Cover Artist S. L. Johnson
by C. Margery Kempe
I am so happy to have as a guest today the fabulous artist S. L. Johnson, whom I know from way too many nights drinking at the Aloha Alcohula, dancing in various dives around Connecticut, tippling with the Women’s League of Ale Drinkers and all kinds of fun time hanging out together. Welcome, Stephanie! Tell me, is this your first book cover?
In a way, yes. I do have another in the works for K. A. Laity, The Triumph of the Carpet Beetle, and I did produce a cover for the WLoADed e-Journal.
How does the process start? With an image or a concept? Aesthetics? Tone?
I’m usually inspired by a chance comment during conversation, or the person who is asking for an image may tell me a general sense of what they want, but I don’t spend hours sketching away. I like to work, at first, with the bare minimum of information. I tend to get a sudden image in my head, then I render it as best as I can. Sometimes they’re exactly as they should be, sometimes not and then those need more work. I really don’t like to spend overly much time trying to get somewhere with an image- I think it gets really static. And if I can inject humor into it, I will do so at every turn.
The aesthetics & tone of a piece really depends on who or what it is for- I do create images both with my own ideas and also the ideas of others, so there is a great variety of ways that these things can be translated.
How do you shape an image as you go along? Is it a taking away or an adding or something else altogether? I mean, writers tend to either write lots that they edit down, or write sparely on the plot then flesh out afterward. Is it like that?
Well, that is really subjective. Some pieces come out pretty much as I envisioned, with very little change, some are too simple, some are too complex. I find with block printing that a lot more looseness, problem-solving and experimentation is used, depending on the materials. Digital work for me is usually is very pared down to begin with, so maybe more addition is needed with those images.
That’s fascinating: I’m always interested in process! What kind of technological tools do you use?
Photoshop. A Bambu tablet. A wireless mouse. Not exactly hardcore artillery! For prints, I do the printing by hand.
Now, that I have to ask about because I don’t know much. How do you make a block print? Can you take us through the steps)?
I start with the image I wish to create – in either medium, I tend to work toward the end result: I already know what I want for the finished image, then I need to problem-solve my way to it. The problem-solving is figuring how many colors I will be using, and how the image is to be broken down, which determines the number of blocks I will need to cut. Then, transferring the image to the blocks, registering the image so it prints correctly, cutting the blocks, then selecting the paper, the type of ink and then actually printing the image. It’s a wonderful, alchemical process. Very satisfying.
I’m so envious of people who can create with their hands. I come from a family of talented people, but I’m all thumbs! How do you know when an image is “right”? Is it ever?
Hahaha- well, you know how picky I am, so I’m never quite satisfied with what I’ve done. I don’t think any creative person really ever is, and it’s a good thing. Keeps you challenging yourself. In fact, it’s important to me to challenge myself with each project, if at all possible, idea-wise or in a technical manner.
What are your ambitions for your art?
Well, I don’t have ambitions, so to speak. I just want the pieces I do for fundraisers or media to be successful for the client, and fun for me, and as for the others, I just want to be happy with the outcome, whether I learned something new or am just pleased with the result. The real bonus is when someone likes a piece – and even enough to want one for themselves. It never fails to surprise me!
Well, those are fine ambitions. And yes, THEY ARE ambitions. Own it! As someone who owns some of your fantastic art, I can say there are lots of people delighted to have your art hanging on their walls. You rock. Thanks for being my guest