Back in June of this year, I pulled my old screen printing screens from the rafters of my parents’ garage. I felt compelled to finally bring them home to Delaware with me, to resuscitate them from their last use in 2004 at UArts. I finally had a big enough space (and time) to make my dream of screen printing at home a reality. Even though I didn’t have specific ideas of what to screen print yet, bringing those frames home was like bringing back a missing piece of me.
Just this past October I heard that the person who not only taught me screen printing, but also a great deal about being a creative in the world, passed away in July: Lois M Johnson (1942-2018). The UArts community, her colleagues & friends, gathered yesterday to pay tribute to her legacy and share stories. I went and it reminded me how important it is, for when these things happen, that we do share. We all make marks on each other in big and small ways, each and every day. I can say that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Lois.
In 2000 I entered UArts in Philly as a Painting major—all I had on my brain was painting. I thought I’d paint and teach, or go on to paint theater backdrops. By sophomore year, when I had to really pick a major, though, things shifted for me, as I spent a lot of time in my head and coming-of-age thoughts. I turned to my lifelong love of books and went on to choose Printmaking/Book Arts because I wanted to learn everything about them. I was 1 of 5 people in that major’s “Class of 2004.” Lois was the head of the department, a guidepost for many.
I struggled a lot, like many twentysomethings in art school, to figure out what creative processes I liked and didn’t like, and how they could define my voice. I was attracted to monoprinting and screen printing because, as Lois would say, “It’s like painting in layers.” And I loved that she’d used the word “painting.” I experimented a lot with including words and narrative along with my images, because by the time I was a senior I was strongly being drawn to write for the children’s book market.
So many times I thought I had to choose—write or make images. But Lois, and a few other teachers I was close with, taught me how stories and images could come together.
As anyone who has ever attended art school knows, sometimes the most challenging thing is figuring out professional survival outside of school and deciding where to cast your net. I remember Lois saying to me, “Creative thinking in workplaces will always be needed.” She widened my perception of the job landscape, even though my skills were specific.
In a time when I knew very little about the ins-and-outs of book pubishing, Lois recommended that I look into a place called Running Press, local to our city, and see if they had any internships in their production department. Production dealt with printers, after all, and offset printing was a little something I understood. Even though I would be graduating, she encouraged me to still explore the idea of a summer internship post-grad.
For those who don’t know me, Running Press went on to be a company I had two career tracks with in the span of my twenties and thirties... But that’s another story for another day.
“Carry on!” as Lois would say.
Always, Lois. Always.