L. Diane Johnson
L. Diane Johnson has spent a lifetime creating. Whether a simple sign or a complex mural, she has always made things — both the functional and the unique. She spent hours as a child exploring mud, paint, glitter, paper — anything she could get her hands on. Little did she know that creating would become her life’s work.
By 1968, she had to declare her plans for college. Like all students she was faced with meeting a high school guidance counselor in his office. Johnson told the counselor that she wanted to become an artist. “An artist?” The counselor bolted, “Why, you can’t be an artist—you’ll never eat.” Crushed to the core, Johnson and the counselor discussed what in his opinion she could become. She decided to study to become an art teacher since that trade was more “practical” — thinking it would bring her as close to becoming an artist as she could come.
Johnson graduated in 1973, from The Ohio State University with a B.A. in Art Education. There she studied the usual requirements of life drawing, art history, sculpting and preparing exhibitions. Upon graduation art teaching jobs were not available in the public school system due to severe cutbacks in art, music and physical education. By 1975, she secured a position as an art teacher in a private Christian school in Connecticut, carrying art supplies throughout the halls to the classes of K–12 children.
Although teaching was fulfilling, Johnson had an increasingly strong urge to paint. She had to paint. Whether she succeeded or failed did not matter. Whether anyone ever saw her work it did not matter. What did matter was that she study and develop her talent as far as it could go. She also knew that her students could receive a richer learning experience if she was deeper more accomplished artist herself.Her new objective was to seek out the best artists possible to study with while still working full-time. She found and studied for with pastel portraitist N. Lee Jackson and Daniel Greene NA. Between Jackson and Greene’s instruction, Johnson found the grounding she needed to meet her artistic goals. With this baseline of instruction, she continued on by studying from books, deceased master painters and a heavy dose of trial and error.
She observed many painters selling their work and was committed to not showing her paintings until she was confident of reaching a level of expertise so she would not have to make apologies for her work. For several years as she studied on her own while gaining momentum with portrait commissions.
At the same time, Johnson worked as a corporate graphic designer garnering major awards for her work then ventured into owning her own company for 20 years. She worked with clients nationwide creating corporate identity programs, brochures, books, architectural renderings, and Web sites for Fortune 500 companies as well as small business.
Balancing both design and painting businesses at the same time was no small task. While her first love was painting, Johnson had continued her graphics company until painting became self-supporting. That time came in 1987 when she devoted full-time to painting/teaching and part-time to design.
A turning point came when as Johnson’s portrait clients requested the inclusion of countryside, gardens and other outdoor scenes in their paintings. In newly rediscovering and studying the landscape she was compelled to paint that genre in lieu of portraiture.
Once Johnson found herself in the landscape, she never looked back. The discoveries made and love of the land propelled her into a new direction. Just as painting clients live in her studio within client homes or offices had once been the inspiration for painting, painting in front of the living landscape en plein air gave way to a new artistic direction for Johnson. For the most-part she has worked alone delving into color, composition, exploring and working out issues of light and structure in the landscape.
After discovering that colleague artists had similar experiences, Johnson began sharing her knowledge with others through private instruction and workshops conducted in Europe and the U.S. Additionally, she and her husband started the Art Business Academy. The Academy was developed to assist painters in marketing their work through seminars and private consulting — an area lacking in academic art training. Teaching adults emerged after all as one of her strongest skills.
She has lectured and written numerous articles about painting and the marketing side of art. “Self-promotion is one of the areas artists know least about but most want to know about how to do,” says Johnson. Her book, Promotion for Pennies, coauthored with Marketing Consultant, Sue Viders, is helping artists at all levels learn how to reach collectors with their work.
Johnson has won numerous awards and received accolades for her work, selling paintings worldwide through her studio and gallery partners.
She is a full member of the Pastel Society of America, signature member of Plein Air Painters of Hawaii/International Plein Air Painters, member of Plein Air Painters of the South East, and other professional organizations. She’s listed in Who’s Who in American Art, Who’s Who in the South and Southwest, and Who’s Who in Information Technology for her contribution to graphic design on the Web.
Her greatest honor came anonymously. In 2000, Johnson was invited in to participate in the first ever White House Conference for Arts and Humanities. A group of world dignitaries, actors, musicians, artists and government officials worked at the White House to fashion ways to bring the arts to every person on the planet.
With her background in both fine art, graphic design, illustration, and global involvement, in 2004, she accepted a position as designer/founding editor ofPlein Air Magazine and believed it to be a perfect fit. “I viewed the position as a mission — to promote and perpetuate the tradition of plein-air painting worldwide,” says Johnson, adding, “I wanted to give today’s painters a head start and open forum. You cannot short-circuit learning, but you can help artists by not having them reinvent the wheel. I want to see new artists take the magnificent old wheel and take it to the next level.”
In addition, to collectors she says, “Study to learn all you can about the artists whose work you enjoy. Purchase deceased and today’s master works as well as those of emerging artists. Today’s paintings are tomorrow’s heritage — you are the custodians of that heritage.”
Johnson paints full-time primarily on location, continues to conduct her popular workshops and write. Her objective in painting is to intimately capture whatever it is that inspires her about the land, whether it contains architecture, people or is pure landscape. “Each person has a personal experience when viewing paintings by any artist. My greatest joy is to see someone respond to one of the locations I have captured on canvas or paper whether or not they can purchase a piece.” For Johnson, painting efficiently and directly live, is the best way of conveying whatever she wants to say about a subject. “Yes, technical expertise is a critical element in being able to paint a picture, however, when heart is applied as well, that makes for an valuable painting experience.”
Johnson is a native of New Jersey and now lives in Central Virginia.