Artist Profile: Donna Johnson

This year I’ve planted a vegetable garden for the first time in thirty-five years. I’m loving playing in the dirt, pushing seeds down into the soil, pulling those pesky weeds. It’s all part of a slow process. Can’t wait to see the pole bean shoots arch up out of the soil, to taste the first leaves of crisp lettuce, to burst those warm right-off-the-vine cherry tomatoes in my mouth! It’s going to be a while, but I savor the anticipation of those garden treasures; vegetable gardening one of the only SLOW things in my life. It’s lovely.

Donna Johnson will be teaching a ‘slow class’ at Fiber College this year (all day Saturday): Slow Stitching of Slow Fabric. Donna is a fiber artist (with a day job) and works with both commercial and surface-designed fabrics to make wall hangings. Much of her work has a nature theme, which is enhanced by her plant-dyeing adventures. Donna’s dye materials often come from the trees in her back yard, and the embroidered pieces evolve from the dyed fabric itself and the trees with which they were dyed. Her work is exquisite and students in her class can use their own fabric (perhaps from Amelia Poole’s class this year or in a previous year) and/or purchase plant-dyed fabric and materials from Donna. Let’s meet Donna and see some of her beautiful creations. Then you can go read more details about this Saturday class and sign up here.

The Language of Leaves

The Language of Leaves

As we celebrate the tenth year of our Fiber College community, tell us about how community plays a part in your life as a fiber artist.

My art making tends to be fairly solitary, so my Community is important in keeping me in touch with humanity. My quilt guild chapter, Hampden Highlands, is a great place to share work, and to play with a variety of ideas and inspiration. My Dye Garden, in amongst a bunch of other peoples’ gardens, at the Penobscot County Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden, provides me with materials and gardening inspiration and support. And opportunities like this at Fiber College provide all kinds of Community, familiar and brand new, to sustain inspiration for my creative life.

Detail of Donna's piece, The Great Caribou Bog

Detail of Donna’s piece, The Great Caribou Bog

Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts.

I grew up making bits of this and that, and my familiarity with fabric and sewing from making clothing made that the handy, comfortable medium to use for artwork. I did start making (sort of) standard quilts, but after seeing a Quilt Visions exhibit at the Farnsworth Museum one year (Nudes in Calico?!?), I realized the possibility of making art with fabric and thread. Which lead to surface designing fabric, which lead to plant dyes, and so on, and so on….

In the Garden

In the Garden

How do you keep your creativity fresh and new?  What have you experimented with in the fiber arts in the past year?

Trying things outside my normal methods can be very refreshing creatively. Getting together with friends to try new techniques gets the ideas flowing. Classes (perhaps at Fiber College?) outside my normal work may end up actually applicable, or be a way to think differently than usual. A great excuse to play with book arts, beading, buttons…..

Samples from the Dye Garden

Samples from the Dye Garden

What does your studio space look like now? What change would you make if you could?

My studio space is spread around the house. The ‘Studio,’ holding the sewing machines and work surfaces and storage, would likely be designated the master bedroom by others. The Wet Lab, where fabric surface design (screen and block printing, dyeing, etc.) takes place, is in the back hall with the utility sink, counter, and washer and dryer. The Winter Dye Kitchen is in the utility room, with a counter for my dye pots. In the summer, dyeing and surface design are relocated to the screen room outside. I am lusting mightily after a Screen Porch to extend the outdoor Surface Design Season.

The Edge of the Woods

The Edge of the Woods

How do you imagine your work might change in the next three to five years?

I have been increasingly using my own surface designed fabrics in my artwork, which has been lots of fun, so I suspect that will continue. And I hope to continue learning about and using more plant dyed fabrics and threads.

Tree dyed fabrics

Tree dyed fabrics

What project of yours has surprised you the most and why?

Last year, my Big Project was the 2015 Weeklys, 9” x 12” pieces, made mostly with fabrics I had surface designed in a variety of methods over the years. The ‘weekly’ portion ended up being more about a piece made for each week, rather than a piece actually being made each week, but still I actually ended up with 52 pieces at the end of the year – quite surprising, and an extremely satisfying pile of work. And it ended up being really interesting working with what was, in large pieces, some very strange fabric, but in small bits made some worthy images.

Walking in the Woods Again

Walking in the Woods Again

How do you ensure plenty of time to be an artist?

I probably do have plenty of time to be an artist – I just don’t do the greatest job utilizing that time. Of course, the Day Job takes up a bit of time, and can sometimes hinder evening art motivation, and The Garden and The Outdoors tend to beckon in their seasons. I seem to do better if I can manage to talk myself into a pseudo-regular schedule of creative work – maybe at least a little something several nights a week. And a clear idea of what I might like to work on. And it always helps to have the handwork ready to go when it becomes necessary to vegetate in front of the TV.

Mushroom dyed fabrics

Mushroom dyed fabrics

If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?

I’m kind of enjoying where I’m at with my fiber journey at the moment – I’ve learned a fair amount, like the work I’m doing, and have plenty of room to change, expand, improve, realign – but, wouldn’t it have been nice to have figured it out a bit sooner, and with a bit more drive and motivation?

Shapeshifting

Shapeshifting

You can learn more about Donna’s class and sign up here.

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