LAURA JOHNSTON

•••••• artist ••••••

Instax

Creative Process, TidbitsLaura JohnstonComment

I've been trying for days to write a post about my newest painting, and the words just aren't coming. Or, they are, but I keep second-guessing myself, deleting, rewriting. 

I received an Instax camera for Christmas, and I love it for this very relevant reason: over-thinking. There is only so much you can control about the outcome of what you're shooting, and retakes are not exactly limitless. You point, you shoot, you don’t digitally edit. It captures things as they are, and both includes yet glosses over the details in a way that makes everything look really beautiful exactly the way it is.

This morning I am up extra early painting on my make-shift easel, on account of losing sleep over the health of our avocado tree whose roots we had to cut for a construction project. That painting-in-progress is on the left.

I'll be sharing my new piece soon, my final one for 2015. For now, perhaps some pancakes + writing on paper is in order.

New Painting - 28 (But Who's Counting?)

Artwork, Finished Work, PaintingLaura JohnstonComment
Laura Johnston 28 (But Who's Counting?) 30x24" acrylic on canvas 2015

Laura Johnston
28 (But Who's Counting?)
30x24" acrylic on canvas
2015

I've been working on this beast for months, and it feels good to finally call it finished. Most of the time with my paintings I have this intense emotion and energy that flows freely onto the canvas; this painting felt different. More like a puzzle than a dance. More mental than intuitive. It took me longer to get there, but in the end I feel the same sense of satisfaction that all of its pieces are in place.

I believe my 365 project caused the shift in scales from intuitive to cerebral. I am curious to see how the two balance out over the next year or so when I won't have the same daily habit of sketching and sharing. I still plan to make good use of my sketchbooks, and I feel like I understand how to use them more effectively now.

My hair is 28" long. I am 28 years old. It is not a competition. Be careful with sensitive information.

New Painting - Bang, Bang Forever

Artwork, Finished Work, PaintingLaura JohnstonComment
Bang, Bang Forever 9x12" mixed media on paper 2015

Bang, Bang Forever
9x12" mixed media on paper
2015

I made this piece for a friend a few weeks ago. I've been working on a larger canvas for the past couple of months, and doing these smaller pieces in the meantime helps keep me motivated. I can't believe it's been over a year since I started doing this style of mixed media on paper (in my first sketchbook project), but I have made very few finished pieces outside of my sketchbooks. This one felt easy, like it just wanted to exist and helped me make it happen.

New Painting - A Never-Ending Joke About Oatmeal

Artwork, Finished Work, PaintingLaura JohnstonComment
Laura Johnston A Never-Ending Joke About Oatmeal 8x8" acrylic on canvas 2015

Laura Johnston
A Never-Ending Joke About Oatmeal
8x8" acrylic on canvas
2015

I have been working on my abstract paintings recently, getting a set of them ready to display at Collector Art Shop in Berkeley later this month, and starting a couple of new ones. I finished this small one over the weekend for my friend Sarah, who is awesome and creative. I love her sense of humor. Lately I've been sensitive about who I am surrounding myself with and how they make me feel. It makes a huge difference, and I am grateful for supportive friendships. 

"Understand the difference between someone who speaks to you on their free time, and someone who frees their time to speak to you."

May all of your pizzas be cheesy and free of oatmeal.

Obsessions

Laura JohnstonComment

I've been hooked by black and white. It snuck up on me and now I'm just ... obsessed. Right now it's being manifested in circles like abstract yin-yangs. I want to sit in my house and make these nonstop for days. They've even taken over my sketchbook pages!

Days 266 + 267. Don't stop til you get enough.

Days 266 + 267. Don't stop til you get enough.

Days 264 + 265. Smitten.

Days 264 + 265. Smitten.

I've also been obsessed with Lana Del Rey's new album, ESPECIALLY Salvatore. I listen to this song over and over again. It's so beautiful.

Current arrangement in my studio. A poster from my trip to Palais Ideal in France, a portrait entitled "Laura" from Christina Romeo surrounded by two Berber instruments, a watercolor painting by Ellen Wilberg, a small mountain on cedar by Cathy McMurray, my le animalé sign, a blue-haired portrait by my sister Kayla, a ceramic plaque from mbartstudios that reads, "always do what you're afraid to do", newest painting from my friend Devon, and an interior painting from my friend Frances' 100-day project.

Current arrangement in my studio. A poster from my trip to Palais Ideal in France, a portrait entitled "Laura" from Christina Romeo surrounded by two Berber instruments, a watercolor painting by Ellen Wilberg, a small mountain on cedar by Cathy McMurray, my le animalé sign, a blue-haired portrait by my sister Kayla, a ceramic plaque from mbartstudios that reads, "always do what you're afraid to do", newest painting from my friend Devon, and an interior painting from my friend Frances' 100-day project.

Yesterday was an amazing mail day, and I am obsessing over my new painting from Devon Sioui. Devon and I became friends online in 2011 after I messaged her about one of her paintings, and I now own 4 of her originals, one of her books and just pre-ordered her newest (which is a full look at her 100-day sketchbook project!). It's like her soul just bleeds through her work. Photos never do it justice (often the case with art, I guess).

Along with the new painting came this awesome original tote!

Along with the new painting came this awesome original tote!

A Silence Like Her's - Devon Sioui /SWOON

A Silence Like Her's - Devon Sioui /SWOON

I hope you have a healthily obsessed weekend. I'm going to go see what happens if I try to paint something that is not black and white... I'll let you know! ;) 

New Painting - Deliberation (The Palm Reader Was Right)

Finished Work, PaintingLaura JohnstonComment
Laura Johnston Deliberation (The Palm Reader Was Right) 18x24" acrylic on canvas 2015

Laura Johnston
Deliberation (The Palm Reader Was Right)
18x24" acrylic on canvas
2015

Lately when I paint it almost feels like I am taking apart all of the pieces and learning how I want to put them back together again. I am trying to be more deliberate and still maintain an intuitive approach. I look at my work over the last few years I can see a progression where slowly the bits within a painting are drifting apart versus being more blended. It's like the energy has transformed from highly vibrational and rhythmic to more choreographed and rhythmic?

I've been going through a lot of personal changes this year, and being so connected to my work it only makes sense that those would be reflected within it. I've been thinking a lot about the first palm reading I ever had (only a couple of years ago), which was totally on a whim and pretty short, but the one thing that stood out to me most was being told that things I have been hoping to resolve are going to start coming to a head around my 28th year. Another friend mentioned it may be the effect of my first Saturn return, and it's quite possible that California is helping move things along, but whatever it is, it's definitely happening. All good & welcome changes.

I am trying to hone in on what it feels like to be done with a piece - stopping before it's overworked but also feeling like I did enough so that it looks purposeful. So many delicate balances to strike. I remembered to take some progress shots as this piece was coming together (below). I find that I can see a painting better through a photo sometimes than just with my own eyes - if I get stuck, usually taking a photo can help me figure out where to go next.

I'm going to display this piece at Collector in Berkeley from late October through November. More details on that show will be coming very soon! It would be great to see some of you there. If you'd like to stay in the know about these sorts of things, I send out details through my newsletter

365 - Just Past 2/3

SketchbookLaura JohnstonComment
Days 246 + 247. This week has brought about a little bit of clarity, thank goodness. Here's some practice with acrylic.

Days 246 + 247. This week has brought about a little bit of clarity, thank goodness. Here's some practice with acrylic.

I just passed the 2/3 mark a few days ago. Feeling really capable and really clear lately. Capable in the sense that I believe I can reach my goals and I know I can stick with something on this level. I am enjoying the rhythm of slowing chipping away at something. Slowly building. I feel patient and assured. I have a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be, and I am ok with that. I will do the work, and I will get there.

There is so much I want to say about this sketchbook project, and I really don't know how to go about scratching the surface of that. Through this entire project I've found it difficult to express the impact it has had because it's been so profound. I'm not sure I can come anywhere close to conveying it, but I'd still like to share what I can.

Days 250 + 251. First beer I ever drank and my favorite lil wallet.

Days 250 + 251. First beer I ever drank and my favorite lil wallet.

