ACTÍVA Products is excited to kick off its new Artist Spotlight Series by featuring the incredibly talented folk artist, Johanna Parker of Johanna Parker Design. We are honored that Johanna is sharing insight into her creative process with us, and we know you will find her personality captivating and her unique designs inspiring!
ACTÍVA Products: Johanna, please describe the art that you create.
Johanna Parker: I make collectible papier mache folk art sculptures with vintage appeal. I aim to capture a nostalgic sentiment that mixes well with my illustrative style. Whimsical details and a playful mood often ensue as each character develops. My pieces are cherished by collectors who decorate for the holidays, wishing for a one of a kind look.
ACTÍVA Products: How did you get introduced to your craft?
Johanna Parker: Since early childhood, creating and making artful things has been a passion. I was encouraged by my artist mother to draw, paint and try various mediums. I tagged along with her to art fairs and holiday bazaars where she sold her cloth dolls and such, and naturally I began to make my own goods right alongside.
[M]y mom and I would experiment with different mediums and crafted holiday and decorative goods together. Between painting on wooden cutouts, hand-stitching mini pillows and illustrating scenes, I recall her bringing home a bag of Instant Papier Mache. We each made a rudimentary snowman, and well, the rest is history (or herstory in this case)! I started sculpting primitive ornaments, figurines and doll heads for cloth bodies, and I was hooked!
During my high school years, I dabbled in making my folk art sculptures. Little did I know then that I would circle back about 8 years later, to hone my skills and make folk art as a way of life.
ACTÍVA Products: In that regard, how did your company, Johanna Parker Design, get started?
Johanna Parker: In my youth, our family bounced around from several homes, and landed in Colorado where nature drew me in and inspired more exploration.
Later, I met my husband at a mountain antiques fair, where once again, my mother and I were exhibiting our folk art! Although my interest for handmade sculptures was growing, I accepted a full scholarship to the Art Institute of Colorado where I studied visual communications.
The expansion of my portfolio led me to a career in on-air graphics at Denver’s NBC News affiliate. My acquired experience led me to the art director’s role, earning an Emmy along the way. But, after 6 years of breaking news events and the high-paced environment of television, I truly missed the serenity of the tactile arts and left my corporate job for sweeter subjects. The whisper from my roots in folk art became stronger, and I pulled out an old bag of CelluClay and started defining my style! I was determined to make Halloween and holiday collectible art that captured imaginations and hearts.
ACTÍVA Products: We're thrilled that you use ACTÍVA materials in your sculptures. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Johanna Parker: I use CelluClay through and through. Each piece starts with the leftover CelluClay remnants from a previously dried batch. After a day of sculpting, the remaining bits are formed into rough balls or oblong shapes to later become the basis for a new sculpt. My process is one of many layers in order to achieve a smooth yet aged appearance. JP, my husband and business partner, lightly sands each piece between layers to help achieve this look.
I love CelluClay because it dries with its own unique character. Its lovely texture emphasizes the various hues of paint that I apply to the surface. Base coats of color fill the tiny pits, which will later provide more interest as more layers of paint are applied.
I have a bowl of warm water at hand to keep the material pliable as I sculpt and to clean my tools as I go.
ACTÍVA Products: We love the whimsical look of your sculptures. Has anyone or anything influenced your work?
Johanna Parker: I am going to start this answer by thanking my mom. It was through her influence and encouragement that led me down this path. And, she exposed me to the success stories of other working female artists that had made their creative passions a full-time venture. I distinctly recall mom sharing a Country Home article, circa 1993, which featured the folk art sculptures of Debbie Thibault. I was fascinated that Debbie’s enthusiasm for Santa and holiday characters had led her into a world of folk art merry-making. Her story gave me confidence to express my love for Halloween characters ~ after all, I was born on October 31st!
Mom also gifted me with many of the whimsical products, cards and books by Mary Engelbreit. As a teen, I would pour over Mary’s drawings, consumed by each detail and scene. Again, Mary’s story like Debbie’s, had me giddy for what I too could accomplish as an artist.
Years later, with the advancement of the web and social media, the world feels so small, and I am honored to say that I am friends with both of these incredibly creative women! They formed and illustrated a path for me to follow.
ACTÍVA Products: Where do you go, or what do you do, to find creative inspiration?
Johanna Parker: Really, I just close my eyes and the ideas flow! I am so grateful to have an open line to a creative imagination that continuously brings forward new characters and design concepts.
Observing patterns and color in nature are most inspiring. I am drawn to the birds, critters and insects that visit our garden as well as the dynamic plant world that inhabits our yard.
My collections of Art Deco pottery and nicknacks from the past often inspire my vintage look.
ACTÍVA Products: You've created so many beautiful pieces of art, but do you have a favorite? (Don't worry - we won't tell the others what you said!)
Johanna Parker: That’s a challenging question to answer as each piece is special. A flood of characters just came to mind! Since this is an October feature and Halloween black cats are my specialty, I am going to share a photo of “Spooky-Eyed Eddie.” I made him several years ago and kept him for myself! He’s a version of my signature grinning black cat with an illustrated paper party hat. It’s a look that I launched at the Gallery of American Craftsmen back in 2003, and many outside renditions of this character have surfaced over the years.
ACTÍVA Products: What are you working on now?
Johanna Parker: Well, I just completed a collection of Halloween folk art originals. Each piece is a one of a kind character. The process is a labor of love from the initial layers of CelluClay to the painted details and the various vintage crepe paper adornments and glass glittered trims. As quickly as we completed this year’s cast of characters, they were all sold to folk art enthusiasts across the map! Next is Christmas!
ACTÍVA Products: We bet those go fast! Where can people purchase your work?
Johanna Parker: Currently, we offer our originals at one local event and via our website. A handful of scheduled web sales throughout the year help us connect to more folk art enthusiasts. Those curious can take a peek at our last sale in our website’s store. Collectors can receive advance notice regarding our events by joining our mailing list.
By the way, our originals are not to be confused with my reproductions. The latter forms a branch of our business where I license my concepts to companies who produce figurines, candy containers and other decorative pieces for the home decor industry. We host scheduled sales of my signed reproductions in our Website’s Store. My licensed designs can also be located through vendors, some of which are listed on our website’s resource guide. But, collectors who truly want a one of a kind art piece will be drawn to my original folk art sculptures.
ACTÍVA Products: Anything else you'd like to add or want ACTÍVA's customers to know?
Johanna Parker: With years of experience working with CelluClay, my advice is to apply patience and find your own style. Today, our folk art leans toward a more refined look which is certainly achievable. However, to glance back at my older sculpts will unveil a more primitive look. A decade ago, I was only using my fingers to form the material, and the layering and sanding process was one I had not yet discovered. With that said, those pieces still have a charm of their own. Find your expression by experimenting with the medium to see what suits you!
ACTÍVA Products: Johanna, we cannot thank you enough for sharing the heart behind your art with us. We truly enjoyed learning more about your work with CelluClay and your unique style, and we look forward to seeing more of your beautiful creations with each season!
To connect with Johanna Parker, please find her in all of these places:
Are you an artist, or do you know an artist, who is interested in being in the ACTÍVA Products Artist Spotlight? Send us an email at email@example.com to let us know!