Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Johanna Wright ... Oregon, USA

Artist: Johanna Wright
Business: Johanna Wright
Web sites:,
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA

What do you create?

Where and when do you do your creative work?
I paint and draw in my lovely studio in south-east Portland, usually five days a week, unless I have a big deadline. I tend to do other creative stuff, like playing music or writing, when I'm kicking around the house.

Do you have another "day job"?
I'm lucky enough to be a painter full time.

Where and what did you study?
I went to the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where I studied puppetry and children's books. When I moved to New York after college, I took a few children's book writing and illustration classes at SVA, which were incredibly valuable to me.

Where do you find inspiration?
Mostly from childhood memories, nature, and playing with my niece and nephew. I recently moved back to Oregon (where I spent my childhood) after living in Brooklyn for nine years. I feel like I hit some kind of creative spurt when I came to Portland. I've been flooded with nostalgia and inspiration by everything that surrounds me here.

What motivates you?
Hmm, well... if I'm not working on something creative, I feel jittery... like I have ants in my pants. Painting and writing are very soothing to me.

When did you start doing this?
As a career, in 1998.

Do you remember getting into art as a kid?
I really liked to draw as a kid, especially people. Actually, I just really loved to draw girls. I remember watching Fat Albert and copying a hairdo that one of the girl characters had. All of my old doodles from childhood are of women in weird 80s outfits... big shoulder pads and big hair. I would write long meandering stories to go with the drawings. I also loved to illustrate songs that I liked, or that my sisters liked. Songs that told a story, like Copacabana, or Maxwell's Silver Hammer.

When and why did you decide to start your own business?
Well, in 1998 I started selling my artwork on the street in New York. At the time I was just trying to make enough money to eat and pay rent, but the more I did it, the better I got at what I was drawing, and a lot of wonderful things started to happen (job offers, freelance work, press). That time was very exciting and difficult all mixed together. It took a long time for me to think of what I was doing as a business, but once I did, things got a lot more organized and a lot easier.

What do you love most about creating your work?
I love the actual painting process, a lot. I like to watch all of the crazy stuff that water can do to with a bit of acrylic paint. I also love it when something I've made resonates with another human, it makes me feel like I'm on the right track.

What's the most fascinating place you've been?
Hmm, that's a tough one. I'd say it would be a tie between two entirely different places; the winding streets of a tiny town in Morocco, and the tide pools on the Oregon coast. I could spend hours staring into a tide pool. There's a whole universe in there!

A book you love:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

What is the most interesting thing about you?
I'm easily hypnotized.

What achievement are you most proud of?
Keeping my heart open and free, even when it wants to close.

What advice would you give women starting their own business?
Read Martha Beck's book, Finding Your Own North Star. It has been so helpful to me over the years.

What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Taking downtime. Unplugging. Turning off the part of my brain that feels like it needs to work all of the time.

What do you love to do in your free time?
Going to coffee shops to write. Swimming (especially in lakes and rivers and oceans), playing music. Hanging out with my hubby and friends and family, knitting with my sister, playing 'squirrel family' with wee ones, Tetris, watching TV on DVD, going to thrift stores, listening to audio books, yoga.

What are you working on right now?
I'm finishing up my very first children's book for Roaring Brook Press, Secret Circus, and getting ready to start my next children's book, Rabbits on Skates.

What do you hope to achieve next?
I hope to get a bit more organized with my artwork prints, and I want to launch a card series this summer. I would love to get back into puppetry and try a bit of animation. But otherwise, I just want to keep making up stories and painting and growing and feeling inspired!


  1. Johanna's work is so lovely, it makes me smile. I really like the strongly drawn lines of the characters mixed with the scrubby, sometimes messy, but always luminous backgrounds. Beautiful stuff.

  2. I bought some postcards from Johanna on the streets of New York in 2001. I e-mailed her later and she drew some specifically for me. I framed them and still love them! I can't wait to buy her new book!