Exclusive Interview with Artist Aimee Johnston

153076dc-7b5d-493d-be27-2a13d93fd899Aimee is a professional artist who grew up, lives and works in San Antonio, Texas.  She became aware of her talent early in life and attended North East School of Arts, a magnet school which allowed Aimee to concentrate on studying Visual Arts while also obtaining a foundation in liberal arts.  After graduation Aimee was accepted to the prestigious Kansas City Art Institute where she studied for five years.

Art has always been an integral part of Aimee’s life.  She has worked as a portrait artist at Six Flags, done henna tattooing, face painting and is skilled in make-up artistry.  For the last two years Aimee has worked independently as an artist.  She says that, “It’s been a struggle, but it is also a wish-fulfillment because it has opened the door for me to surround myself with like-minded creative people”.

In 2011 she found out that Jared Padalecki (who went to the same high school that she did) was starring in a little show called Supernatural and she began watching the show.  Aimee became not only a fan of Jared’s but a fan of the show and says that she became a member of the #SPNFamily in 2013, which she credits with helping her through some rough times.  We caught up with Aimee this week while she took a break from working in her studio.

When did your art find you?  What were the circumstances?

I’ve been drawing pretty much ever since I could hold a pencil. Drawing was one of the things I was always known for in my family.  I remember receiving art supplies for birthdays and Christmas very early on, my family was always very supportive so it was kind of a no-brainer that I would be going to college to study art.  It wasn’t until I actually got to school that I understood the pressure that comes from working on art meticulously day in and day out, 365 days a year, that I really sort of…. I had to take a step back from it in order to decide if art was what I really wanted to do. 

So I have about a ten-year gap from the time I left college to the time that decided to pick it back up where I didn’t do really anything art related.  I did creative things, but I didn’t draw, I didn’t pick up a pencil and I didn’t paint just because I thought, like many other artists do, that it would be too difficult to make a living at art.  You learn very early on in art school that there is going to be a very, very small minority of people who make it, even through school.  At the Art Institute they told us straight off that about 95% of us weren’t going to make it, they said you’ll be lucky to even graduate.  They kind of say ‘don’t go into art, don’t do it’, and you’ve had people your whole life telling you that you’re such a great artist and that should pursue this or that.  Then you get to school and they’re telling no you’re not good enough and you shouldn’t do it.

I was one of the ones that buckled.  I had put all this time in and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I became a banker.  I was a banker for four years before getting laid off and doing the unemployment thing.  I decided to go back to school to study cosmetology and got my degree.  Then my dad got sick and I had to start taking care of him full-time. I had my hours cut and my hours cut and my hours cut, until my boss came to me and said, ‘hey, you obviously need to be taking care of your dad now so I’m not firing you, but want you to take time now and come back when you’re able’.  On December 28, 2012 my dad died.  It was a situation where I had to think about what I really wanted to do with my life; is this really what he’d want for me?  To have a job that was just paying the bills and was not necessarily my calling or would he want me to be pursuing my talent?  After his passing I joined the Supernatural fandom, got back into drawing and haven’t looked back.

I have heard from so many people who are creative and who have talent that they needed to walk away from their art at one time or another to either take a break or to take a job that pays the bills.  I see it as a way for an artist or a writer to gain life experience to enhance their art.  What do you think?

I think so many times we are so beat down by the powers that be, whether that be the voice in our head, the one from our exes or maybe even family saying that we need to give up that goal, that we’re not going to be able to do anything with it.  It’s a running joke in my family, they call it… they call being an artist the Schaubhut curse; that’s my mom’s side of the family, and you grow up hearing that, ‘oh, you’ve got the Schaubhut curse’ and what that meant was that on mom’s side of the family there were good musicians and artists who didn’t do anything with it.  So hearing that your whole life and then going to school and hearing it again you have to start to wonder what you’re going to get out of it, how are you going to make it.  To have that… you know they say if you hear things often enough you start to believe them, and that’s exactly how it happens.  Creative people are sensitive, man!  You can’t tell them that they are going to fail over and over again and expect them…. Some people will persevere, but unfortunately the majority of us feel that maybe the world is right maybe I’m not good enough, maybe I can’t do it, maybe I just should give up.

That’s why I think that the (SPN) fandom is so important.  I find that the people who are the most supportive of my art recognize it and say, ‘wow, things may not be perfect, that you’ve really put your heart into it and I love this and I’m going to retweet my friends’.  That’s how it works.  You may not be perfect for the sake of perfect, but you’re still doing an amazing thing, your still working with your passion.

What medium do you use for your art?

Everything I do starts out in pencil, pen or marker initially.  So if I do end up taking a brush to it, it’s just a water brush to spread the medium around.  I do use some water-color. That piece, the Jared side view picture you like is completely Prismacolor (colored pencil).  The piece where Sam (Jared) is holding Dean’s (Jensen’s face) is water-color marker.  Crayola washable marker, believe it or not and then I used my brush to blend.  Anything I do I start with pencil or pen and I draw it first.

So it’s somewhat like coloring a photograph?

