By SHANNON TAYLOR
OBSERVER Staff Writer
SILVER CREEK - Eric Johnson, a young artist from Silver Creek, was given the unique opportunity in May to travel to Milan, Italy, when he was chosen as one of only 20 painters in the entire world to be honored for their work. Now he has opened an art studio in Silver Creek in order to teach others the art of painting.
OBSERVER Photos by Shannon Taylor
Top photo — One of Eric Johnson’s paintings. Above: Johnson (center) in his studio with his students, including many beginners who have quickly progressed under his tutelage.
"I am under the impression that I can teach anybody," says Johnson. "A lot of people say they can't do a stick figure. What's the difference between writing your name and drawing something? There is no difference."
Rachelle Howard, a student at the art studio, believes Johnson when he says he can teach anyone. Before learning from him, she was one of the people who said she could not even draw stick figures. Within one week, she was already well into painting a remarkable portrait of her daughter.
"I can't believe that came from me," says Howard. "I said everything that everyone else says. I only draw stick figures. I can't do it. I can't draw. I can't do anything."
After hearing Johnson talk about his belief that he could teach anyone, Howard decided to test that theory.
"I told him he would have to prove it," she says. "I'm amazed and impressed in what he brought out of me. I do believe he can teach anyone because his method is so surefire."
Johnson was a student himself not long ago; he is a recent graduate of Silver Creek High School. His approach to teaching is by learning from the old masters.
"In today's world, a lot of people in the art sense is saying this is how it's done, but it's not really how it's done," says Johnson. "They're putting the cart before the horse."
Johnson compares learning to paint and about art to learning to play the violin, piano or other instrument.
"Have you seen any musician," he says, "who has not first learned how to play the piano or violin by playing Beethoven, Bach and so forth? There's no issue with that."
He continues by describing how artists like Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, Carpaccio and Rembrandt learned from those who came before them.
"The old masters in art and painting did reproductions of their masters' work to learn how to paint," he says. "Today, it's all about who is going to be creative. You know what comes from it? Contemporary art. You can throw paint on a canvas and call it art, but I personally think that during the Renaissance and Baroque time period, that's when art was at its finest."
Johnson is able to teach by knowing when to give direction and when to let the work come from the person. He feels that if you give too much direction, the artwork is no longer that person's but the instructor's work.
"He walks a fine line between helping and giving you direction," says Howard.
When a student starts out, Johnson gives more "concrete" instruction, Howard explains, "But as you go, there's more artistry involved and more letting you go."
"He lets you explore and make your own mistakes, which is terrifying. But if there is a mistake, he helps you fix it."
Johnson works hard to make sure that his students are able to have a clear understanding, but wants their work to be their own.
"He explains well," Howard says. "But he doesn't want to tell you exactly how to do it. He keeps saying it's your picture, not his."
Johnson believes art should be available to everyone, so he is working on getting his studio registered as a non-profit organization in order to provide affordable art education to the public.
"Most people once they get out of high school, and if they're not in college, are not going to see anymore art education," says Johnson. "If they do, they've got somebody that's wanting to charge them $100 a lesson, and they're going to make you buy all the supplies. And oil paint is not cheap. Nobody has the money for that in today's world."
Not only does Johnson believe that art should be available to everyone, but he also believes that an artist should not limit himself when it comes to art.
"That John Lennon is actually a pencil drawing I did. That Marilyn Monroe is ball point pen," says Johnson. "I try to keep myself well-rounded as an artist. A lot of artists say, 'I draw with pencils' or 'I paint with oils.' I say there is so much to art, why not keep yourself well-rounded and be able to draw with ball point pens as much as you can draw with a pencil as much as you can paint with acrylic as you can paint with oil."
For Johnson, art is not just a hobby.
"Some people look at painting and art as a hobby," says Johnson. "It has outgrown a hobby. It has outgrown a love, outgrown a passion. It has become a full obsession. Every second of every day. I can't live without it. I can't imagine life without art at all. It has consumed my life and I love every second of it."
This so-called obsession is what led Johnson to open this art studio in order to share it with others who want to learn.
"I just think that art, drawing, painting, all of it, is something that people are so scared of and just assume that they can't do it because they don't know how," says Howard. "They just assume that they'll never be able to do it. And I just learned that that's not true."
Howard believes that no matter what age you are, you can still learn.
"It's not as scary as you think," she says. "You have to be willing to do it and put yourself out there. It is accessible to everyone. He makes it accessible to everyone and makes you feel so good when you walk away. It's an amazing thing."
International artist Johnson has transformed an abandoned church in Irving into a fully functioning studio, offering classes in painting and drawing, along with figure drawing. He opened the studio to provide affordable and quality art lessons. He has spent years studying many different techniques. Having learned these techniques he understands that a natural ability is not necessary to produce great works of art. Beautiful drawings and paintings can be produced by anyone with a desire to learn.
This is the studio's mission: to be dedicated to the advancement of fine art through on-going education and recognition of artists of all abilities in Chautauqua County and the surrounding area; to aim to provide affordable art classes to the community and to form community partnerships for demonstrating, teaching and exhibiting the arts; and to advocate artistic growth for the benefit of artists, students, residents and those who appreciate the arts
The studio is located at 483 Mechanic St. in Irving. Classes range from $15 to $25 a week depending on the class. All supplies are provided (easel, canvas, paint brush, oil paint, etc.), and every student will have their own work station. There will be classes available for children, teens, adults and seniors. The studio also welcomes other local artists and crafters to come teach and collaborate at the studio. Tony Kozlowski teaches Qi Gong classes. Yoga classes will soon be offered. For more information, visit ericjohnsonartstudio.org, call 413-1970, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on Facebook.