Dickinson artist Lee Johnson, 81, paints every day, and she advises all artists to do the same. Johnson works in watercolor, acrylic, and oil, and she also teaches oil painting, beginning watercolor, and advanced watercolor at the College of the Mainland’s Lifelong Learning Center in La Marque. Her subjects include plants, landscapes, portraits, wildlife, and abstracts.
Johnson enters most regional competitions such as the Texas City Art Show and Galveston Art League’s juried competitions at its Texas City and Galveston galleries. She has won several awards and sells her paintings through exhibits such as those held at the Dickinson library in May and Seabrook library in June. Here, she provides a look into her life and art.
Q: When did you discover your passion for art?
A: I’ve loved art all my life, ever since I was little. But our family was poor and I never had money to buy anything and do art. Then I married, and my husband was in the military and we were a one-paycheck family. So for a long time I still couldn’t afford it. When my oldest daughter was about 15 and I was in my 30s, I finally started painting … I kept my paints out on the table so I could work any time I had a chance. When my middle daughter moved out ― about 10 years after I started painting ― I got her bedroom [as a studio]. That was in the late 1980s or maybe the 1990s.
Q: What is your educational background in art?
A: I’ve taken classes at the College of the Mainland ... and I took lessons from the late Shirley Sterling, who was 97 and still teaching. I learned so much from her.
Q: Do you have a favorite medium?
A: Watercolor, because I can explore in it more and do different effects and mix it with another medium.
Q: How do you improve your skills?
A: It’s just like playing the piano or any other discipline. You have to paint every day to get better. You have to try everything to get better, to be the best you can be.
Q: What’s your process?
A: Once I’m inspired by an image, there’s an incubation period. I see something ― an image ― maybe in a magazine or something, and I think about what I could do to make it a painting, how to design it. I do my best thinking at night.
Design is the most important thing in a painting. I messed around for 10 years before I learned design, and then it was like a light switch turned on. By design, I mean the objects to include in the painting and where to put them; the darks, lights, and mid-tones to use; the big and little pieces you need. And you need a big object that stands out. All of these go into the design of a painting.
I often work from a photo and I take my own pictures. The photo that I painted Tropicals from ― I used that photo to design four different paintings. [Tropicals was a Best of Show winner in the March juried competition at the Galveston Art League’s Texas City gallery.]
Q: What is your biggest artistic challenge?
A: Getting the lights and darks right and composition. I still struggle with portraits, too.
Q: How do you manage your time?
A: I usually quit painting by 4 to 5 p.m., when I’m ready to eat supper. There’s always something else you think you should be doing ― housework and such. I do those things when I get a chance so my painting isn’t pushed to the wayside.
Q: Do you paint indoors and outdoors?
A: Only indoors. I have allergies, and painting outside wasn’t working for me. My easels and canvas would blow around. I went to Brenham [Texas] to paint bluebonnets, and the wind blew my canvas halfway down the road. Then I tried to paint in the cab of the truck, but that didn’t work either. So I packed up and came home.
Q: Who’s your favorite famous artist?
A: Renoir. I love his style. When you look at his works that have women in them ― and a lot of his paintings do ― you can tell he loves women.
Q: If you won $5,000 to spend on art supplies or classes, how would you spend it?
A: On supplies! And I would donate some to help Dickinson artists who lost their supplies in Hurricane Harvey.