A few months ago I was having a hard time with the project. My friends kept me going. Having a sketchbook specifically made for this project kept me going (having it partially filled would have taunted me forever!). I was questioning whether or not sketching every day was actually helpful, even though I have always heard that it is, because on so many days I was creating something I didn't like or feel connected to. It made me wonder what the point of those days was. Why not just skip them and get to the good stuff? 

I finally believe in working daily. It's bringing about clarity, and it's showing me how and what to practice. Previously I'd have an idea and just get stuck because there was this huge, dense forest between myself and the end product. Sketching everyday has been like taking a machete into the thick instead of just sitting on the other side feeling either discouraged or wondering how I might be able to get through. A path is emerging.

Days 252 + 253. My favorite earrings at the moment and a portrait of Natalia Vodianova shot by Mario Testino.

Days 252 + 253. My favorite earrings at the moment and a portrait of Natalia Vodianova shot by Mario Testino.

Lately I'm really into practicing with acrylic (as seen above). I love that it's such a quick and versatile medium to work with, and I LOVE working with it on paper. I'm considering setting a parameter to use acrylic only for next year's project, but I'm trying not to get too far ahead of myself. I have 112 days to go for this year, so it's not like I'm really close to done yet, but I am happy to say that I have still not missed a day! You can see all of my sketches so far here

New Painting - Piñata (An Okapi's Dream)

Finished Work, Painting, ArtworkLaura JohnstonComment
Laura Johnston Piñata (An Okapi's Dream) 10x10 acrylic on canvas 2015

Laura Johnston
Piñata (An Okapi's Dream)
10x10 acrylic on canvas
2015

I painted this piece over an unfinished painting I'd started years ago. The original was a dreamy nighttime scape with a lady laying on the back of an okapi. One day I may reattempt it, but for now it didn't feel quite ready to become a finished piece, so I let the okapi's festive dream take over the canvas.

It is fun to finally start seeing a progression in my work over the past several years! 

Plugged In

Artwork, PhotographyLaura Johnston1 Comment
Plugged In. San Francisco, CA.

Plugged In. San Francisco, CA.

I often hear observations/complaints about how technology is creating distance amongst us, even though through technology we are "more connected" than ever. I see it, too, and in fact many of the shots I've taken over the past year show it clearly - people immersed in their phones, especially. With that in mind, I am really happy about the human connection in this shot. We can be plugged in, but still connected. 

Plus, there's a dog!

Bandley

PhotographyLaura JohnstonComment
Bandley. Cupertino, CA.

Bandley. Cupertino, CA.

This photo has been in the works for a while. I love the stark, simplistic character of the building, and the small glimpses at life in the vehicles, power lines, and open windows. It's like a slowly passing opportunity before the newly planted trees grow to obscure more of the scene.

Been very drawn to lines and color recently.

Bold-Haired Ladies

SketchbookLaura JohnstonComment

I just finished day 207 of my 365 sketchbook project, and it's fun to see themes emerging as the project progresses. Lately I've been feeling really drawn to detailed faces with bold & simplistic hair. It's a sensible progression for me from my trend of creating completely bald ladies to ladies with just simple hair. I love the pop of color and interest it adds, or the sketchy look of leaving the hair as a bold, black outline with no filling. I've also noticed that I am completely enamored with circles, which I didn't even intend to show with these particular images, but you can see it nonetheless. 

Days 206 + 207. I used a photo by @emilysoto of @ninioma as reference for the portrait sketch on the left. Her work is INCREDIBLE. I'm really feeling these bold-haired portraits. ❤️😍

Days 206 + 207. I used a photo by @emilysoto of @ninioma as reference for the portrait sketch on the left. Her work is INCREDIBLE. I'm really feeling these bold-haired portraits. ❤️😍

Days 200 + 201. I used a reference from @kat_in_nyc for the portrait on the right. ❤️

Days 200 + 201. I used a reference from @kat_in_nyc for the portrait on the right. ❤️

Day 179/365. Acrylic.

Day 179/365. Acrylic.

Day 172/365.

Day 172/365.

Days 192 + 193. It felt weird not posting yesterday, but I like the way the full spread photos look putting two days together. What do you think? Went into my photo archives for the portrait on the right. She's a beautiful, creative, and good-hearted friend of mine who I miss shooting and hanging out with!

