12 Questions: MOTHER+ARTIST: Megan Woodard Johnson

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1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What stage in your career were you when you had children?

I'm a mixed media artist living and working in West Bend, WI. I'm currently exploring 2D abstract work layering acrylic, collage, oil pastel, graphite and colored pencil. Although I studied art all the way through school, including a Graphic Design degree in college, I had actually taken a break from creating art at the time we had children. I picked it back up again when my kids were 2 and 5. 


2. What first inspired you to begin working with your chosen medium? I fell in love with fine art printmaking in college, but when I started making art again in the midst of being a full time at-home parent, access to printmaking facilities was not in the cards. I honestly began working in acrylic and collage because the materials were affordable and easy to pick up and put down at random if my studio time (which was nap-time) got cut short (which was often!). I realized quickly that I loved the potential for layering these mediums and building up images - which was much like the layering of different passes on the press that I loved in printmaking. I've been working with essentially the same set of materials for 12 years now and still haven't exhausted their potential for telling the stories I want to tell.

3.Where is your studio space located and how do you make work balancing motherhood and art making.  Could you share an image?  My children are teenagers now, and I've grown my art making practice from a nap-time hobby to a full time pursuit. In those 12 years, I've gradually grown from a tiny corner of our basement to a shift to renting studio space outside of the home 5 years ago. I'm currently in my 3rd studio, which I share with another artist. It was originally an apartment and there's tons of space, I feel very fortunate. I can work, teach workshops, store work and handle admin all from that space, which helps me to separate work time and home time - always a tough challenge when you are self-employed.

4.What are some of your rituals in the studio to get the momentum going? To be 100% honest, my ritual starts with getting a coffee on the way in and then flopping in a comfy chair and scrolling Instagram for a bit. But then I get myself going with music if it's a painting day, or an audio book or podcast if it's a day with a little less creativity - like prepping panels or framing work. I need a balance between the very energetic process of painting and the more deliberate process of prepping and framing. And excellent studio day is when I can paint for about 3 hours and then do those quieter parts of the process for an hour or so. That also helps to keep several different works in progress at any given time.  5. How do you overcome ‘failure’? Well really I probably start by whining to a friend, and drinking more coffee - I guess it depends on how big the perceived failure is. But then I try to evaluate and figure out if there's anything different I could do moving forward. If it's a painting that's failing, can I fix it? If it's a show I didn't get into, was my work right for that particular show or was I in the wrong category? Could my photos of that work have been better? If my sales are feeling low, am I sure I'm talking to the right audience? There are all sorts of things that you can sort of control, and all sorts of things you can't.  I am constantly trying to push myself to achieve new and greater things - but I also try to be savvy about where I'm directing my energy and how I'm trying to find my audience. A few years ago, I found the confidence in my own work to know that if I end up in a space where my work isn't received well, that's ok - it's not a reflection of the value of my work - it's just that that space maybe wasn't full of 'my people'. When that happens, I am genuinely happy for the artists there who have found their people in that space, and I shift my gaze a bit to try to find my people on the next round.   6. What is the most inspiring place you have been to? My inspiration really comes from my connection to people - both close friends and family and more casual friendships - because I'm very interested in how so many of life's experiences are so common among us. I love the time spent and conversations had with people that show me that in a new light. So I'm really re-charged and inspired when I can just spend time connecting with people.  7. Do you have any other interests or hobbies? Not at the moment, which is something I'm trying to rectify. It's an interesting thing when your hobby becomes your 40+ hour per week focus...it can really overshadow any sort of work/life balance. There are things I dove into in the past, cooking, interior design and landscaping in my home, event planning - which are all highly creative pursuits. Now that my full time gig is creative, I've lost some interest in those things. I'm trying to spend a little time this summer connecting to non-art related things to widen my focus a bit.  8. Do you collect anything? I don't! I love 'things' and I love the aesthetics of vintage items and old functional objects, but I don't have a set item that I've sought out or collected over time.  9. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life? Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert really, fully set me on the path of creating a life around being an artist, so I'd say that has had the strongest, most literal impact.  The Wildwood series by Collin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis are huge favorites - I've always been a huge fan of diving into an imaginary world, and the one they created in those stories felt like my own childhood imagination come to life. And I love anything and everything that Barbara Kingsolver has ever written. 10. What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an artist/woman/mother? Have you experienced unfairness because of being a mother? Has your needs as a mother held you back from pursuing career goals? Logistically, I've probably been held back a little, because I was balancing the development of my practice and my career along with being the primary day-time caregiver. I think that's a similar challenge that all parents face when they put an element of their career on hold to stay home. The difference I think with art is that it's drawn from such a personal place, and it's development and growth is 100% dependent on you. By which I mean there's not a career path or ladder that is consistent across the board, where it's clear to hop back onto that track when you're ready. And there's something about the guilt associated with pulling time away from parenting responsibilities to work on a thing that maybe doesn't have a clear and consistent earning potential. I think it's common to feel that, once you've made the decision to have children, or own a house, or any of those other 'adult' long term commitments, you need to be either contributing to the wellbeing or the finances in a concrete way. I don't doubt the importance and validity of my pursuing a career in art, but there' s also no ignoring the fact that I'm part of a family unit with growing expenses.  And there does feel like there's a part of being an artist that revolves around getting out into the art community - for gallery openings, studio events, etc., and often that kind of thing is scheduled in the evening or on the weekends. I struggle with wanting to pull away from my family on evenings and weekends, because that's the only time we have a chance to all be together. But I've gradually accepted that being out a few times a month to stay connected to the community is part of my job, and though I certainly can't make it to every event, when I schedule wisely I enjoy it and my family can balance it. 

11. Who/What are influences for your work? Some of my current contemporary favorites are painters Robert Szot, Jason Rolf, Alice Sheridan and Sara Wiladsen. My lifelong favorites are Marisol Escobar, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Diebenkorn, Henri Mattise and Paul Cezanne.  My current strongest influence in terms of pushing to continually grow my work, my practice and my career is Mindy Wittock.  12. What are you working on right now? Could you share an image? A very large work on paper, with the intention of really pushing my layering and buildup of materials. I'm not currently interested in going fully into assemblage work, but I want to build up very thick layers of collage elements - even to the point of having smaller sections of paintings layered up on top of the base piece.



MOTHER + ARTIST runs through July 27th at James May North. See the exhibition online at ARTSY