Josie Lewis: The Rainbow Lady
I came across Josie's work on a casual hunt for happy art. Happy art hunting has become a hobby, a go-to when social scrolling and meme reading just aren't cutting it. However, Josie's art is less casual discovery, more visual euphoria. She uses every hue, colors we didn't even know existed, to create a bright mess of Stella meets Ellsworth meets, dare I say, Mara Hoffman? After reaching out to Josie to gush over her work, we asked her to please (please!) tell us more. Turns out Josie is just as bright and inviting as her colorways -
MO: How long have you been creating? How did you get started?
JL: I was raised in the woods of Northern Minnesota in a house with an outhouse and wood heat. My artist parents raised horses and us kids. We were "unschooled", which meant we basically did whatever we wanted. But TV, the internet, and video games were not available, so we had to make our own fun. And art projects.
MO: Where do you look for inspiration?
JL: The usual suspects, museums, galleries, design publications, nature. But I love hardware stores for all the possibilities (and paint chips). Most of my art supplies come from the Home Depot. Or Walgreens.
MO: What do you enjoy most about creating?
JL: My practice is 100% pleasure driven. I make what I like and I like what I make. My studio practice is also therapy and self soothing. Getting into flow puts all the other areas of my life in balance.
MO: What medium do you work with most?
JL: I guess color in various forms, which isn't really an answer to the question. The material I'm using is less important than it's ability to hold color and be reassembled into my new arrangement. Paint, thread, paint chips, collage, glitter, dyed eggshells, whatever. I do always come back to paper.
MO: What's your favorite piece of work thus far?
JL: A lot of time it's the first piece of a new material. There's something kind of wonderful about the awkwardness and excitement of a medium I haven't used yet that is translated in that first piece. I'm not very sentimental about my work, however. I sell it and I don't look back.
MO: Is art your main passion/focus, what else are you into? Are there other creative hobbies you fill your time with?
JL: When I'm in studio (or walking, or doing housework, or cooking or really anything) I listen to audio books. I have a VERY broad range of genres, fiction, nonfiction. I really like zombie books. But I also like non-fiction history. I am currently writing a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel set in northern MN as a hobby.
MO: What's your career path been like?
JL: I decided to be a visual artist in my teens. I got a BA and an MFA as a painter. In between school I would trade off between waiting tables and then traveling the world. I've been to 50 or so different countries. I always tried to design a cheap life so I could do what I wanted: make art and travel. I did not get money from my parents. I drove crappy cars, or biked, lived in community groups to save on expenses, didn't buy new stuff, didn't have debt. I figured having an old couch was a price I was willing to pay to spend 30 hours in the studio every week. Meanwhile, I always try to be setting up exhibitions and other opportunities for my work to be seen. I was teaching at the college level until about 6 years ago, and I've been a full time artist ever since. It's hard to be a full time artist--you have to be an entrepreneur and a small business owner and your own boss and your own accountant and your own promoter and your own planner and your own researcher, and, oh, you have to make the art and take risks creatively. My husband has a more conventional job which takes some of the pressure off me to always bring home the bacon. However, I would not hesitate a bit if our family needed me to wait tables or teach again. I don't want to put so much pressure on the art to provide for me. It's nice when I get sales and other kinds of validation, but keeping another income stream is very helpful--keeps the stress down.
MO: What advice would you give to people who love to create, but feel they don't have time or are unsure how to get started?
JL: If you want to form a life that includes art, you have to make a space for it. A physical space is a first step, but also need a spiritual place, a soul place, a time place. Do you watch TV? Well, watch an hour less some evening and use that hour to make a little painting, a poem, or stitch something, or make clay jewelry, or whatever floats your boat. I feel like I know so many people who truly feel that they are born to create, but somehow have a lot of excuses for why they don't actually ever make anything. But the only way to make something is to start by making something. A big part of that is identifying the biggest enemy of a thriving creative practice: perfectionism, and it's sister, comparison. In a healthy artistic practice, those things do exist but they are called EXCELLENCE and INSPIRATION. And excellence can only be achieved by repetitive failure followed each time by tiny course corrections until you find your voice. An unique artistic voice and dynamic originality is not born, it's developed.