Days 192 + 193. It felt weird not posting yesterday, but I like the way the full spread photos look putting two days together. What do you think? Went into my photo archives for the portrait on the right. She's a beautiful, creative, and good-hearted friend of mine who I miss shooting and hanging out with!

These two are not part of my 365 sketchbook, just extras I worked on over the weekend.

These two are not part of my 365 sketchbook, just extras I worked on over the weekend.

I can see this bold-haired ladies theme morphing into a series of larger completed paintings or mixed media pieces at some point. For now I'll let it simmer and develop. 

If you aren't following along with my project already, I'm posting it regularly on Instagram! I've recently moved to posting the full spread every other day versus everyday, and I post many other creative things I'm working on in between. Let's be pals!

Thistle

PhotographyLaura JohnstonComment
Thistle. San Jose, CA.

Thistle. San Jose, CA.

I was going to call this one "purple spiky flower" until I googled it and learned what it is really called. IF THAT IS YOUR REAL NAME.

I saw this when I was out on my bike the other day. When I'm setting up shots I tend to be very fast, to the point where saying that I set up a shot at all is almost giving myself too much credit. I guess my experience shooting from a car on travels and limited experience shooting events has taught me to quickly compose and capture an image before it passes. Not like this plant was going anywhere in a hurry! Anyway, it's fun finding surprises from time to time when I load the images on my computer, like the fact that the signs over the highway in this one are graffitied (a pleasant surprise, because that seems to be a thing here). Seriously? Why graffiti the highway signs though, I'm trying to see where I'm going.

365 - 6 Months In

Sketchbook, Creative ProcessLaura Johnston1 Comment
Days 178 & 179

Days 178 & 179

I have successfully completed half of the 365 project without missing a single day. Yeah!!! You can see the entire project so far here.

Days 94 & 95

Days 94 & 95

I started this project with the simple inspiration to create a good habit in sketching everyday, to practice without worrying about selling stuff, and to gain fans and momentum for my 2D work. Plus, I missed drawing 'for fun'.

As part of the highs, those things have happened. What's also happened is a ton of development in peripheral areas, some of which I didn't even consider when I decided to embark on this project. 

For one, I have realized, really realized, where my skill level is and what I need to work on. That's huge, and I'm learning more about what I need to work on every day. There's really no way to know that unless you create consistently. You might go around saying to yourself, "I could make that" but unless you're actually doing it, you don't really know. It turns out things are more complicated than they seem like they'd be. (They always are.)

On that note, my appreciation for different styles and types of art that I come across has increased as I've gone through this project, too. Experts make things look simple. 

Day 186/365. Some studies for a painting I am working on. Because I like to make things complicated.

Day 186/365. Some studies for a painting I am working on. Because I like to make things complicated.

Day 174/365. The song "Take Me to Church" has been stuck in my head for days. Some from-the-mind portrait practice today.

Day 174/365. The song "Take Me to Church" has been stuck in my head for days. Some from-the-mind portrait practice today.

Getting real about where I am has never made me feel down during the process, but it has definitely humbled me. I'm more humble, and I feel more confident at the same time. I am motivated to continue on a regular basis, because I know that practice will get me there. Things are going to take time, and I'm more ok with that than I ever have been. Patience +50.

Even though it doesn't really feel like I've been working on my discipline, I guess this project is kind of a test of discipline and I can feel its affect on developing new daily habits in other areas of my life, too. Exercise routines, especially. It goes hand-in-hand with patience. I used to give up so readily at a lack of immediate progress. 

I'm of course learning a lot about art, too. I am growing in my work - learning the best application for different mediums, getting better at portraits, discovering the work and type of processes that really excite me. Just because you can do something doesn't mean it's necessarily your jam. I'm excited to look back through at the end of the project and see progress, and remember what the learning curve felt like along the way.

Days 136 & 137

Days 136 & 137

It hasn't been all high, though, for sure. The low? Being in a lull (which happens naturally, regardless of sketching everyday or not) and working through it. I've never worked straight through a lull before in this way, and at times it had me completely questioning myself. On a few occasions I really wanted to quit. The hardest part was feeling uninspired and trying to make something anyway, and that something just coming out horribly because there was no passion behind it. 

