w w w . j a y j j o h n s o n . c o m
JOHNSON / ORIGINAL PAINTINGS OF WILDLIFE
: ARTIST'S HISTORY
Wilderness Research Trips
ADVENTURES IN NATURE (Click to see photos & story)
For me the greatest joy is being out-of doors.
In the "ADVENTURES IN NATURE" section of this web site you can read and see photographs of my
outdoors adventures, starting in the 1960's continuing right up to the present. Whether it's kayaking
the coast of British Columbia, hiking the Appalachian Trail, or exploring Belize, I've never been
disappointed by what I've seen.
My initiation to painting full time began in 1990 when I finished my first wildlife
painting titled "Kit Fox at White Sands." Several months went into it, and then
the jurors at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum saw it and decided to include
it in their new show, Wildlife: The Artist's View - followed by a tour to other
museums around the country. (For info on the museum click here.)
Kit Fox at White Sands (my first wildlife painting)
My approach at this time was from a naturalist's point of view. I had graduated
from Cornell University with a degree in natural science, and had completed a
10,000 mile trek, exploring the natural environments of America, spending 16
months hiking, paddling, and bicycling. I had always (from my earliest
childhood recollections) been able to draw and paint, but now I realized that
there were people who actually earned a living by painting pictures of animals.
The acceptance at Leigh Yawkey inspired me to create more paintings, and within
a few months I was voted in as new member of the Society of Animal Artists, an
international organization whose focus is on depicting animals in two-dimensional
and sculptural art.
During these early years my “Art” continued to be governed by strong feelings
I had as a naturalist and scientist, which meant imbuing each painting with fine
details. Lichens growing on rocks were not only fascinating because of their
visual patterns, but because of their symbiotic relationship of plant and fungi
living together as one.
Close-up from an early painting showing the detail of lichens and rock
When I looked at a leaf and noticed a ball-shaped bulge on its under-surface, I
felt it was important to paint that detail because I knew that a parasitic wasp larva
was living inside. My knowledge of Nature outweighed my knowledge of Art.
Details and fine-pointed brushes were the order of the day. Fortunately this type
of Art was sought after by art collectors and within one year of completing Kit Fox
at White Sands I was working closely with America’s leading publisher of “fine-art-
prints.” The Greenwich Workshop wanted to make limited edition reproductions of
my paintings and sell them through their network of galleries across America and
Canada. For the next five years I worked under their direction, creating paintings
for this venue.
Wolf Creek (limited edition print) published by The Greenwich Workshop
Textured Acrylics Acrylics (click to see the art)
As my knowledge of the Art World began to catch up with my knowledge of the
Natural World, I began to look beyond the genre of wildlife art to discover other
painting techniques that would convey how I felt about wild creatures. My appetite
for studying and learning about other artists’ work was insatiable, and my library
of art books covered the whole gamut of styles and periods. By 1996 I was prepared
to embark on a new course and direction, to experiment with a new media that
would allow me more freedom. I chose acrylic paints because of their rapid drying
time. I had been using slow-drying oils for five years and now appreciated acrylics
ability to dry within minutes, to layer on the paint and create translucent glazes
that would have taken days or weeks with oils. I developed a method of building
up texture on the panel’s surface with plaster and acrylic paste on top of which I
layered thin paint. Texture became a new passion, and I even went so far as to glue
pebbles onto the surface to simulate the ground where a fox or quail would stand.
Foxfire 20 X 24 acrylic (exhibited at Artists of America, 1998)
In 1998 I was invited to participate in the “Artists of America Exhibition” in Denver.
This was an auspicious occasion on which to show my new acrylic works for the
first time. Not only did the paintings sell, but the number of ballots cast for my
paintings was second only to one other artist. I went home with renewed enthusiasm
and set to work at a pace that far exceeded anything I had accomplished in oil paints.
Over the next two years I envisioned, produced, framed and sold more than 100
Close-up of acrylic painting
2000 to Present Art (click to see the art)
During the spring of 2000 as one of my acrylics was featured on the cover of
Southwest Art magazine, the leading publication on realism in the American west, I
began once again to experiment with Oils. My desire to capture animals in motion
was at odds with the acrylic medium. It seems that the very thing that had attracted
me to acrylics was now the major drawback: the quick drying time. When you put a
brush-stroke down with acrylic, it sticks. Put a brush-stroke down with oil paint and
it can be moved, manipulated, and blended in hundred different ways. Moving animals
required a moving medium. And so I returned to Oils.
Rufous Hummingbird oil 6.75 X 11.25
Close-up of an oil painting