We’re so excited to be partnering with the Saint Louis Science Center for this year’s Bright Ideas Expo. What a great opportunity to meet the Saint Louis Creative Community as well as tell our individual maker stories in person. Artist, Jeffrey Johnson of Red Herring Illustration will be one of our featured crafters for the day, and he’ll be on the main floor by the Life Science Lab showing off his illustrations and talking about being a creative professional in the Saint Louis Community. We caught up with him the other day to ask a few questions about his work, his inspiration, plans for the future and advice to new makers. Come and meet our makers!
Tell us about your first maker moment.
I have really vivid memories of drawing many tentacled Octopi or Star Wars pictures at the kitchen table when I was a kid. Also looking through my mom’s old Childcraft book for crafts to make. There were often cardboard boxes around full of computer print out paper that you could use to make drawings several sheets long. My first real “Maker Moment” that I remember was kind of a mix of these things when I built a diorama of Cloud City out of cut paper, a cardboard box, cotton balls, and toilet paper rolls.
What’s your “real” job?
I feel so blessed to be able to do what I love and still feed the kids. I’m a full time artist and maker, but I also do graphic design, organize events and shows with Craft Monster, write for blogs, draw comics, and teach at the local community college. Not all at the same time, though. My life is split between a bunch of different projects, but they all roll up into one pretty awesome whole.
Where does your making happen?
The bulk of my making happens in my basement studio, but I’ve also been known to work in the library, coffee shops, or at the park. It’s pretty amazing that I’m really not tied down to one spot, and I get to experience art with a wide variety of people on pretty much a daily basis.
What’s your origin story?
When I was in high school, I wanted nothing more than to be a Muppeteer. Actually, more accurately, I wanted to work in the Creature shop, building puppets and monsters. Even then there was a sort of unacknowledged part of me that was really happiest when making things. Going into community college after high school, illustration seemed like the best path towards working in visual effects, by my second year though I’d switched to studio art with an emphasis in printmaking. I’m not sure about this, but I imagine that most artists have a similarly circuitous route to where they are today. As we add experiences to our lives our direction gets nudged this way and that.
What do you do when you’re not feeling inspired?
I have a lot of strategies for dealing with lack of inspiration. I like to walk while I listen to books on tape. Washing the dishes or mowing the lawn allows my mind to wander and often capture stray ideas. I have a collection of index cards with ideas that I can pull from if I need them, or doing “photo-a-day” challenges on instagram often gives a springboard to actually start working. The thing is, creating takes a lot of effort. It really is work that takes picking up the pencil and putting down lines. There’s a quote about work and inspiration from Neil Gaiman that goes something like
“If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist – because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not “inspired.”… And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written.”
What’s your favorite tool?
I love working in my sketchbook with ball point pen. There’s something about being able to see every line, every mistake, and every success that I find very appealing. While I use pretty much anything handy to draw with, the Zebra F-701 is my favorite pen because it has a nice weight and the tip doesn’t get all clogged up and leave blobs of ink on my paper.
What’s your next big idea?
Oh man, I’ve got a lot of things in the pipeline. I’m working on a coloring/activity book that focuses on learning to draw. I’m really excited about some new screen print ideas that are sort of re-exploring themes that I’ve worked on my whole life, but through a new lens. Then there’s a bunch of Craft Monster events that are in one stage or another of planning and development. It’s really an exciting time to be an independent artist and maker!
What’s your greatest strength?
I have passion and curiosity by the bucket full. I love to explore new ideas and share them with my close friends, and then with the world.
Any advice for new makers?
Find your tribe, and be a contributing member of it. Being willing to participate with the larger community of like-minded people in an honest, and helpful way will open the door for more opportunities than almost anything else. People want to share their stories with each other, and being a part of that narrative fabric makes the whole experience richer for everybody.
Be sure to stop by and say hi to Jeffrey at the Bright Ideas Expo at the Saint Louis Science Center on Saturday, July 16 from 10:00-4:00!