For eight years, Visit Bend has had people drawing on the walls, but they’re not vandals.
They’re artists sought after to create unique chalk art on the cement pillars in the lobby of the Bend Visitor Center through the Pillars of Art program, and Visit Bend just unveiled the newest addition.
The latest Pillars of Art featured artist is Emily Johnston. She’s found joy in art since childhood, and studied printmaking in college. It wasn’t until she moved to Bend that she began painting with watercolors, which she credits with helping refine her colorful, whimsical style.
Emily’s art will be on display in the Bend Visitor Center for the next 12 months, including several pieces for sale. We caught up with her recently and asked a few questions about art, her life, and everything in between. Here’s what Emily shared.
Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Bend?
I’m originally from Charlotte, North Carolina. I have lived many places, including Yellowstone, Alaska, and Colorado doing seasonal work. Before moving to Bend I was living in Big Sky, Montana. My husband and I moved here because we were looking for a community with a mountain town feel that wasn’t huge, but large enough to have a job for him and a great art community for me.
Tell us about your artistic training
I’ve always been into making things. Creating was my greatest joy as a child. In college, I studied printmaking. I only began painting with watercolors when I moved to Bend. I think that my experience with printmaking and working in relief helps to define my style in watercolor—so much of painting in watercolor involves what is left of the white of the paper.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I create joyful watercolor art. I like my painting to be contained into fun shapes and to “play” with the white space of the paper. My style is whimsical and colorful. I hope that it is equally appealing to people of all ages and that it invites people to smile.
What’s your favorite medium?
Watercolor. It took me a while to figure this out, but I’m having so much fun with it!
Who are your artistic influences?
Nature and kiddos and stories! I know those aren’t the conventional “artistic influences,” but being outside is my greatest influence. As far as people influencing my work and motivating me, that’s ever changing—there are so many people creating great and inspiring work. I love the work of Helen Dardik, Anke Weckmann, Ana Victoria Calderon, and Raquel Sanchez Pros.
What did you like best about drawing on the pillars?
The support and enthusiasm of everyone at Visit Bend and the people who came by. It was a big project and it felt so great to be encouraged!
How did you come up with your ideas for the pillars?
Much of my watercolor work is already influenced by Central Oregon and the outdoors. I tried to include elements like biking, kayaking, and skiing, along with some little furry friends that you might see around the area. As for the John Muir quote, “between every two pines is a doorway to a new world,” I’ve always loved it and I feel it’s really representative of Bend.
What do you like best about living in Bend, and how does it influence your artistic style?
It’s something new every day! Of course, I love spending time outdoors. But, the people that I have met and a shared love of our place is what keeps me feeling connected and inspired.
To check out Emily’s art, stop by the Bend Visitor Center from 9-5 weekdays or 10-4 on Saturdays and Sundays. You can also find her online at www.mlejay.com or on Instagram at @mlejay