No, I wouldn’t necessarily say that but I’ve heard people refer to Prisma Color drawing as Prisma Color painting because it’s complete coverage, the medium is complete coverage.  I think there’s a stigma when people say they draw versus when they say they make artwork or paint.  Maybe because people have more of a respect for painters, but I’m not really sure where that comes from.  It seems as though there’s this stigma that you’re not a worthy artist if you draw because you’re not picking up a brush to do it. 

I think in any craft you’ll find people who are elitist or have their own version of what they consider legitimate or not legitimate.  You see that in art, you see that in fan art, you see that in writing, you see that in fan fiction, you see it everywhere.  I’m not saying it’s good or it’s bad, I’m just saying that it exists.  There’s this sort of an ideal…. One of the things I really pulled from the book “Fangasm” was where they were saying that some people would say that you’re doing the fandom thing wrong or that you’re fanning wrong.  I think that this happens in any group of people. 

It even came up when we were planning the show (#SupernaturalArtShow), there were some people who started out wanting to define art and I had to tell them that I can’t define art and I will never define art to you.  I don’t have to tell you that this is art and this is not art.  Once you begin to do that you completely forget what art is for.  Art is here to make you feel something, to make you think something, to compel you to action, to compel you to visualize, anything.  It’s there to spark.  Art is art, and it can’t be defined.  Maybe if I had a doctorate or master’s degree I’d think differently, but I saw it at school and I see it now where someone says one artist is better than the other for x, y and z.  That’s not how I view art, that’s not how I’ll ever view art because it is so hard to get to the place where you are without having people try to tear you down.

I think that’s one of the things I tried hard to stay true to when doing the Supernatural Art Show is that art, but especially fan art, should be inclusive, it shouldn’t exclude one particular group of people so I tried really hard to make sure everybody felt included.  When we do the show again, and we’re planning to do it again in the spring, the same rules will still apply.  The only rule is to keep it safe for work, which we only put in place to keep it as inclusive as possible.  We had a seven-year-old present her artwork and a thirteen-year-old present her artwork.  There were young people and old people.  We had people who had just started drawing that year and we had others who had been drawing for upwards of twenty to thirty years, so across the age spectrum, the skill spectrum and the technical spectrum we wanted people to say ‘oh my God I didn’t know that so and so in Poughkeepsie was doing thing and that’s awesome! How do I get to see more of that?’  That was exactly the reason that we wanted to bring everybody together.  We wanted to say ‘hey by the way SPN family, are you aware that there are not just a few of us, but thousands of us doing all these different kinds of art?’  It’s all amazing and all from the heart and it’s all really, really cool. 

I really loved the show, what was the overall response?

I got a lot of really good feedback and I honestly looked and I asked and I didn’t really see anything really negative.  There were a couple of people questioning the way something appeared but I feel like if you like it, retweet it or give it a favorite.  I was not going to ask anybody to take anything down based on feedback.  The only thing I had to have taken down was with somebody that had submitted a picture of work that wasn’t theirs.  At first they didn’t credit the artist and I was like, I’m really happy that you want to participate but you can’t post something that isn’t yours.  That’s the legality of the situation.  Say that John Doe decides that he doesn’t want to put his work in the Supernatural Art Show and then suddenly his work is there and he didn’t give his permission and he didn’t know anything about it.  So to keep it positive and keep from having people unhappy we asked that everybody just post their own work or to make sure they had the appropriate permission in place and they know about it before you post someone else’s work.

One of the other reasons I wanted to do this show was so that artists who maybe don’t have a Twitter account, who have a Deviantart account or a Tumblr or Pinterest, could have a chance to reach out to the SPN audience.  I’ve seen some posts where someone posts a really great picture asking ‘who is this artist?  I’d really like to buy this piece’, and no one seems to know.  So these artists are missing out on a commission because nobody can find them.  Why not make the artists more accessible to the fandom and vice versa. 

I know that I saw a lot of really beautiful things that weekend from people, artists, that I hadn’t known about previously, so the show did succeed in that sense as well.   How many artists participated in the show?

We had 700 individual submissions of art.  We had a reach of almost a million people.  We had 800,000 (garbled) and we had between tweets, retweets, favorites and things like that I think we had around 30,000 to 40,000, something like that and I’m thinking about people were fans of Supernatural Wiki, Winchester Brothers, things like that. 

Because of those big people who were part of the show, that is how the retweet number was a big as it was.  We also had Mitch Kosterman retweeting some of our stuff, Clif retweeted, of course Lauren Tom retweeted and Osric retweeted as well.  It was huge.  Curtis Armstrong also retweeted some of the posts and was talking about artwork that had been done of him.  We had Ruth O’Connell pop in to talk about some of the work people had done of her as well, so it was really nice to have an environment where people could talk about their work, talk about what they did, show their work and then oh my God, here’s all of these celebrities that we didn’t even think would be a part of it, commenting on their work and showing them love. That was pretty amazing for me to see.

Of course every time somebody did comment, because my show twitter (#SupernaturalArtShow) was tagged on almost every post, my phone almost died!  Every time we had one of these people comment on the work it was like this little bubble of love.  I felt like it was my win too and it just made me so happy

I did see a lot of those comments but I particularly remember Curtis’ response because he seemed so amazed that someone would take the time to draw him.

