The Annual Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts Awards occurred last month, and we had the chance to learn more about local artist Johanna Westby, winner of the Award for Outstanding Emerging Artist.
She is well known throughout Sudbury as a graphic designer and art teacher at Cambrian, a children’s book author and illustrator, and the creator behind the cement truck mural at UpFest last year (don’t worry, we asked her for all the details!). Read on for our interview with Johanna.
First off, congratulations on this achievement! How does it feel to be recognized by the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts Awards?
It is an honour to be recognized within such a rich and vibrant creative community. There is so much talent in Greater Sudbury, and I am so thrilled to be able to contribute to the creative culture.
Tell us your story; where did your interest in art and design come from?
Both my parents are practicing professional artists (my dad is a printmaker – specializing in etching, and my mom is an artist who works with fabric to create large scale landscapes), so I was introduced to the creative industry very young. I was always encouraged and coached through my childhood to create, and my parents gave me honest critique which helped me grow and develop my skill as an artist.
Who are your artistic influences, and where do you draw your creative inspiration from? Do you have a favourite artist or piece of artwork? Why?
Of course my parents have always been huge influences in my life – I still look to them for guidance and advice. I am fascinated by a variety of artists, illustrators, and styles – and I try to incorporate those influences in my work. I am inspired by the Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Precisionism movements. I am very influenced by the work of many great Canadian artists such as: Lawren Harris (one of the Group of Seven painters – I am particularly interested in his bold, geometric landscapes with powerful colour use and precise technique to create movement and force); David Blackwood (a printmaker whose incredibly rich use of blues, aqua-tints and etching techniques transform traditional subject into almost surreal imagery); Ted Harrison (illustrator – uses bold, vibrant colours in solid blocks to create energetic illustrations – most notably for “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service). Other Canadian artists I am influenced by and highly recommend for their outstanding technique and work:
• Alex Colville
• Mary Pratt
• Daphne Odjig
• Shaun Downey
• Sean Yelland
• Alphonse Mucha (not Canadian, but amazing Art Nouveau inspiration)
• Frank Lloyd Wright (not Canadian, but incredible use of geometric forms and figures to create beautiful and natural “organic architecture”)
As an art and design teacher at Cambrian College, I am also influenced by my students. It is exciting to be surrounded by fresh ideas and perspectives, and I try to absorb as much of that influence to keep me productive and creative in my own work.
What is the first thing you can remember creating?
I have been creating since before I can remember. My parents constantly introduced me to various techniques and media from a very young age. The first large scale piece I created was a mural for a huge private home in Shanty Bay, Barrie. I had limited experience with murals, but I was commissioned to paint 4 large tableaus on the ceiling of a dome. The subject was various homages to the Titanic – the owner of the house had been one of the last living Titanic survivors, and the family wanted to honour the memory. It was a difficult job, but taught me a huge amount about technique and time-management on a large scale.
Do you have a favourite piece of art that you have created?
The most recent piece is always my favourite – until I create another one. I work with a variety of format (mural, commercial illustration, fine illustration, etc.) so I am able to not get too attached to any piece. Some pieces are more time consuming (illustrating the children’s books took about a year each to complete, for instance), so I certainly have good memory of the process with those.
What inspired you to begin writing children’s books? Are you currently working on any new illustrated books?
When my children were born, I felt the need to create something that would positively influence them. It becomes instinct to teach your children about the world with the tools at your disposal, and in my case, I can draw… so I did. I think particularly in Northern Ontario we have the obligation to teach our children about natural conservation, and there were no books that I could find which tackled the lesson of fishing and fire conservation and protection. I have some new projects on the go (as always!) and am excited to continue working and look forward to unveiling them soon!
We know that you painted the infamous cement truck at Up Fest last year. Can you tell us about this experience?
The UpFest concrete mixer mural was probably the most extreme project I have done so far. It was logistically quite challenging (designing a mural for a three dimensional, moving surface was certainly difficult), but it was such an exciting experience. We had some definite panic moments – we had less than 3 days to complete, and there was a bit of stress when the rain early one morning set us back. But we had an amazing crew working on it (Tracy Baker, Joelle Beaulieu, Josh Turnbull), and we managed to create something pretty great. The community was overwhelmingly supportive, and it is still amazing to drive by it almost daily and see it in action.
Can we view or purchase your work anywhere in Sudbury? Do you have any upcoming events or shows in 2016?
You can purchase my two children’s books: “The Day I Went Fishing on Lake Wanapitei” and “Fire in the Forest” at the following retail locations:
• Chapters – Sudbury
• Ramakko’s Source for Adventure – Sudbury
• Art Gallery of Sudbury
• Sweet Cheeks New and Used Children’s Store – Garson
• The Elliot Laker Store – Elliot Lake
• Timber Village Museum – Blind River
I have various exhibitions and shows throughout the year, and will announce upcoming shows and events on my website and Facebook page:
• Special book reading at Coniston Library (Tuesday Aug 23)
• Exhibiting work at the Inspired Hands Arts and Crafts Show & Sale (October 28,29,30 at the Holiday Inn on Regent)
• Book signing at Chapters (date TBA)
• Exhibiting work in a Cambrian College faculty show at the Open Studio (date TBA)
• Exhibiting work in a solo show at Artists on Elgin (October 2017)
All work including original illustrations and books can be purchased on my online store:
Commissions and custom work is available – please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org , or follow me online at johannawestby.com or on Facebook.
Winner of the "Submit a Quote" custom illustration