The Authors' Words: An Interview with Author and Illustrator, Cheryl Johnson

Illustrators Workshop

The Authors' Words:                            
Cheryl Johnson
An Interview with Author and Illustrator, Cheryl Johnson

A recipient of the Mom’s Choice Award, the 10th of October, 2014 marked the day when Cheryl was awarded the seal of excellence for her first three books. It meant that her first three stories passed a rigorous panel of judges who evaluate both the stories themselves and the illustrations. As a non-traditional aged student starting art college at 38 years old, going to school was certainly a challenge. Cheryl was a single parent of four children, worked as a cake decorator in a local family bakery and commuted over an hour each way to the city of Portland to work. Working hard it took seven long years to get her degree in Fine Arts, with a minor in Art History from MECA, Maine College of Art. Today, Cheryl has published many children's stories and illustrated others for authors.

Hi Cheryl! So glad you could do this interview with me!
Cheryl, what circumstances inspired you to pursue your art?   

Well, I was interested in drawing from a very tender age-about 2 or 3.I drew television sets with rabbit ear antennas and UFO space ships on the floral papered walls of our dining room. It didn't get appreciated.

That's one of my first memories of drawing. I ALWAYS loved to color and by the time I was ten,I was drawing for hours at a time. I made home made books in the 5th and 6th grade with my friends as characters.

At 15 I was convinced I would be a female Leonardo Da Vinci when I grew up.

Drawing what was in my imagination was a way to control something,create my own world. It was an escape from a chaotic home life. It was an addiction,along with music I loved that kept me from using drugs or alcohol as a teen.

I loved the idea of creating my own stories from preteen. Again,it was a way of controlling my world. I was a loner as a child and spent a lot of time walking in our woods or fields,talking to myself and spinning fantasies in a force field that surrounded me.


What drew you to writing for children?

What drew me to writing mostly for children is the freedom. I get to write from what I still connect to,I remember everything about my childhood and myself.I remember reading fairy tales and books like Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time and they fed my imagination. I love writing children's stories because I can really run with them.

To me, it feels as though they have no rules or boundaries in imagination. I can make snails play the guitar and mushrooms bounce.

How have you come up with the characters in the books?

Oh my gosh. I think of new characters every day. When I walk my three miles,it seems to unleash a lot of creativity in me.That's how I came up with my Cloud Hill book.It rushed at me from the universe-the whole story and 8 days later I had it up on Createspace published.

Tell us about your characters, Mish, Chonk, Sidley, Snee, Pobkin and their relationship, if any?

My characters of Mish,Sid,Chonk just started to grown from one little story about 35 years ago.Now I have a head FULL of additional characters waiting to see the light of day. The latest addition is Brax-a very small mushroom man who came from the "bad side of the forest". I am introducing two not so savory mushroom men named Malvin,the leader and his side kick Grut. I LOVE drawing these guys.They have rubber faces. It's hard to stop coming up with more ideas for stories. I don't even try to stop the flow.

Cheryl, you are the recipient of the Mom’s Choice Award! Where in you home does is the award displayed?

I was a nobody. But now, I can use sites like Createspace to self publish and I'm THRILLED.

My mom passed away 23 years ago and never got to see any of my books in print. She would have been very proud.

I don't have the award displayed on a wall for Mom's Choice but I do include it in every book I do now, in the back of the books where I show the other ones I've written.

What was your original goal to achieve as an author and artist, and have you reached it?

My original goal as a writer and an artist was to hold a book in my hands that I actually published. I have done almost 20 now. It is the most gratifying accomplishment in my career to date,and I am just getting started. I published Mish #1 in Oct 2013. I intend to surpass Dr.Suess in quantity by 2017. Hopefully there will be a best seller in there somewhere.

What mediums do you work in?

I draw for my children's books exclusively with my Wacom tablet. I used to use Prisma markers but once I was introduced to digital art,I was hooked. It is without waste,or limits.I feel as though I was gifted a magic wand 3 years ago and thank heaven EVERY day!

You were a single parent of four children working as a cake decorator in a bakery and commuted over an hour each way to work and it took seven years to get your Art degree. What drove you?

Story by Susan Darling
Yes it took 7 years to get my degree. I LOVED college,but it took it's toll on my children and myself. I was diagnosed with cancer shortly after graduation in 2000 and had to take deferments on my college loan.It's been a night mare but that's another story.I started self publishing as a way to use my talents to try and make enough to pay back my loans. Although I have sold over 1100 books,it's a far cry from being solvent. I will not give up hope though.

Was there any particular children’s author or authors who influenced you?

I was influenced by several children's book artists. They are Maraja,Nardini and Addrienne Segur. I have my childhood books still with their fabulous artwork in them. They are very precious to me.

My advice to other aspiring authors or illustrators is to love what you do.

I paint a lot of traditional commission work to pay the bills but I make sure I spend a fair amount of time focusing on what I love.

I can't stress enough that you have to be passionate about your work.It's what keeps you going when no one is watching or paying you.

I want to sell a million books. But if I don't ever become truly financially successful in the book industry,I won't have any regrets. None at all.

I do it for myself, and to spread joy and try to promote goodness in my little corner of this world.

What project are you working on now?

I am working on about 4 books right now, of my own-one is Brax The Little Rebel.I have a chapter book waiting to finish called Steven's Visit. I have an autobiography called Cheryl's London Summer of '73. I'm working on my own adult coloring book,which will probably take me to 2020. I also do artwork for other authors and that keeps me busy at times.

Where can people find your artwork? 
Story by Jan Kubiac

I can be found here on Facebook everyday. I also have a website.

Story by MW McKenney
My books are on Createspace and I do a lot of commission work and paint from pictures people send me online, mostly.

Story by Marco Greer

Thank you so much, Cheryl for doing this interview. I appreciate it.

All Cheryl Johnson's Children's Books can be found at:
AND Bought AT:

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT CHERYL & See Her Wonderful ArtWorks for Sell AT:

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