Friday, March 13, 2009

Artist Corner: Lea Johnson

Another week goes and it is Friday once again. Which means only one thing... [drumm roll] another fantastic edition of Artist Corner. This week the art gods have been generous and sent me a talkative energetic artist. If you ever wanted to tie up an artist and make them spill their guts on the table, Lea Johnson will do that with an ease and a smile. An industrious art school grad Lea is a multi-sided personality and undefined and highly individualistic art style. Listen, relatively speaking, to the blueprints of a budding new artist.

Harry Markov: Thank you Lea for being a sweetheart and taking up my invitation to sit on my virtual chair and share some of your opinions, experiences and possibly even secrets regarding. But before we delve that deep, it’s customary for me to ask ever artist: What was your first encounter with art to inspire you to devote so much time into it?

Lea Johnson: Well, I’ve always been into drawing since I was a kid, but I think there were two people that really made me decide that I wanted to be an artist. The first being my father, he is an amazing artist as well…but he gave up art to raise our family; he always encouraged me to keep with my art and music while being really loving and understanding. Then in high school, I had a really great art instructor that pushed me and kept me up on art. She also really helped me as far scholarships. I still talk to her and sit in on her classes every now and then to keep up on my skills.

HM: Just so the readers like you even more, can you describe yourself in short? Who is Lea Johnson and how did she come up with the interesting nickname lilykane on Deviant Art?

LJ: The nickname…Well, Lea Johnson is unfortunately really common name, and it made it difficult to find a decent email address… And my full first name, most people can’t pronounce, and the people that can never spell it right (yes, Lea is only half of my first name). “Lilykane” I ended up yanking from the games Fatal Fury and King of Fighters after Billy Kane’s little sister—no, not the show “Veronica Marrs”. I’ve had this nick since 1995. As for myself, I’m pretty much a normal art school grad working for the Man. I love music and play three different instruments (piano, drums, and bassoon), and I still play the drums and piano for fun. And of course, I’m a video game junkie. I also love to do karaoke with my friends, playing with my adorable nephew, and writing.

HM: Which artist so far has had an exceptional influence on your work?

I love Andrew Wyeth and Alfons Mucha. Wyatt, I think I probably pull a lot of influence for my color palette from him. It’s nothing intentional, but it’s something I notice every now and then. Mucha, I absolutely love his anatomy and design. Other artists I love are, of course, Falcoon and Takuji Kawano. Falcoon, people think I take a lot of influence from as far as color technique…but I think it’s actually Kawano that I look to more. Kawano is one of the concept artists at Namco. He did most of the character designs for the Soul Calibur games and the later Tekken games, most people didn’t really take notice of his work until he did the artwork for “Namco x Capcom”. He doesn’t get a lot of recognition for his work, but I love the simplicity of his work. His anatomy is a bit more realistic than Falcoon’s; still stylized and elongated, though. And finally, Adam Hughes. Considering how much influence DC comics had on me as a child, Hughes’ work fills me with awe every single time. His pencil works especially. Really, the best way to describe him is a modern-day Mucha. Oh, and Soraya Saga/Kairi Tanaka. Most people know her for writing the script to Xenogears, but her artwork and design work is just breathtaking; especially how she draws the adult anatomy, beautiful diva-inspired women and masculine, strong-jawed men—also, the fact that she was kind enough to email me back and forth for awhile really made me love and respect her work as a writer and an artist.

HM: Judging by your gallery I can see that you pay a lot attention to the human body and form in different poses, but usually most of the pieces carry their otherworldly charm with either wings or horns. What exactly in fantasy and outside of the real world made you come back to these themes?

When I was a child, my mother read to us at night, particularly Grimms’ fairy tales. I find a lot of those themes creep into my work.

HM: Where do you search for ideas for new projects? For that matter what other art forms inspire your work: literature, music, dance, etc?

Music definitely is a huge influence. I grew up in a family full of artists and musicians. Literature, I do love to write and keep of a journal for ideas; I particularly find that sometimes writing allows for things that visual art can’t, they just appeal to different senses that visual artists just can’t influence; the same with instrumental music. But I love reading the works of writers like Stephan Crane and Leo Tolstoy. The language is their works is so thick, like a good oil painting.

HM: It’s also fair to mention that a sizable section of your gallery consist of fanart. Now we both know people tend to judge everything that is fan made like art and fiction to be nothing series, but can I hear the opinion of someone on the other side. Why do you think fanart has taken up such a growing role around creative circles and what can you say to the people, who diminish its importance?

LJ: Fanart is no different than life drawing; it’s a place to find influence and inspiration. It allows for an artist to find a starting place for creativity. I’ve find in my experiences online that many people aren’t even aware of what constitutes as “fanart” or what have you, like people place draw fanart of certain subjects in a lower category than others. But again, everyone has to start somewhere. Artists like Falcoon, Bengus, and the Udon art circle got their start from drawing fanart. And fanart ranges from anything from drawing a favorite character to drawing a portrait of a movie star, which--as I mentioned earlier—many naysayers of the genre don’t even realize that drawing a celebrity is indeed fanart. Those portraits you see in People Magazine, the paintings of kings in museums, even something like Disney’s fairytale adaptions and so on…are all a genre of fanart. It has its place in culture and won’t be leaving anytime soon.

HM: To follow the same thread, why do you personally invest your time in working on recognizable titles such as Tekken, Silent Hill and Resident evil? What kind of artistic need does it fulfill?

