Interview with Bee Johnson, Illustrator
Interview with Bee Johnson, Illustrator
Recently, I had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Bee Johnson, an illustrator living in New York City and the owner of Bee Johnson Illustration. Bee Johnson has illustrated dogs along with creating many other types of illustrations. Bee’s artwork has been featured in Juxtapoz; 3×3 Magazine; Creative Quarterly; Applied Arts; and The Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles. A selection of Bee Johnson’s work is displayed below. Please visit Bee Johnson’s website to view more of her wonderful work! Bee also does illustration commissions upon request.
KATHERINE CARVER: What were your beginnings as an artist, illustrator, and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?
BEE JOHNSON: Honestly, it wasn’t my childhood dream to become an artist. I drew plenty, but I also played music, wrote stories, and I spent as much time as possible around animals. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be, but I did know what was out of the question: science, math, and sports. I set off in a general direction and let my interests and talents surface naturally.
KATHERINE CARVER: Did you study art formally?
BEE JOHNSON: I went to Indiana University as a fine arts major with a concentration in printmaking but quickly realized my fear of creative commitment. Etching an image into stone felt wrong to me—I wanted to play and explore and make happy accidents all over the place until the image I envisioned suddenly appeared. Collage and mixed media felt more natural to me, so I started experimenting on my own and shifted academically towards folklore and ethnomusicology, which later turned out to be key influences in my portfolio. Eventually I left the university and enrolled at the Savannah College of Art and Design where I finished my BFA in illustration.
KATHERINE CARVER: How do you describe your style?
BEE JOHNSON: Textured. Shape based. Silhouette driven. Expressive.
KATHERINE CARVER: Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating art was absolutely something that you had to do?
BEE JOHNSON: I worked a string of crummy day jobs to support myself as I launched my freelance career, and I hated every last one of them. I learned that if I’m not making things—making my own things—I’m bored and restless. I once worked as a typist on Wall Street to pay my bills. Seriously. Typing up mortgages and deeds in a pencil skirt! Those were dark days, and now I never take working full time in my field for granted.
KATHERINE CARVER: What was the impetus that inspired you to begin illustrating dogs?
BEE JOHNSON: Annie. My brown-eyed, barrel chested sasswagon of a pitbull. She’s been my best friend, co-pilot, and creative muse for the last four years. I can’t NOT draw her. She’s a total character.
KATHERINE CARVER: How has your own dog influenced your artwork?
BEE JOHNSON: Annie has this remarkable silhouette. It’s one fluid shape, much like a seal, that’s instantly recognizable and easy to capture. I first drew her when I created my first children’s book, Where Dreaming Dogs Go. Since then, I just make little cartoons about her as a way to document what’s so wonderful about her. She’s my first dog-love, and it’s a love that only comes once!
KATHERINE CARVER: Where do you show/exhibit your work?
BEE JOHNSON: My drawings are published in newspapers, magazines, illustration blogs, websites and now in an iPad app. I’ve also worked in packaging and advertising.
KATHERINE CARVER: What does “being creative” mean to you?
BEE JOHNSON: I guess it means making things, not passively consuming or regurgitating them.
KATHERINE CARVER: What is the most challenging aspect of being an artist?
BEE JOHNSON: Dinner parties with people who have “real” jobs.
KATHERINE CARVER: How did you devise the idea for your series entitled, Where Dreaming Dogs Go?
BEE JOHNSON: Annie, my dog, is a vivid dreamer. Twitching, snoring, snorting, kicking, whimpering…the whole shebang. I used to sit in my apartment watching her have these crazy convulsions as she slept and decided to illustrate what her dreamscapes might look like.
KATHERINE CARVER: What inspires you to keep going with your work and what keeps you motivated?
BEE JOHNSON: I’ve never once questioned whether I should have pursued something other than illustration. It’s been hard, frustrating, scary, and exhausting at times, but at the end of the day, getting paid to draw feels like I’m beating the system. It never feels like work!
KATHERINE CARVER: What are the most rewarding and satisfying parts about being an artist and creating art?
BEE JOHNSON: I feel lucky to have a tangible way to give people a little window into my brain.
KATHERINE CARVER: What kind of patterns, rituals, and routines do you have while making your art?
BEE JOHNSON: Dangerous amounts of coffee. No shoes. I also make the faces of the characters I’m drawing – it helps me get the expression right if I can feel it on my own face.
KATHERINE CARVER: Looking back on your accomplishments, to date, what are you the most proud of?
BEE JOHNSON: Surviving (and thriving) in New York City as an illustrator. Creatively it’s a feast, but financially, it’s a challenge. I am so proud of being able to support myself here doing what I love.
KATHERINE CARVER: What are you working on now?
BEE JOHNSON: I’ve received many requests from people around the world for print copies of Where Dreaming Dogs Go, so I’ve decided to make it available through a self publishing site. I’m also art directing a children’s iPad app and growing my side project, The Illustrated Train, (www.theitrain.com).
KATHERINE CARVER: What artists inspire your work?
KATHERINE CARVER: What piece(s) of your artwork is your favorite?
BEE JOHNSON: Oh, gosh. I don’t know. Pass.
KATHERINE CARVER: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
BEE JOHNSON: Don’t ape other people’s styles. Draw like no one is watching and see what comes out. Reflect, refine, and repeat. Be yourself and draw what you know, not what you think you should know.
KATHERINE CARVER: How can people view your work?
BEE JOHNSON: You can view my work at the following websites listed immediately below.
Please note that all of the images contained in this blog post are courtesy of Bee Johnson.
You can read additional interviews here.