Beverly Johnson

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I grew up in Connecticut, and I've been in love with drawing since I was 4 or 5. I started seriously considering my artistic career path during the 2nd year of high school – I realized it was what I would be most happy doing. 

Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
I go to RISD in Providence. Before that, I took some pre-college classes at Pratt; before that, I taught myself. There are so many resources out there, especially online, and so much inspiration to draw from. I learned through drawing my own comics, animating in Powerpoint because I didn't have anything else, and eventually buying a drawing tablet and teaching myself digital art. RISD has taught me oil painting, figure drawing, perspective, color theory – all those valuable traditional skills.

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
I've always loved fairytales, animated films, and comics. I got very involved with them; I always had an overactive imagination. I'm also grateful that my parents read me so many books as a kid. It helped me write my own stories and create my own characters.

Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
When I was little I was particularly fascinated with magic, fashion, friendship, and stories about kids. Although my interests have obviously expanded, I still enjoy magical subjects, and want to continue making art for and about kids. I like kid's media that isn't condescending; kids can handle complex themes and subject matter more easily than most people think. Ideally, I want to make a variety of art – some for kids, some for adults, some that's enjoyable by both. I don't want to limit myself, and the best thing about art is that you don't have to.

From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you are designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
First I brainstorm and think of all the possibilities, then I collect references – especially when making a historical or culturally accurate project, it's important to do some research and collecting. Then I make a couple drafts, and if it's freelance work, I send them to the client for review. After feedback, I take what the client liked most about the draft, mix in my own imagination and inspiration from references, and create something we can both be happy with. 

What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
Traditionally, I use markers, colored pencils, and ballpoint pens. Digitally, I have a variety of brushes in Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint. My favorites imitate water color, oil chalk, oil paint, ink wash, and gouache. I like to experiment with mixes of traditional and digital, but getting digital usually allows me a larger variety of colors, and a more efficient process. Lately I've been experimenting with a lineless style, but usually I will digitally ink the drawing, then digitally paint over it.

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
I love almost everything about the process – designing the characters and environments, painting them, creating variations, and making stories... it's all great. But the hardest part is being decisive and cutting things down. Sometimes you need to get rid of parts of a piece you're attached to, or that you worked very hard on. I'm getting better at it, but it's still difficult.

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
I like to jump right in to working after brunch, and I basically work all day due to school, freelance, portfolio building, and commissions. Lately I've gotten the chance to work on 2 different animated pilots, which I can't legally talk about in detail, but it's been very fun and one of my first experiences professionally collaborating. On one, I'm a color stylist; the other, I'm both a character designer and a storyboard artist. I've gotten to work closely with other great artists, writers, and producers.

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
Besides the 2 animated pilots, I'm working on turning my novel into storyboards, and creating a short film. Other than that, I like to take it day-by-day and draw whatever inspires me.

What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
My dream is to be a visual development or story artist for an animation studio. My dream project would be anything with a lot of heart, and maybe some fantasy elements, and compelling characters. Any story with compelling characters is good in my book. 

Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
As much as I love and appreciate my freelance opportunities, I would love to work in an animation studio. That kind of environment seems ideal for my way of working.

What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
Art block usually comes from self-doubt, in my experience. To prevent art block, I have a list of projects and pieces I want to do in the future, a big folder of references, and a bunch of playlists of music that conveys a certain mood, environment, or character I want to portray. Sometimes it helps to just go and take a bubble bath, eat some food, do some laundry, something simple. Sometimes all you need to do is keep drawing, maybe even start over. It helps to remember why you love drawing, and what kind of story you're trying to tell.

Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
What you love to draw is what you should draw. However, there are a few fundamentals that'll help give you a solid foundation, and a lot of them, you can teach yourself. Remember to get a solid base of observational figure drawing and painting – which you should continue to work on even when you're at a professional level. There will be a lot of pressure to do everything, but think about what really excites you. You don't have to choose right away, because versatility can help you. Make art that you would want to make professionally. You don't have to wait to animate, make a comic, or do concept art. One of the biggest things that held me back when I was younger was thinking I needed to be at a certain level to draw something. Instead, be ambitious and make exactly what you want to make. Opportunities will come.

Many art teachers and schools suggest to their students that a commercial artist should always work in one consistent style if they wish to have a healthy career. In your own experience, do you believe this to be true?
I don't think that's completely true. Sure, consistency is good to a point – everyone has some signature quirks that distinguish their work, and having a unique style sets you apart from competition. However, having flexibility can give you just as many advantages. For example, some clients like my more realistic style, some want the characters as cartoony and cute as possible. It's case-by-case. I would recommend experimenting with styles as much as you want. Your own style will always shine through, naturally. It's not something you need to force. 

If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children book, ''how to'' book) to a fellow artist, what would it be and why?
For animators, the Animators Survival Kit. For everyone, I would recommend getting the art book of your absolute favorite artist. Begin to understand exactly what you love about their work and how you can be inspired by it.

What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career?
It's more and more important to establish yourself online and put your work on a portfolio site. It's also more and more important to have versatility, because that makes you more valuable as a freelancer or employee. As always, the most helpful thing is to just keep drawing. It might seem obvious, but the most important thing is that you're genuinely excited about the job you're doing.

Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
Glen Keane and Rebecca Sugar are some of my favorite and most inspirational artists. Their characters and visions are so expressive, and they can both work in a variety of styles but still have very distinct, beautiful styles. They also both have very sensitive, round line styles.

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I have a bit of experienced with Maya, but I love 2d hand-drawn animation too. I'm really fond of the new 2D/3D blend that's been done with the Disney shorts Paperman and Feast, and I think the next step should be a feature film in that style. I think 2D will always be appreciated, and a useful skill.

Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online service, you name it. New media on the internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
The pros are that formal training is slightly less crucial, which opens the door more for artists who don't have the chance to go to school.  Another pro is the ability to get in direct contact with recruiters and art directors; you don't have to mail a portfolio across the country anymore. The cons? It creates a bit of a competitive environment – I see a lot of young artists get discouraged because their art doesn't get the traction or appreciation they want. My advice to them is that absolutely everyone has had a period of time where they felt unrecognized; try to focus on making art that you're passionate about, not what you predict others will like. 

Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
My art portfolio is on Behance. My blog is on Tumblr, and my Twitter and Instagram are both @beverlylove. My commissions are usually open, for which you can email I also have art prints on my Redbubble. Thank you!

Thank you Beverly :)