From a young age, Leah Johnson knew she wanted to be an artist or work in a creative field. At the age of nine, after her father built her a drafting table, she regularly worked on creative projects from editing and designing magazines to writing and illustrating stories. Her interest with art carried on through high school and she went on to pursue the arts as a major, obtaining her Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in Painting from Lewis & Clark College in Portland.
Leah grew up in the woods outside of the small community of Joseph, Oregon. Once in the Portland area, she met her husband James, who also grew up in a small town (Banks, Oregon). When their daughter, Haven, was about to enter school they began to look for ways to get out of the city and back to a more simple, small-town life. The family moved to Joseph and eventually became owners of Joseph Hardware. While her husband ran the store, Leah took a job at Community Bank as a personal banker. Within a couple of years she was promoted to operations supervisor.
After she had been working for the bank for five years, a new marketing director came on board and immediately saw the need for an assistant within the department. With Leah’s background in the arts and experience on the operations side of the bank, she was hired as the marketing coordinator. “I got very lucky to end up with the most creative job you could have with a bank.” She felt fortunate to have a wonderful mentor in her supervisor, Keith Burghardt, and to have the opportunity to learn about marketing on the job. Currently Leah serves as Community Bank’s marketing manager and is celebrating 15 years with the company.
Becoming a full-time banker did not take Leah away from her interests in the arts. She continued to paint in acrylics and draw in charcoal and pastels but she was looking for new inspiration. She would end up finding that inspiration in wax and resin. About six years ago, Leah and a fellow artist friend traveled to Montana for a private workshop led by an artist who specialized in encaustic painting. For those unfamiliar, encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using melted beeswax, resin and colored pigments. The liquid is applied to a surface — usually prepared wood, though canvas and other materials can be used. Tools and objects are used to add texture and designs to the surface as the wax cools. A blowtorch or heat gun is applied to the surface to fuse each layer of wax and resin to the previous layer.
The workshop in Montana sparked a whole new direction in Leah’s art-making. “It was very hands-on for an entire weekend,” said Leah. “I just fell in love with the tools like blow torches and razor blades, the smell of melted beeswax, the whole process of encaustic painting.” Leah has been experimenting with encaustic painting for five years now and has created a number of beautiful landscapes reflecting the horizons of the Wallowa Mountains and valleys that surround her.
Leah’s encaustic paintings have been shown at the Josephy Center for Art & Culture and Art Center East in La Grande. She currently has her artwork displayed and for sale at Mansion Creek Cellars tasting room in the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla.
You can also see and purchase Leah’s work on her website, www.leahjohnsonart.com. Prints are available on canvas, fine papers, wood, metal and acrylic in a variety of sizes. Frames are available as well, direct from the printer. The website has a feature called augmented reality which helps you decide if the piece will work in your space. Using your camera on your phone, it allows you to superimpose the selected artwork onto a wall inside your home or business.
Leah plans to begin teaching encaustic workshops in the near future out of her home studio in Joseph. To find out about these upcoming opportunities, you can follow Leah Johnson Art on Facebook or on Instagram @leah_johnson_art.
Encaustic fun facts:
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