Meet The: Artist, Cindy James
Meet The: Artist, Cindy James
I am thrilled to introduce you to the amazing Cindy Johnson. I was lucky enough to have her as my art teacher in middle school. I sat through a lot of, shall we say “interesting” homeschool co-op classes, but memories of her class shine the brightest in my memory…for all the right reasons. She is passionate about art and life, and it shows in her teaching. Her writing is as captivating as her art work. Pour some coffee or some wine and enjoy. You’re in for a treat.
AA: When did your love of art begin, and at what point did you turn it into a full time career?
CJ: My love of art apparently began early as my mother explains that I happily took a red lipstick to her white bedspread when I was about two or three. I have always been creative and remember that I was very easily entertained, as I still am! When I was in the early grades, they would give me a jar of water and a paintbrush. I’d paint the entire sidewalk, going back to start over when I noticed that my designs had evaporated!
As I grew, I remember creatively designing homes for my dolls out of shoeboxes, adding bureaus with matchbox drawers and toothpaste lid flower vases. When it snowed, I viewed our pristine yard as my personal canvas, and our neighbors must have smiled at my footprint paintings. As I grew older, I remember passing history because the lion’s share of my semester was painting a patriotic mural on one wall of our classroom. Art had become a delight and I stood out in high school.
School, work and children put all these things on the back burner to simmer for many years. My creativity came out in other areas, mostly having to do with raising kids in a happy, artistic, musical and crazy home. We got dirty and played in the mud, grew plants, studied pet insects, drew and painted, read and sang. Whenever an artist or musician was needed in church or in our vast homeschool ‘family,’ I was there.
We blinked, and all of a sudden it was time for our kids to learn algebra and chemistry! Wanting nothing to do with THAT, I found teachers for them. When they discovered I was an artist, they asked if I would come on board and teach. I jumped in and never looked back, and have done just that for 15 years. We still have one son in high school, and I build my class times around his homeschool classes.
AA:How do you think creative minds view the world differently?
CJ:Creative minds see no limits. I understand that most people do not actually ‘see’ more than a ten foot circumference around them. I notice everything. I notice the glimmer of sunlight shimmering on the needles at the tops of the pines. I hear the birds sing and can identify each species according to its music – then find them to appreciate their colors. I feel the atmosphere and stop to appreciate just about everything as people plow past me unseeing.
I am never bored. I haven’t been bored for years. YEARS!! If I have to wait in a doctor’s office, I take the time to improve my sketching. Waiting pretty much anywhere gives me great opportunity to see new things, think new thoughts, jot down some plans and always continue sketching. It’s exercise for artists and I find it absolutely necessary to keep my chops up.
There are many benefits to being creative – you can think of an improvement for every situation, and a way to fix it! Creative people are not afraid to stand out. Instead of following that well-trod path, they can veer off, finding their own better way. So many times in this world things are done because people simply passively follow what has come before. Not so the artist! New frontiers for us!
Here’s a passage from the great John Ruskin. It absolutely BLEW MY MIND when I first read it, because this is how I live! It helped me to be a little more patient with all the unseeing people around me:
“From the most insignificant circumstance, – from a bird on a railing, a wooden bridge over a stream, a broken branch, a child in a pinafore, or a waggoner in a frock, does the artist derive amusement, improvement, and speculation. In everything it is the same; where a common eye sees only a white cloud, the artist observes the exquisite gradations of light and shade, the loveliness of the mingled colours – red, purple, grey, golden, and white; the graceful roundings of form, the shadowy softness of the melted outline, the brightness without luster, the transparency without faintness, and the beautiful mildness of the deep heaven that looks out among the snowy cloud with its soft blue eyes; – in fact, the enjoyment of the sketcher from the contemplation of nature is a thing which to another is almost incomprehensible. If a person who had no taste for drawing were at once to be endowed with both the taste and power, he would feel, on looking out upon nature, almost like a blind man who had just received his sight.”
Wow. He is so right on it gives me chills. This is EXACTLY how I view the world.
