March is Women’s History Month. Throughout the month we’ll be profiling D.C. based women you should know. Amy Morse, the founder of Ideas Club, is heading the project. Today she profiles LA Johnson. If you’d like to suggest someone for Amy to profile, tweet at her. -ed.
LA Johnson is the Art Director for The Intentional and is a Visual Producer & Illustrator for NPR in Washington, DC. It’s hard to say where the idea to become an illustrator actually sparked for LA Johnson, but it was probably fueled by her mother who would read beautifully illustrated books to her as a kid, watching Reading Rainbow on PBS and Bob Ross paint happy trees on TV. She grew up in Cleveland, OH where she went to a lot of art museums and rock shows. She always drew things and studied music. She got into trouble at school for drawing comics and not paying attention so she decided to try art school and got a degree in Illustration (surprisingly, not for the money). Being an illustrator has allowed her to focus her skills on stories that compel her – stories that need to be seen and heard. She believes that hard work is noble, and that art is the most noble form of work – and should be valued. She is a proud feminist and focuses much of her work on social issues and shedding light on the shadows. She has drawn posters and album art, editorial illustrations, human portraits, dog portraits, cat portraits– you name it, she’s drawn it. She hand-draws everything first and uses pen & ink, watercolor, and digital painting to complete her art.
Woman Who Inspires Her
LA is particularly inspired by Joan Didion, the American author and pioneer of literary journalism (new journalism). Joan Didion’s literary contributions are incredibly important to the arts and to the public’s perception of what a woman artist is. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 1956 with a BA in English and landed a job writing for Vogue. She worked there for two years while writing her first novel. Then she moved back to California and wrote Slouching Towards Bethlehem, published in 1968. After that, she kept writing, and never faltered. She still writes. She is 80 years old.
LA is inspired by Didion’s insight. Didion has the skill of crafting a beautifully honest story through perfectly arranged sentences, that tells the other side of what is conventionally known. She was a journalist who observed journalists and a writer who observed writing. She sought to explore and uncover cultural chaos and tell the story that the media was too ignorant to tell. Today we question everything, like Didion did, and therefore, LA believes, we are getting closer to understanding each other.
Didion’s stories inspire LA to draw not what she or the camera sees, but what is true. When LA gets stuck on a piece of work, reading a few sentences of Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook,” usually gets her going again.