Katie Johnson did not plan on becoming an artist when she started at Western Washington University. Johnson’s work was featured last year in a show at Aslan Brewing Co., but she’s known mostly for the Brewdeck, a 60-piece set of cards featuring portraits of the luminaries of the Bellingham craft beer scene. The name Brewdeck is a play on the phrase “brew deck,” which is the platforms on which brewers stand to brew. The Brewdeck was distributed by the Bellingham Tap Trail, and the brewers got to choose their card. Mari Kemper of Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen is the Queen of Diamonds, and Aaron Matson of the Copper Hog is the Ace of Spades.
Johnson’s portraits also appear at Copper Hog, Menace, and other brew-centric spots around Bellingham. They are studies of the human face, emphasizing the lines and contours of her subjects. “I came up to Western for college, to study political science,” she said. “I found out really quickly that I wasn’t cut out for it.” She turned to her childhood passion and decided to major in studio art. Growing up as an only child, Johnson said, drawing was her favorite pastime. “I started drawing portraits from Surfer Magazine,” Johnson said. “I liked the art style they were going for. My friends said ‘You’re a really good artist. You should do some art.’” Years after graduating, she decided to do just that.
Although Johnson did a few art shows with friends, she didn’t really push her art seriously. “You know when you love something so much, and you think about it every day,” she said, “but you’re not really applying that aspect?” That changed for Johnson last year. Someone who was a fan of the sitcom Frasier approached her about doing a portrait of its star, Kelsey Grammar. “It sort of spun from that,” she said.
Johnson’s style is described as “one line character drawings.” She uses black lines to make portraits that seem to have an almost surrealist coloring. She cites painters like David Hockney and Alberto Giacometti as influences on her work, especially with their use of color.
Although Johnson has only recently started to get her foot in the art world, she has already had some success. She recently showed a piece in a gallery in Los Angeles, and in addition to the Brewdeck, she has had her art featured in Bellingham’s Art Walks.
Johnson is excited for what’s next. “You know what? I’ve always wanted to draw beer labels,” she said. She is hoping to illustrate the labels for Menace Brewing. She also had her first large commission in September.
“It would be great to be a professional painter,” she said. “It would be nice to not have to work in a brewery.”