine you will see a combination of clean, almost architectural style drawing with very loose, gestural painting and scribbling. It’s a yin and yang for me- both qualities feel equally important in all parts of my life.
The series of work I’m currently working on- with the layers of collage, the house-shapes, etc. is what is happening naturally in my studio- but I know it will change and evolve. My approach in my own art is to follow a path or a series until it no longer feels comfortable. When I’m restless with what I’m currently doing, I know it’s time to let something new develop.
AS: Do you get nervous to present in front of classes?
MJ: Yes. For sure. I’m very happy talking one-on-one about my work, but a room full of people is a little daunting! You guys were a great audience 🙂
AS: What techniques do you use when making your art?
MJ: Basically, I start by gluing small pieces of vintage paper all over the paper to create a textural background. I slea that with clear acrylic matte medium, and then start painting. I paint with acrylics, then sometimes remove that paint with rubbing alcohol to get a washy effect. I’ll coat over the whole piece with matte medium several times throughout the piece- sealing down layers, and allowing me to then add different mediums on top of the paint: graphite, pastel, oil pastel, colored pencil, gold leaf. I’ll glue down more collage elements to help create the lines of the houses.
AS: What is the best part about sharing what you love?
MJ: I always love chatting with people about what they find interesting. When they find something that I’ve painted interesting, and want to know more about it- or tell me what they’re drawn to, it’s incredibly validating and heart-warming.
AS: How do you price your artwork?
MJ: I have a basic awareness of my material expenses, so I want to cover those for sure. And I want to be realistic not only about the hours that it takes me to finish one painting- but the years of experiences and training I have in this field, so I try to value my work in a way that respects that.
I look to work done that feels similar to mine in size, medium and the audience it might appeal to, to get a feel for how pricing is going in the world right now. I’ve also had good feedback from the galleries I’m with- in terms of letting me know if they think my prices are appropriate. And now, with 2 years of solid sales in this current series, I feel confident that my pricing is solid.
I very much want my work to be priced in a way that allows it to be attainable to buyers, but attainable does not mean cheap. Buyers in my target audience will spend $100 on a massage, a dinner out, a nice pair of shoes or a concert ticket and not bat an eye. Art for your home is something you purchase because it moves you, and it will be in your home for a lot longer than an hour or an evening or a fashion season, so I’ve tried to keep that in mind as I’ve priced my work.
Early in her art career, she fell in love with printmaking because she was enchanted by the way an image would evolve and build with each new layer of ink. Gradually work, family life, and relocations made access to printmaking equipment more difficult. Experimenting with new materials, she discovered that physically layering actual papers and bits of collected ephemera into paintings and drawings allowed me to make images with a depth that she had never reached with standard printmaking.
Her mixed media approach illustrates how a variety of moments define a total experience. The materials she uses carry the stories of learning, recording, and processing: vintage school books, ledgers, hand- written correspondence. The materials themselves each have a life and history, which is then woven into the stories she tells by adding expressive layers of paint and drawing media.
The notion of the meeting place between private moments and shared or universal experiences is her constant inspiration. She loves watching the wide range of personal responses as viewers uncover layers in her work, recognizing book pages or documents from their youth, or finding memories pulled to the surface by familiar patterns and colors. These very personal connections for each individual actually turn out to be common shared experiences, as viewer after viewer recalls similar memories and responses.
Megan’s recent work examines the notion of creating private spaces: places, both literal and imagined, that provide a sense of refuge. She is interested in how the creation of a personal space must be unique to each individual, while at the same time the experience of having or claiming these spaces is almost completely universal.
About the Artist Lecture Series
The Artist Lecture Series is an in-school program at Sheboygan North High School that invites local and regional visual artists to share their journey as artists with the beginning, intermediate, and advanced art classes. Visiting artists present and expose art students to such as but not limited to: a digital portfolio, actual artworks, talk about about careers, and the opportunity to interact with the artists. This program is organized by the Sheboygan North High Art Department.