Is there really benefit to putting something down on paper everyday just to do it? Why not just create when you're feeling it? These are things I wondered/still wonder a little bit. I've seen some benefit, for instance it's really cool to have this visual documentation of the entire process through both good and bad times. Plus, as some of my friends have said, maybe something from those weird times will inspire a new idea, or I'll come back and pull from it for future work that I am feeling passionate about. 

Thank goodness for friends talking me into sticking with the project when I felt like quitting, by the way! 

Days 28 & 29

Days 28 & 29

Happily the lull ended a couple of weeks ago after a few months of dragging on. Honestly though, looking back, there are some cool things that happened during it. I can't imagine NOT keeping a daily sketchbook now. Creating daily in this way will likely shed solid light on the lulls over time - when they happen and why - and better intel will arm me with more tools to work through them more effectively. Even if that means dialing back or just hunkering down. 

If you're feeling inspired to start a daily project, you should totally do it. I highly recommend it. If you decide to share it publicly, let me know - I'd love to follow along! I appreciate that you all are following along with mine... 6 more months to go! If you've just jumped on board, I'm posting the project over on Instagram! See you there. :)

Day 135. My old friend acrylic! Palestine sunbird for#roamtheglobe week 15!!

Day 135. My old friend acrylic! Palestine sunbird for#roamtheglobe week 15!!

Day 170. Felt like quitting today. 😖 But made this instead.

Day 170. Felt like quitting today. 😖 But made this instead.

Days 162 & 163

Days 162 & 163



Scorched

PhotographyLaura JohnstonComment
Scorched. New Almaden, CA 

Scorched. New Almaden, CA 

A couple of weeks ago I loaded the pups into the car and set off for a little drive. This shot was taken in the Almaden area of south San Jose. It's great here how driving for just 30-45 minutes can make you feel so removed from all of the hustle and bustle. Farms, horses, turkeys, small highways with little traffic. 

New Painting - Cradle of a Significant Fiesta

Artwork, Finished Work, PaintingLaura Johnston1 Comment
Laura Johnston Cradle of a Significant Fiesta 8x10 acrylic on wood panel 2015

Laura Johnston
Cradle of a Significant Fiesta
8x10 acrylic on wood panel
2015

This post is hard to write because there is so much behind it and I have never been particularly graceful with words. I find describing my feelings terribly difficult. Dialing back last month was definitely the right decision - it is amazing the clarity that can come from slowing down. I worked on this painting throughout the month and generally felt very happy with it. I got stuck plenty of times, but worked my way out of it - sometimes with the help of my trusted friends. That point is significant for me. I rarely sought after critique before and in general am not one to ask for help - it just usually doesn't even occur to me! But when I got stuck this time, I turned to my sister and to a couple of amazing artist friends and asked for their opinion. What is this missing? What's off? What should I look at? Each of the three I asked had something completely different to say, and each was helpful. So refreshing.

I am excited about this painting not just for what I learned in the process, which was a lot - both in my technique and in how to be and behave (e.g. asking for and being genuinely receptive to feedback), but also because it is amazing to have my imagination flowing more freely again. It used to feel so easy and natural (below) and slowly over the last several years just got buried. It goes to show that we can tap into those areas of our minds if we decide to. They don't go away, they just become dormant until we're ready to wake them back up.

Childhood - This is a piece I finally painted in college from a sketch I'd made in high school. It's one that has stuck with me through the years and I intend to repaint it sometime as my skills progress.

Childhood - This is a piece I finally painted in college from a sketch I'd made in high school. It's one that has stuck with me through the years and I intend to repaint it sometime as my skills progress.

Flamenco Games - Part of a series of surreal ink drawings I did several years ago. It's a series I wanted to transfer to canvas and color but never did (yet!). 

Flamenco Games - Part of a series of surreal ink drawings I did several years ago. It's a series I wanted to transfer to canvas and color but never did (yet!). 