I consider it a form of showing my appreciation and love of video gaming. Fandom in itself is a kind of subculture. Unfortunately, it also has a bit of a bad reputation in some of its forms, but I enjoy doing it. It allows me to combine two of my hobbies and loves: art and gaming, and it’s relatively healthy.

HM: Also what is Xeno? I have yet to encounter a name that doesn’t ring a bell.

“Xeno” is just a nickname for the game Xenogears and the game series Xenosaga. The two are not related, except that they have the same creators and many references and nods to each other. Xenogears itself is one of Squaresoft little-known games that has bit of a cult following because of its quirkiness and sci-fi elements. It’s also known for being released half-finished, supposedly. Xenosaga was the follow-up that was released by Namco later. It ended up also being half-finished. But I love ‘em both.

HM: So let’s talk about style. You have stated clear and loud that you are not an anime artist. This I can vouch for because the human body touches reality, but how do you characterize what you do, just so that non-artists can understand it better?

I don’t consider myself an “anime” style artist; however, I don’t make it a secret that I do have some influences from Japanese art. I feel that because I take influence from so many sources outside of the genre I can’t be placed in the anime category. Not only that, so many artists from Japan also draw from sources outside of anime that it’s unfair to say that any stylization that draws on exaggerating anatomy is entirely Japanese. I find that I have stronger influence from Western comics and animation. Plus, I do look at classical art and life for influence as well. I particularly love looking to photography for inspiration for color and design.

HM: With modern technology it is quite difficult to distinguish between what is done by hand and what is tinkered on the computer. I get the same vibe from your work. The fluid line work I figure is done by hand and the coloring is perhaps digitally added. Did I hit a bull’s eye? What materials do you use and how long does it take for a piece usually?

I usually do my lineart by hand, inked. I tend to work with ballpoint pens on heavy stock paper (usually around 65 lbs). It’s cheap, but with certain pens it’s easy to emulate pencil. I mostly use ink to keep from having smudges on my paper and archival reason. Then I scan and work in Photoshop CS3 and Painter X for color. Occasionally, I’ll do straight digital works or completely redraw sketches in Photoshop or Painter. I’ve kinda lost the patience to do that these days with my other jobs that I work, but it’s a good skill to have. Most pieces take anywhere from a couple of hours to ten hours to finish, according to how detailed I’m working or what look I’m trying to achieve. I color and draw with a Wacom Intuos tablet and use an Epson scanner for my lineart.

HM: Is there a certain technique or movement in art you would wish to experiment with?

LJ: I’d really like to get back into painting with traditional materials. My current studio isn’t really large enough for that at the moment, so I don’t do much painting aside from watercolor these days. But I’d like to get back to doing wall-sized oil and acrylic paintings. Currently, I’ve been interested in doing more with collage. I’ve been really into Dave McKean’s work as of late, and I’m really impressed by how he’s managed to be completely original with his style and technique within the comic book industry.

HM: This question is going to encompass quite a lot, I hope you don’t mind. Some artists have a knack for landscapes, others for creatures, while you pay attention to the human body in close detail. How come did the human physique in nudity or semi-nudity stick as a predominant theme in you work and what is hard to draw: the male or the female body?

I find the human body to be beautiful and masterfully constructed. I also find that it’s a shame that outside of pornography and high art, it’s something that’s ignored in most cultures despite that’s part of nature. So, I’ve focused on mastering drawing the human body for the past decade. I actually find the male body the most difficult to draw. I’m not sure why, though I suspect it’s because I’m not a guy myself :).

HM: Another keen observation shows me that you like adding wings to your characters. Does this mean you love angels or love birds?

: I take some influence from Western classical art, so I do tend to incorporate some of the motifs.

HM: How does art fit in your life? Are you a freelance artist or perhaps you have a day job? Have you found professional realization?

LJ: I do freelance illustration and jewelry making on top of working a daytime job for the Department of Health and Human Services—U.S. government work. It does get very stressful at times to try to work both jobs, since the latter job is a government job that demands a lot of my time and attention. Eventually, I’d like to do my art fulltime, but for now I do both. I will say, the government job does give me the satisfaction of being able to help people in need, believe it or not. So, it could be worse. And my bills are being paid, and that’s always nice. Ultimately, my goal is to get into gaming or cinema as a concept artist, though right now I don’t feel I’m the level I need to be in order to do that, so I’m still working on drawing and painting skills while working for DHHS. Plus, doing the freelancing allows for me to be able to do my art while at home, and I’m able to send my art anywhere thanks to overnight mail and the internet. Eventually, I plan on moving back out to the East Coast in order to be able to make meeting clients easier. My dream is to work for Capcom…not that will happen anytime soon, but I can fantasize, right? ;)

HM: I also have to wonder what your current projects are. What can we expect?

LJ: Currently working on a script for a small comic I’d like to draw; hopefully I’ll have the first volume of that published by the end of the year. I can’t really talk about that at the moment, but hopefully I’ll be allowed to here soon :). Most of the other current projects I’m doing right now are things like logos and designs for small companies. Nothing really exciting, but it builds up the portfolio.

Thanks for taking the time to listen to me ramble!

And this is it people. I hope you had a good time and if you ever wondered how an artist is being born and shaped in their medium, to summ it up: It isn't a simple a process.


T.D. Newton said...

Fantastic art, I really like the style. At first glance (or from far away) it might look like a school project, but the attention to the lines is quite impeccable. Or maybe I just like the subject matter and color palette :)

Great post!

daydream said...

It's all subjective and I do think you are right. It looks like a random production at far, but when you look at it, you can tell it is a very hard thing to draw and yes I agree that the subject matter is most enjoyable to watch.

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