Thursday, March 3, 2011
Iskra Johnson 'Art and Alphabet'
'Trudge' by Iskra Johnson
I have always had a dual creative life, one as a letterform designer and illustrator and one as a fine artist working in various media. For most of my career I had an office outside of my home for my design business, and did personal artwork in my apartment. When the dotcom boom sent studio space into the stratosphere I looked for a house.
I could never find the big uninterrupted single floor of studio space I dreamed of, so I settled on a place that had a backyard cottage and a smaller loft in the house. The thinking was that I could keep “fine art” upstairs, discreetly separated from design, which I would do in the back yard.
The house itself was a prime example of post war neo-shed architecture when I bought it. Making it functional and beautiful has taken most of my time and treasure when not doing art. Although I had misgivings about moving to a neighborhood at the edge of the city and away from the urban vibe I grew up in, the place itself has changed me in many ways and I have come to feel at home here. I think living in apartments I always felt like a tenant on the earth, and now I feel like a caretaker, (or in the spring I might even aspire to earth goddess.)
The garden is really my extended library and zone of contemplation, and where I get many of my ideas.
The chair at the side of the pond has been named The Happiness Chair, and when I sit there I have complete permission to be happy, to be courted by the next idea, and to listen to the birds.
Living and working in a house has definitely changed my attitude towards my work. Actual physical space has a huge effect on my dreams and ambitions. In a small back bedroom I did small studies…for slightly larger studies. Now, although I always crave MORE SPACE there is enough to get serious. A recent series of transfer prints called Werkspace addresses the idea of space itself. Since settling here I have worked on a much larger scale and shown my drawings and prints in Seattle and in national competitions. Now if I just had a dedicated spray booth, a large flatbed press, a drying rack….and more artists in the neighborhood.
I had an interesting conversation with my artist group the other night. I asked them “what I should do with my books” and they all said, ‘if you can get them at the library get rid of them. Get a Kindle.’
I am still in shock.
Books are a big deal here. What happens to that scene in romances when he/she peruses the possible knight/princess’s bookshelf making discreet judgment on character and worthiness?? “Quickly, he rifled through her purse and found her Kindle. Scrolling through, he was shocked to find…..”
How lame is that??
What has happened in the 8 years since I’ve been here is that all my worlds and media have blended. I seem to use the computer and scanner and printer for everything, and I may use paint or photography or printmaking in design.
This has made for a certain amount of chaos, as supplies are strewn through both spaces, and I end up doing a lot of weeding, plant photography and birdwatching as I go from one space to the other.
Making a Living in Publishing: I feel very lucky to be able to do this
One day twenty years ago I was sitting in my studio with no work wondering what the world’s worst waitress was going to do next. I said to myself “Girl, instead of sitting here chewing on your sumie brushes why don’t you go upstairs to the meditation loft where you put that cushion and sit formally, so you get some spiritual credit, and call it meditating instead of brooding.” After roughly twenty minutes of sitting on my zafu alternately counting my breath and thinking about my future as a child care worker, waitress or farmhand the phone rang. It was Paul Buckley at Penguin with a book title he wanted to see if I would be “interested” in doing. “Zen and the Art of Making A Living.”
The book is now in its fifth printing.
Part of the zen of making a living is noticing which way the flow is going and swimming in that direction. Some weeks I create lettering for torrid romance covers with titles like “Irresistible” or “Desperate Measures.” Other times I am at work on children’s books about heroic mice or noble pigs or illustrating cookbooks. I love being part of popular culture and being the channel for many different voices.
Experimental work with ink. This kind of exploration blends the tools of fine art, printmaking and calligraphy and leads to all kinds of surprises in corporate identity work and illustration.
As principal of Iskra Design I have been working with the alphabet for many years, providing custom letterform solutions for book covers, logotypes, and package branding. In the first decade of my career I studied Asian calligraphy, haiga, T'ai Chi and sumie painting. I also have a BFA in Painting from the University of Washington. I draw much of my inspiration from the interplay between the contemplative sensibility of traditional Asian art and a more Western need for invention and uncharted agitation.
My current fine art ranges in style and media to fit my obsessions. I have a background in printmaking and have always sought the aesthetic of etching, lithography, and silk screen in my work. I love surfaces that are bitten and etched, indirect and calligraphic mark making, and subtlety. I also adore the flat screaming color of silkscreen, and the graphic qualities of stencils.
Due to early exposure to solvents I have been unable to work in a traditional printmaking studio or with traditional inks, and this has pushed me to devise my own tactics to create the look and process of printmaking without a press. I tackle a piece of paper as though it is a plate, but the "plate" becomes the final piece of art.
I got my first digital camera a year ago, and since then I have been very focused on photography and how to work with it as an “artifact.” Recent work is highly experimental, and uses photos from my cellphone and Canon as its base. I am printing images onto digital grounds over other media and creating transfer prints using alcohol gel and acrylic mediums. The technology can be daunting, but when it works the immediacy of the process, from seeing to documenting to printing onto a surface — returning the image to the real physical world, is thrilling.
~ Iskrafineart ~
~alphabetroadtrip ~ (design blog)
***All original photography, design, art and text, are copyrighted and property of Iskra Johnson and are not to be cited, reproduced, or used elsewhere without written permission from the artist. Thank you!