Christy Johnson: Happier This Way

State Icons: Holy wow, love these! Where did this idea come from? What were you inspired by to create these?

I started drawing my State Icons, which are digital illustrations in handmade frames, about four years ago. A former coworker, who was editing Mpls.St.Paul Magazine's Weddings Magazine asked me for some escort cards for a photo spread they were going to run. I had not created an escort card before, so I came up with a few different designs for the photo shoot. One of them was a "Minneapolis-Themed Wedding," for which I drew five mini Minneapolis landmarks. I loved the illustrations, and eventually decided to put them on greeting cards, which I sold in local shops and at art shows. They were so popular that I began adding more of them to my collection, and eventually began framing them and selling them as framed illustrations. Over time, the store I was buying frames from couldn't keep up, and I was complaining about it to my dad one day. He said he'd make the frames for me, and he's been making them for me ever since. He retired from his electrical engineering job this past January, and I've been keeping him busy making frames, even more than before! He's loved woodworking his whole life, and always did it as a hobby. So now he gets to do that full-time, and also help me, which is pretty cool for us both. My mom also gets involved, as she's the one who assembles, glues, and hand paints each frame. 

When did you start redshoes26? 

I went back to school for Graphic Design in 2003 (I have a B.S. in Mass Communications with a Photojournalism emphasis), so I started redshoes26 when I was in art school. It officially went on the books in 2008 or 2009. I've almost always had part-time jobs to support it, but as of January 2014 I'm completely full-time with redshoes26. I'm much happier this way! I do maintain the site by myself. My parents obviously are my partners in crime when it comes to my frames and displays, however. I couldn't do it without them. I do love to collaborate with other local creatives. I'm working on a new product with Emma Holcomb of MAI ( right now. And I hope to do more collaborating with other artists and designers in the near future. 

What about having your own site do you prefer over sites like Etsy? 

I prefer to have my own website and online shop because it feels most like an extension of me. If people see my work in local shops or at art shows, they can go directly to my site and purchase what they saw. Plus, Etsy's new changes in policy have left a horribly bad taste in my mouth. It's not about handmade anymore, and that is causing me to second guess even the small relationship I currently have with them. Right now, all I sell there is my line of greeting cards that I discontinued. 

Do you enjoy participating in and selling at art fairs, craft events? What about that creative community keeps you inspired or motivated?

Yes! A huge part of my business is getting in front of new and returning people at art shows. I love meeting other vendors and seeing the cool things they're making and how they're displaying them. We're an enormous network of likeminded people, and I get so energized by being around them and seeing what they're doing. A lot of us stay in contact via social media. Even if they live in different states, we can show each other what we're up to and learn about new shows and just network. I feel like the creative community in general is very supportive--we've all got each others' backs. And that's so cool.

What are you creating now? 

I'm making State Icons all the time. I'm either framing them for store orders or orders from my online shop, or drawing new ones to add to my collection. Well, that's not exactly true, I guess! I also am a freelance writer, mostly for MSP Communications, which publishes Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and lots of other pubs. I'm currently writing a story for Viking Magazine about travel etiquette in Norway. And I'm designing a tattoo for my cousin's wife. And I just finished up two logos for a local ukelele festival and one of its bands. 



Interview by KP | Images by Christy Johnson | Photograph of CJ created by Russell Heeter of RCH Productions. 

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