Thursday, September 13, 2012

DPW Spotlight Interview: Nan Johnson

Each week we will spotlight a different DPW artist who will give away one of their best paintings. 

To enter to win Nan Johnson's painting, "Coleus," go to DailyPaintworks and click on the Spotlight Giveaway button in the top-left corner of the website.

From Nan's DPW gallery page:
Mainly self-taught, Nan "sees" her subjects as a grouping of shapes, each with their own color and shade. It is by combining these that she creates a visual that has been called "unique" or "evocative." Her work is currently held in private collections all over the country.
Tell us a bit about how you first started painting.

I started drawing in early childhood and that stayed with me throughout my school years. My dad and I would watch Jon Gnagy on TV together and Dad would explain shading and positive/negative spaces. He would also give me pointers on perspective. Often he would take a blank 8x10 paper, put a dot on it and tell me to draw the room, using that dot as my vanishing point. Years later in high school, I picked up a brush and just started to paint.

(click here to see original image)

Enter to win by clicking the "Artist Spotlight and Giveaway" button!

Did you have any stops and starts in your painting career?

Plenty. When my dad died and again a few years later when my mom died; I was suddenly on my own -- with debts! College ended at that point and I went out into the working world with a different view. Things had changed. About 6 years ago, I again picked up the brushes and paints for the umpteenth time and don't intend to put them down again.

What mediums and genres have you experimented with? Which ones have "stuck" and which ones have fallen away? Which ones are you looking forward to exploring?

I worked with regular sketch pencil and charcoal in my younger days and liked it. With painting, I actually started with house paint, makeup, anything I could get my hands on to create with. Then my parents bought me my first oil paint kit and I worked quite a bit with them, but I disliked the fumes and cleanup. Tried acrylics a few years ago and have been "stuck" on them since. But I would like to try my hand at watercolors one of these days.

Big Yellow Taxi
(click here to see original image)

You have quite a range: florals, portraits, still lives, landscapes and city scenes; some of them highly detailed. Which such a cornucopia to choose from, how do you go about deciding upon a subject, particularly ones that seem to require a real time and energy commitment?

Ah, good question! I've been told by art critics and teachers that I should focus on a subject matter. Do only still lifes, or florals, or whatever, but not be all over the place. Well believe it or not, I am focused - but not on a specific subject matter.

I see shapes of color, and shades of color, and patterns of color - rather than a subject. And that is what I am drawn to and what I paint. Patterns fascinate me, whether it's a staircase with lights dancing on the wall or an intricate city scene full of activity. It's the patterns of shapes, colors and lights that catches my attention and creates an emotion that I try to capture. As with the piece Coleus above - the pattern in the leaves is what caught my eye as I walked out the front door one morning. A few photos later and I had a new art piece to do!

Birthday Candles
(click here to see original image)

What does procrastination look like for you? What techniques work to ensure that you make time for your art?

I'm not sure it's procrastination that I experience. Actually, the opposite is true - pushing myself to paint when I'm not in the frame of mind to paint. With a full time day job that is separate from my art, there are some evenings that my mind can't look at the canvas. And when I push during those times, I get frustrated with the outcome. I've learned to do other art-related things (website, review of other artist's work, watch art videos) during those "down" times, which helps me to re-energize. Sometimes just taking an evening to organize things helps me to get a "fresh" start the next day.

How do you generally arrive at ideas for your paintings?

I don't pick my ideas so much as they pick me. I always have a camera with me and take lots of photos. I work in NYC, so there is always much to look at and be inspired by. But I can get the same inspiration driving down a country road. When I capture a moment with the camera, I know I will return to that moment again when it's time to paint it - be it tomorrow, next week, month or year.

Autumn Bench
(click here to see original image)

How do you keep art "fresh?" What techniques have helped you avoid burnout and keep your work vibrant and engaging?

I did the online challenges for a while, and still do some of them. But for a while, I did every challenge I could find every month. I burned out. In hind sight (which I believe is always 20/20), I realized it had become about the quantity and not the quality.

I stopped the "To Be Painted" formal list; now I just go with what is in my heart and my mind for the "next" work. Sometimes, a simple comment or question from a follower of my work sparks a new piece. You just never know where the next inspiration will come from - love that!

What do you feel you are learning about right now as an artist?

Marketing! That is my weak point now. Not that that means I learned every technique of art and am a master! No - no. I'm never done learning - there is always a new approach, a new inspiration, a new method. But I realized recently that I do not promote my work or myself very much and I need to come out of the shadows myself. So much to learn!

(click here to see original image)

What makes you happiest about your art?

The simple act of creating. I love to see a blank canvas come alive!

Thanks, Nan!

© 2012 Jennifer Newcomb Marine


  1. I always wondered how you chose your varied subjects. I remember first joining and seeing you post a quiet snow cover bench followed by the Kermit Balloon in the Thanksgiving Day parade and I thought "Who is this woman? and what makes her tick?"
    Now I know the answer to those questions. Have a fun week and thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Jo! I remember when you asked those questions about the Kermit Balloon! Thanks for your support & well wishes. And I love your work, your use of color always makes me smile!

  2. Jon Gnagy!! You must be kidding! You just gave away your age. I used to watch his tv show when I was a kid. I had forgotten all about him. I even got one of his 'Learn to Draw' books... though my folks removed the nudes section. Thanks for the memories Nan. I have heard the same comments about my work not being focused enough on any one subject. But who wants to be tied to just one thing or style?! I rather like your variety. And I was blown away by your birthday candle piece! When you get the marketing thing down please let us all know the trick.

    1. Thanks Brian for your kind words. I may make a series of candle paintings. They are so much fun! If I find any secrets on marketing I'll let you know, but for now I'd be happy to get a functioning website done!

      Oh, if you want a flashback down memory lane, search for Jon Gnagy on youTube! Enjoy!

  3. This is a great interview and collection of your work, Nan. Thanks for sharing your views, history and passion with us. Congratulations on being selected for this DPW spotlight.