April 2011: Life, a collage by Susan Johnson
Header image: Life, a collage by Susan Johnson

Featured Artist: Susan Johnson

Last updated: April 1, 2011

..Susan Johnson, holding a book cover decorated for last year’s Folk Art Folk exhibition..

Susan Johnson, holding a book cover decorated for last year’s Folk Art Folk exhibition.

Susan Johnson is a multi-media artist. She is a member of the Olive Craig Gallery Board and of the Le Sault Artists Guild and has worked with the Underground Group in Sault, Ontario.

This author remembers being told firmly, in elementary school, along with a number of other strict rules that stifled creativity, that blue was not to be placed near green nor orange near red, but Susan Johnson and her sister were encouraged to be creative. Susan credits her father with being her “first muse” and inspiration. A creative man, he “painted murals on our basement walls, did pen and ink on paper and wood, was an avid gardener”. Susan and her sister “would draw, color and paint to decorate our bedroom with large cutouts of Charles Shultz characters, and one time we drew and colored large flowers, cut them out and framed our large, round vanity mirror and bedroom windows with them, all with our dad’s blessing.” She says she can’t remember a time when a box of sixty-four crayons with sharpener was not her best friend. Susan was able to take studio art in high school and work with watercolor, acrylics, collage, pottery, rug making, linoleum cutting and printmaking, discovering along the way that she was allergic to oil paints.

After high school Susan took community college adult art classes, learning macramé, silk flower making, stained glass and decorative wood painting, but it was not until 1995, when she lived in Troy, that she took an adult education class based on Betty Edwards book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. “It was as if some one opened a door and I was ready to go through, run through.” Her first drawing award came two years later, an Honorable Mention in the South Oakland County Art Association Competition. That same year, she, her husband and her twelve year old son moved to the Sault, where she joined the Le Sault Artists Guild and became a member of the Olive Craig Gallery Board. She also joined the Underground Group, a life drawing group in Sault, Ontario.

In addition to her community college adult education classes, Susan has taken workshops with Helga Flower, Tedi Selke, Gordon MacKenzie, Diana Blazek and Tom Marshall. She has worked in a wide variety of media including pen and ink, graphite, colored pencil, Conte crayon and watercolor and is currently engrossed in collage and mosaics.

She says that making mosaics with a friend, using mostly found objects—broken dishes, different colored wine bottles, seashells—has made her more confident when working on her collages. Her broad background in both art and crafts facilitates the work. In creating collages she looks for things that are fun and that will work together to create the concept she has in mind.

She likes to recycle and reuse interesting things. In the case of the current 12” x 12” exhibit she took the linear foot concept and (pardon the pun) ran with it, incorporating a wide variety of materials into the one foot square canvas titled My Foot Is Less Than 12” (see works below). Incorporated into the acrylic paint background are pieces of yardsticks and rulers, sandpaper, paper clips, buttons, string, paper, glue, gel medium, markers, bottle caps, copper tacks, old raffle tickets and a sizing tag from a woman’s shoe box. A collage entitled Life (works) incorporates tissue paper; old napkins from her grandmother’s estate; painted, cut and torn watercolor paper; colored pencils and markers and gel pens.

For a number of years, Susan has made her own Christmas cards, some of which were displayed in February in the Bayliss Library (works).

Not many artists work with life drawing so we asked her if she found it difficult and why and discovered that she actually finds landscapes more difficult because of “the editing of what stays in and what to edit out of a landscape. I have no problem editing with life-drawing and still life. Doing life drawing studies in color is harder than black-white.”

Like many busy people, Susan finds it difficult to make time for art. She says she is easily distracted by other things that need doing and becomes so intensely absorbed when she is working on an art project that she has to wait until she knows she has an available block of time. When she begins “making art, it is like I am in a time warp. My perception of time is gone, I don’t stop to even eat—what seems to be as an hour is five hours. So if I know I don’t have that kind of time, it may keep me from even starting a project on any given day.”

One of the best things about the Underground Group for her was “the appointment made with myself on Monday nights and the inspirational artists in the group”, which makes a good point about classes and group painting. In addition to the camaraderie and mutual support there is the concept that one is there to work, along with the fact that there are no mundane tasks a few feet away waiting to be completed.

As a member of the Underground Group, Susan’s work has appeared at Loplops and twice at the Art Gallery of Ontario. She has been the Le Sault Artist Guild’s Artist of the Month at the Bayliss Library a number of times (most recently in February) and her work is displayed each fall when the Guild exhibits in Alberta House. She also participates in the Olive Craig Gallery’s annual juried competition (which she entered this year as well) and received an Honorable Mention Award in Blues for Blue Lady (works). In October of 2005, Susan, Dave Bigelow and Jeremy Ripley had a multi-media exhibition in the Olive Craig Gallery titled People, Places and Things.

Susan’s work is for sale in the current, juried 12” x 12” Exhibition in the Olive Craig Gallery and at Sault Realism in the Sault. She had paintings at the Harbor Art Gallery in Detour last summer as well. You can also expect to see her creations in the Le Sault Artist Guild/Eastern Upper Peninsula Craftsmen Exhibition in the Olive Craig Gallery in October.

Works by Susan Johnson
Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version.

Blue Lady, from the 2008 Blues Exhibition, by Susan Johnson

Blue Lady, from the 2008 Blues Exhibition

Portrait from the People, Places and Things exhibition, by Susan Johnson

Portrait from the People, Places and Things exhibition

My Foot Is Less Than 12 Inches, collage in the 12”x12” Exhibition, by Susan Johnson

My Foot Is Less Than 12 Inches, collage in the 12”x12” Exhibition

Life, collage in the 12” x 12” Exhibition, by Susan Johnson

Life, collage in the 12” x 12” Exhibition

Joy Christmas card, by Susan Johnson

Joy Christmas card

2009 Christmas card, by Susan Johnson

2009 Christmas card

Snow Bunny Christmas card, by Susan Johnson

Snow Bunny Christmas card

Sault Area Arts Council Home Page 217 Ferris Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
e-mail: saac@saultarts.org Phone: (906) 635-1312