Monday, March 5, 2012
The Writer's Block Interviews: Kerry G. Johnson
1) Please describe your journey to becoming an artist.
Art has always been my passion. In fact, I knew in kindergarten that I was gifted and blessed as an artist after drawing a picture of cat that won first place in a citywide contest of youth. I later honed my skills in college and through my employment as a graphics director at various newspapers throughout the country, including The Baltimore Sun, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Currently, I work as the Director of Art and Special Publications at The American Physical Society (APS Physics) in College Park, Md.
In this role, I worked with my colleague, Rebecca Thompson to create “Spectra”, a comic book teen superhero with laser powers. Outside of work, I’m involved with many different art and graphic design projects, including writing and illustrating webcomics and children’s books. I also draw caricatures for personalized gifts and I often get hired as a caricaturist for parties, corporate meetings and other social events.
2) Do you specialize in any particular medium?
I have a diverse style for my many art projects. One project may require me using pens & markers, another could have me painting with watercolors or acrylics. When I illustrated my quick sketch caricatures, I use Sharpie markers and pastel chalks. Ultimately, many of my cartoons, caricatures and illustrations are scanned into my Apple computer. And like so many other artists, I use the Adobe Creative Suite software (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign) for the colorization formatting of the artwork.
3) How did you become a professional caricaturist? Who have been some
of your favorite subjects?
I started drawing caricatures in high school at the Opryland Amusement Park in my hometown of Nashville, Tenn. I enjoyed that very much. While many of peers worked in fast food restaurants and other usual part-time teen jobs, that Opryland job made me realize that I could actually get paid to draw silly pictures and and meet some great people.
4) What inspired you to start your webcomic, "Harambee Hills"? Tell us about it.
It’s funny how life imitates art. "Harambee Hills" features the hilarious moments of a fictional African-American suburban family. My wife and I develop ideas for the comic based on our family and work life. For instance, our teenage daughter is a huge fan of Justin Beiber. So, I was inspired to draw a comic in which the Dad attempts to win “cool” points by showing his daughter that he is familiar with the singer. But instead of giving her a “Beiber” T-shirt, she receives a “Beaver” one instead.
5) Describe your body of work. Thus far, which project has been the most fulfilling? Why?
My work consists of caricatures, cartoons, illustrations and graphics. They have all been fulfilling in various ways. For example, as a former graphics editor for various newspapers, I’m proud of my work because it informed readers on critical and late-breaking news stories. My caricatures, cartoons and illustrations reflect a lighter side of life and provide my clients with keepsakes of family members and friends.
6) When did you illustrate your first children’s book?
I illustrated my first children’s book last month. It’s titled, You Can’t Move an Elephant in One Day written by Nicolle Brazil. It tells the heartwarming story of three boys who encounter what seems to an insurmountable obstacle. The book reflects the values of persistence, dedication and teamwork. My wife, Tawanda, and I published the work under the banner of our new company, TawKerr Publishing. I’m also illustrating another children’s book project with writer Tammi Harris that should be completed in March 2012.
Mrs. Brazil’s book isn’t my first time being published. My career in the newspaper industry had my work appearing in newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs. Additionally, many of my caricatures and artwork across the web on clothing, greeting cards and other personalized gifts.
7) What is the American Physical Society? Describe your position and responsibilities there.
The American Physical Society (APS Phyics) is the nation’s leading organization of physicists with more than 50,000 members. I lead the association’s in-house design department. We use our graphic design skills to help promote physics for our APS members ad to provide the general public with informative and eye-appealing physica materials. Some of the projects that we produce include: annual reports, newsletters, posters, t-shirts, magazines and activity books. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I illustrate the comic book, Spectra for PhysicsCentral.com.
8) Tell us about some of the awards you have received.
I've been blessed with many accolades throughout my career. Here are some recent highlights:
2010, Glyph Comics Awards nominated in the Rising Star category, presented by the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC)
2008, first place: the National Arts Program for Illustration
2002, 2001, 1996, first place: Press Club of Western Pennsylvania’s Golden Quill Award for News Illustration
2002, Society for News Design Award of Excellence for Photo illustration
2001, 1998, 1994, 1993, first place: Pittsburgh Black Media Federation’s Robert L. Vann Award for Feature Illustration
2000, second place: National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Heritage Award for Editorial Cartooning
1996, first place: National Association of Black Journalists NABJ Award for Art and Design
9) What is your definition of success as an artist?
For me, success is being able to earn a good living and live comfortably as an artist. Additionally, I’ve experienced success based on the favorable reactions to my cartoons, illustrations and design work. I have been blessed to produce work that has been recognized favorably by my professional peers and the general public.
10) What do you plan to accomplish in 2012?
I plan to continue to work with my talented wife to produce more funny and entertaining Harambee Hills comics and to spread the word about You Can’t Move an Elephant in One Day and my many other upcoming projects. We have also have plans to produce a Harambee Hills book. We are excited about the great things that are in store for our family!
Kerry G. Johnson is a creative and experienced art director, caricaturist, cartoonist and graphic designer. He’s an award-winning artist whose work has been published in local and national publications, web sites and blogs. Kerry also illustrates caricatures at private homes, schools, corporate functions, church events and local festivals.
He’s currently the director of art and special publications at the American Physical Society in College Park, Md. Before joining APS, he worked as the newsroom graphics director at the Baltimore Sun newspaper.
In 2008, he debut his webcomic, "Harambee Hills" about the semi-autobiographical character Gerard James and his daily life observations with his modern African-American family, co-workers and wacky neighbors of Harambee Hills, a fictional suburban neighborhood outside Washington, D.C.
Kerry and his wife, Tawanda, a press secretary and media specialist, live in Columbia, Md., with their two children.
Go Comics: Harambee Hills