One of my favorite moments was when I saw Curtis, I was like ‘oh my God! I’ve been a fan of you since like forever!’  It was so cool to me that this person that I had been a fan of since I was a little kid and Revenge of the Nerds came out, is now part of the Supernatural family and is embracing it and loving it.  He’s just a very, very sweet guy.

The feedback you received has got to be really satisfying.  You put a lot of time into the show and getting to hear positive comments from not just the fandom, but from people who you really admire has got to make you feel good about what you’ve done.

It does, it really does.

Are there other fandoms that you follow that you’ve done artwork for?  Which ones?

When I first got into the Supernatural fandom, my sister and I were also fans of The Walking Dead…. I had set up a Twitter account some time ago and I followed Kevin Smith and other big names including some of the actors from TWD.  Then I didn’t think about it again until I got involved in the Supernatural fandom and thought ‘I should really start using Twitter’. 

One day I saw a tweet from Norman Reedus about a fan book that he was working on called “Thanks for All the Niceness”.  It was a book that he was doing with fan artists and he was interested in getting as much fan art as possible because he was trying to create this book as a love letter to his fans; he planned to donate all the profit to charity.   He was still looking for artists’ work so on a whim…. I had done this piece about a week before and I thought this was serendipity.  I showed it my sister and told her I had just finished this piece of Norman Reedus and she’s like ‘submit it!’  I said that nothing would come of it, you know that fandom is huge.  There are so many people in TWD fandom.  She kept on saying ‘submit it’ so I sent it in. 

A couple of days later I got an email from the producers of the book saying that they were very interested in my piece; that Norman Reedus had actually hand-picked it and said he loved it and we’d like to put it in the book.  So they sent me a release and I filled it out and sent it back.  They sent another release and I filled it out and sent it back.  They sent another release and I filled it out and sent it back. So there was a bunch of back and forth with them but in the end, I am in “Thanks for All the Niceness” and got a signed copy as a thank you for being part of the book. That was really pretty cool.

I have a lot of shows that I’m interested and I was, am a huge Michael Jackson fan from earlier on.  I’ve been drawing Michael since I was thirteen years old, I love him.  When I heard about Paris I just about freaked out!  ‘My fandoms are colliding!  I don’t know what to do!’  When I heard she’d showed up at Pasadena Con I was like ‘oh my God, Michael Jackson’s daughter is a fan of Supernatural!’ 

As far as my work, what I do, I’m primarily a portrait artist.  I work on commissions.  People bring me their family members to draw.  I work on a lot of memorial pieces unfortunately.  It’s hard to describe, but you spend this very intimate time with this person.  Studying them, looking at them, making sure the light is just so, that the stitching on their clothing is just right and you get to know them better.  So it’s really an interesting sort of thing.  I think as long as people want me to continue to draw their people, I’m happy to do it.

It is inspiring to me to talk to people who are doing something that they love because when you are doing something that your soul likes then you are head and shoulders about a majority of the population.  It is a very precious commodity.

Thank you.  Hopefully the money will eventually follow!  But I do have to agree with something Jared (Padalecki) said.  You don’t measure success by how much is in your bank, you don’t measure success by how many TV shows you’re on, or how many interviews you’ve done, or how many books your art is in.  You don’t measure success by that.  If you’re doing something that feeds your soul, then it’s worthwhile. So as long as you’re not hurting anyone in the process, do what makes you happy.  That’s how you measure success. So that’s what I’m doing.

Life is short, it was unfortunate that it took the loss of a family member to help me see that, but life is short.  So you need to make sure whatever you are doing is in some way for you, for the others around you, that you’re connecting and if you’re not, you need to evaluate what it is that you’re doing.  Some people never find what it is that makes them truly happy.  When I returned to art, I didn’t know that it would be THE answer, I just knew it was an answer. I knew it was something that used to make me happy so I picked it back up kind of on a whim thinking that I would maybe return to a time when life was simpler.  So I returned to art and it happened to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

For those that don’t feel that they have a talent or have a voice yet, I would say to keep looking, to keep turning over rocks and talking to people to see if you can find what you are passionate about.  I saw this tweet from somebody that said ‘all of these people who make gifs and do artwork or take photographs and go to conventions are like so sad.’  That tweet made me so sad but at the same time I understand it since I have family that feel that way, even my sister felt that way at one point, but then she found art too and now she does art.  She may not be at the same technical place I’m in, but she’s doing it for her. 

So just because you don’t think that you’re going to be a master overnight, doesn’t mean that you can’t pick up a pencil or a stylus, doesn’t mean that you can’t pick up a microphone and sing, doesn’t mean that you can’t do something creative because there are limitless possibilities out there.  So I really would say to people who are afraid, or who don’t think that they have something they can give to take a shot to take a chance, because you never know where your passion might be if you don’t try.

Aimee is on Twitter as @raginrayjayjo and you can view the fan art that was presented this fall at #SupernaturalArtShow.  If you’d like to contact her about a commission she can be reached here. 

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