It feels incredible to create work that is really from my soul with no other motive. It's also a relief creating something that is so me that I can relax knowing that no one else would be putting these same things together. In the world of online selling especially (le animalé, bnnk) there's pressure to implement your ideas right away. I have a few sketches I'm working on and hope to start a new painting soon, but if I take my time with it it's not like someone else is going to paint it first. It's not like I'm going to miss a selling season. These pieces come from my weird mind and no one else's.

Hello Old Friend

Bay Area Adventures, PhotographyLaura Johnston1 Comment
Cherry Ave. San Jose, CA 

Cherry Ave. San Jose, CA 

I am so happy to be feeling inspired to pick up my camera again. It's been years since I got burnt out and my attempts here and there to rekindle the fire left me feeling like my passion for the medium was just gone. I suppose you really can't force things. I wanted to want to shoot, but I didn't actually want to. I just missed the final product - a lot. Right now I have an urge for the process more than the outcome, and I am curious to see what comes of it since so much has changed over the past several years with myself, my surroundings, and my eye. Already this morning I found myself drawn to a completely random, unplanned shot (above) rather than the one I'd gone out after in the first place. No pressure, less control, see what happens.

Progress on Personal Work

Sketchbook, Creative ProcessLaura JohnstonComment

Dialing back this month has been awesome. It's not like I'm doing nothing, but I was doing so much before that it almost feels like I'm doing nothing. 

Felt like sharing some of what I've been working on. The piece above is one that I started at the beginning of this month. I always have so much energy going into a new piece and can work on it for hours on end, but then it hits a point where details really start to come about and fatigue hits much quicker. It begins to take a lot more energy and focus to achieve what feels like much smaller steps. Maybe if I could knock it out all in one session I'd be golden!? That seems like wishful thinking. :) The same thing happens when I'm creating my more detailed small sculptures, too.

I'm happy with my progress, though. Sometimes people ask me how I come up with these random mixes of subjects. It really is random, I think. I don't sit down like, "Ok, I'm going to paint a lady in a crazy pose with a happy ram chillin' on an ice cream sandwich on some cacti with some bright balloons thrown in there to make it a party." It just happens that way. And I ain't mad at it. Deeper meaning can be extracted, but I guess it doesn't have to be. It can just exist as a combination of things that didn't before. Things that don't necessarily belong together or couldn't happen that way in real life.

I started the piece on the left years ago and just decided to pick up again to see how my daily work on 2D art this year would affect it. Click here to see where I'd left off back in 2013. I've changed up the shading and coloring on the face a little bit, and obviously added a black dripping collar of sorts to the neck. I can't wait to go in and make the bugs pop - I think that's going to be quite the challenge. I would love for them to look very realistic, but we'll see what I can achieve. There are some really disturbing layers underneath this current face - it has gone through some scary changes as I've built up the paint. Not on purpose. Perhaps she is a keeper of darkness, the one who digests the ugly so we can move on from it. *hands moving apart for magic*

Days 172 & 173 of the 365 project

Days 172 & 173 of the 365 project

365 is still happening. I'll be honest, I totally felt like quitting a few times. I have never worked straight through a lull like this before, and as much as lulls suck anyway, it almost sucks worse to force yourself to make work while you're feeling uninspired and be unhappy with what you've created day after day. Luckily I have had a lot of encouragement from my family and friends to continue the project and not give up, so I have not missed a day yet! I do feel really proud of that. I've so needed the support and really appreciate and feel grateful to have it. I've also seen glimmers of hope here and there that the lull will be ending soon, so hopefully that's the case. I KNOW they come and go, so it's got to end sometime.

Above is my most recent sketchbook spread - a portrait that in some ways reminds me of my mom, and a little cactus postcard I made that I decided to sew into my sketchbook instead of mailing out. I just love how these two work together. The colors, the shapes. Sorry friend who didn't get this postcard, don't worry, I have plenty of others to send out. Long live snail mail!

If you read this, thank you. If you follow my work, thank you. If you send me comments or emails, thank you! Really. If there's someone in your life who inspires you or whose work you love to see pop up in your feed everyday, or someone who brings you lunch or greets you with a smile every morning, take a moment to say thank you and let them know that you dig what they're doing. It's such a small thing that means so much. We all love to know that we are appreciated.