How do you stay inspired?
My inspiration comes from a thousand places. One thing that I’ve noticed is that I do need to always be experiencing new things. I’m not very good at the same old thing day in and day out, and continually have to break free to go on an ‘adventure.’ For me that often means going downtown and wandering around. Taking in a museum, driving to some unknown part of town to find a cool new ‘something.’ These trips are often loosely planned and usually how we serendipitously stumble upon the coolest places! Bearing an accurate internal compass, when I drive to a destination, I take a different route there and back, making all kinds of surprising discoveries.
Travel inspires me! I love watching people and am keenly connected with nature. When we travel to different states and countries, I always appreciate the new flora and fauna. My purse ALWAYS contains a sketchpad, and I usually fill two or three every year. They are a visual diary for my life and our travels. When I need inspiration, I will often look through them. I also collect pictures. Boxes of pictures. When I really need help, I’ll just sit down with one of them.
What has been the most rewarding moment as a teacher?
My most rewarding moments are words that I get from my graduates. When I see former students like you take flight with such beauty and purpose, I am delighted! Students that I have had many years ago will get on Facebook and shoot me a message about how much my classes meant to them – that is the best for me. Recently, one of my students, who is now a tough Marine, sent me a message that they went through Italy and he had a chance to visit some museums. He told me he looked at art differently and thought of me, remembering what he had learned. Those little messages are heavy with meaning to me and extremely rewarding.
AA:What is your favorite medium to work with?
CJ:I really love working in many mediums which, they say, is not good for artist recognition. Watercolor, acrylics, pen and ink, metals, it’s a long list, and one of the things that keeps me interested and having fun. My favorite medium, however, is acrylic paint with a top layer of artist’s wax crayons. Super immediate and super bright, just the way I like it. I find that if I spend too much time on a painting, or procrastinate until I can spend a huge amount of time at a project, I’ll either lose interest or be inspired by the next new thing, and never get to it. Generally speaking, my inspirations come hard and fast and many of them slip through my fingers because of a lack of time.
AA:What advice would you give to budding artist?
CJ:My advice to a budding artist is to take business and marketing along with art. Unfortunately, painting is only about 10% of my spent time. You should spend about 70% of your time marketing and selling, or your paintings will pile up in your home and have conventions of their own.
My other piece of advice is to show up and do the work. Art is hard work, no doubt about that. If you’re inspired, do it. If you’re not inspired, do it anyway. If you are exhausted, do it. You just have to show up and do it every single day. Inspiration and magic do not have a formula other than showing up and doing the work. If you continue that work, it will come.
AA:What does an ideal day in the studio look like to you?
CJ:Oh how I love those days! I try to paint a LOT in the summer when we don’t have a regular schedule of places to go. My ideal day would include a lot of painting in the morning. I take occasional breaks when I need to let things dry out, and use these to varnish finished paintings outside. Lunch. More painting. Bringing in the varnished work. Sometimes it might involve internet surfing for photos I need for a particular subject.
CJ: Wow. Difficult. So many. I think the artist I most closely identify with is Leonardo da Vinci. He had a mind that could not be contained in any one area and was interested in a vast number of things, as I am. He did amazing work in many different fields, and I am sure he would be labeled ADD today. Unendingly curious, he was always devising new ways to do things and studying new things.
Other artists that inspire me are William Bouguereau, Peter Max, Rembrandt, Vincent Van Gogh, Steven Quiller, Roger Dean. Wow. That is one crazy mix.
CJ: Ah, there’s the question. Actually, one cup of really good black coffee in the morning. One. If I haven’t had my iced tea in the afternoon – stay back! Margaritas with Mexican food, and an occasional glass of wine with friends.
AA:What was the last book you read?
CJ: A totally amazing book by Daniel Boorstin called The Creators, which chronicles creative people through history. Fascinating. I’ve gone through this one probably three times.
Cindy Johnson Contact info:
Color Cat Studio E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Check back next friday to meet the extraordinary songwriter and singer, Michael Woelfel.
See you soon,