Katie Johnson: The face of expression

by Brent Cole

Exploring the unique nuances of the human face, local artist Katie Johnson has found her creative stride, drawing the faces of friends and celebrities. Currently, she’s prepping for her show this month at Aslan Brewing Co., and also working on 60 portraits of people in the local brewing community who will be featured in a new deck of cards.

Katie initially moved to Bellingham in 2004, when she planned on studying political science at Western. After taking a “great class by a libertarian,” she quickly realized it wasn’t the major for her. Having been “one of the nerdy kids listening to sad emo music drawing in my notebook” during high school, pursuing art seemed liked a natural fit, she said. In 2010, Katie graduated with a BA in studio art.

Having drawn “European street scenes” as a kid, her roots in illustrating people trace back before her teen years when she had a subscription to Surfer Magazine. “I loved the layout and artwork,” Katie said with her infectious laugh. “I was always attracted to that.”

Her first portrait was of the famous surfer Chris Malloy. “It was the first time I realized I was ok at drawing people,” she said.

Finding herself drawn to this style, she focused more on people’s faces.

After graduating from college, Katie moved between Portland Bellingham. As she sorted through the obstacles of her 20s, Katie continued to work on art, having the occasional showing. After returning to Bellingham the second time, Katie was invited to submit art for Strange Bedfellows, which was held at a temporary art gallery on State St. She was also getting requests from people to do illustrations for occasions such as anniversaries, noting this “was all very casual, an ‘if I have time, I’ll do it.’”

While Katie continued to have a laxed attitude towards her art as a career, she was continuing to pursue it, with her pieces ending up on permanent display in a coffee shop in Portland and part of an exhibit in Los Angeles (which had 360 submissions, but only 27 pieces made the cut). And lately, she has done more.

“Over the past year I’ve put the most energy into art since I’ve been into college,” Katie stated.

She isn’t sure of the root of the inspiration,  noting, “I don’t know if it’s turning 30 and wanting to accomplish something that’s mine, but I’m taking myself seriously enough to make it a priority.”

With that focus on art has come a large interest in her work – a semi-abstract and beautiful take on portraits. She is currently readying a series of portraits (painted and illustrated) for an exhibit at Aslan Brewing Co. in October, as well as a local brewers and beer culture deck of cards that includes 60 illustrations for the 54 cards. She first started the project in March, and with each illustration taking between three and five hours, she’s about halfway through. The deck will likely be released in late fall/early winter.

Katie is quick to point out there isn’t any kind of message in her art, it’s just something that compels her; anything she finds inspiring or entertaining can easily end up becoming a focus. Aside from the card deck project, her subjects range from local residents (including Rich Canut, who is on this month’s cover and will be in the show) to celebrities (there will be three portraits of actor Rick Moranis, who starred in films such as Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Spaceballs).

While Katie continues working on her upcoming projects, she’s enjoying spending time on art and the notoriety that naturally comes with it. “I’ve had so much fun,” Katie said with a laugh, “for the first time people are recognizing me as a visual artist and it’s nice.”

Published in the October 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine