We had the good fortune of connecting with dEN jOHNSON and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi dEN, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I’ve always been compelled to be creative, it’s very fulfilling and rewarding. In grade school, high school and college, I was the kid with crazy drawings and doodles all over their notebooks! I was also the class clown and the kid who made frequent trips to the principals office! Ultimately, I was a kid with a need to perform and to create. I always felt different, but never knew why. I’ve since realized that I feel and express things differently, because I’m an artist. I have many layers of creativity, and have never limited myself to just one creative interest. I’m an artist, voice actor, vocalist, musician, game developer, visual effects artist and filmmaker. There’s still so much I want to learn and do too! To answer the question more directly… I simply wasn’t ever fulfilled pursuing a mainstream career path. There was an internal calling to pursue creative paths from a young age. Each time I tried pursuing a mainstream career, something inside just didn’t feel right, and I always felt like I was on the wrong path. To create something from nothing is compellingly innate, I can’t just sit still and “not” create. If I don’t consistently create, then I feel I’m not living my full potential. Pursuing an artistic/creative role was an internal calling that happened at a young age, and it got really loud and nagging when I didn’t listen! Mark Twain said it best with his quote: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I didn’t choose the life and path of an artist, it chose me. To not have pursued a career of creativity, would have been to deny my very purpose of existence.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I see this world quite differently, always have. Art and creativity are good for the soul, but I don’t want to create for the purpose of just creating something. I have some deep thoughts that are better conveyed through art and performance, and creativity is a vehicle for that expression. My art is basically an attempt at me trying to get a view, or an emotion across… things I can’t vocalize for whatever reason. My physical art pieces are very subjective, ultimately allowing each viewer to take away something completely different. Conveying thought and emotion through creativity, is my goal. Whatever feelings the viewer takes away are theirs, I merely want to spark deep thoughts through my works. I’ve always been compelled to seek my own path and be different… a “one off”. To try and find my own path of creativity, while being motivated and driven by other inspirational artists.
Having worked with some of the worlds most amazing and well known Visual Effects Artists is something I’m incredibly proud of, and I learned something valuable from each one. Along with being one of the original founding members of the art production team as Sr. Environment Artist on Sony’s “God of War”, “God of War 2” and many other amazing movie and game productions, there’s so much more I’m very proud of!
One thing which has been the backbone of my success, is being very well connected. When I first started this path, I knew absolutely no one. Now, I know a little bit of everyone “this side of Mars”! The lasting friendships I’ve made in this industry are extremely meaningful and have most definitely helped fuel my success and creativity.
I’m incredibly proud of being associated with Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Games and Animation located in Hollywood, where I also work as Associate Director of Placement and Alumni Relations. Gnomon is the industry standard when it comes to TOP LEVEL Visual Effects Artists! If you’re needing VFX Artists from games to movies to VR/AR and everything in between, odds are I’ll know plenty of amazing VFX Artists to recommend, from very experienced to brand new.
I heard a phrase once, don’t know who originally said it, but it goes like this…. “It takes a lifetime to become an overnight success.” That quote has definitely rang true for me… because, it’s literally taken a lifetime to get to where I am. It’s also been the hardest and most rewarding thing that I’ve ever done too. There’s been so many times I’ve wanted to quit and give up, this is really hard work. The competitive nature to be a successful artist is insane, but also truly rewarding, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I overcame many challenges by never ultimately giving up. I overcome obstacles by strategically researching new methods to move work, to make those new connections, to get around hurdles, to learn something new, to market myself and my works in new ways, and to be different, with the hope of setting myself apart as “memorable” as possible. I desire to leave a unique impression.
There’s so many different challenges along the way, and what helped me to be able to succeed ultimately, is to not be scared to try new methods. I don’t stop, I never give up, and I never quit. I’ll create new strategies until ultimately succeeding and overcoming hurdles. There’s been numerous lessons learned along the way! I would say the number one lesson would be to just do a solid job. No matter what you’re doing, be the absolute best you can be! Develop a solid work ethic, and this will lead to a solid reputation, which ultimately leads to ensuring more business. If the job you’re doing is creative, dig deep as you can and be better than you can possibly ever be, because the competition is that fierce! Whether you want to make an impression or not, you always will. I’ve heard that, “rarely do we get a second chance to leave a bad impression twice.” Truth. Make YOUR shot a great one initially and make it count, because word of mouth is the absolute best and most successful marketing plan!
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
I absolutely love Los Angeles and Southern California and have lived here for many years! I plan on living my entire life here for the shear amount of opportunities, history, creative people and vibe! Even so… I’ll never be able to experience everything there is to possibly do, but I’m definitely trying! If one of my friends were coming to visit and they were going to be here for a week, I‘d most definitely take them on some of the highlights around the area! Showing people around town is actually another area of considerable interest for me! I absolutely have an incredible love for the golden age of Hollywood and its very colorful history. With that said, we’d start our journey smack dab in the center of Hollywood starting off at the Hollywood Forever cemetery, showing off it’s beautiful architecture from the golden age, with also a great view of the Hollywood sign. Next would be Paramount Studios, showing them Lucille Ball’s dressing room! Then I’d take them up to Whitley Heights, showing them where Hollywood first started and showing them the amazing Mediterranean architecture. From there we’d head down Hollywood Boulevard, deciding on where to eat supper and watch a sunset! A couple of options would be to hit Mama’s Shelter rooftop bar for one of the best sunsets in the city, with an appetizer and drinks, then walk next door to Tao for some AMAzing sushi and vibe. Or, head over to Yamashiro Gardens on the hill behind the Chinese Theater for a sunset, drinks and some delicious Japanese cuisine. Or pop over to Canter’s for a pastrami on rye, or Pink’s to get a chili dog. If not any of those, then we’d take Mullholland Drive through the Hollywood Hills until we hit Malibu. From there we’d head to Moonshadows for THE MOST AWEsome sunset in town, right on the beach with well poured drinks and amazingly fresh seafood. Besides hitting the other main attractions like Beverly Hills, Downtown, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Hermosa Pier, Manhattan Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, you could always find us beachside!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There’s so many who believed in me along this crazy journey! There were plenty of doubters too, and plenty of folks telling me I needed to grow up and focus on the reality of pursuing and obtaining a “real” job. This only fueled my desire to prove them wrong, and go for what I was being naturally drawn to. I’m so glad I listened to what was internally driving me. So many people helped take me to the next level of creativity by simply believing me, and believing IN me. Specifically, the person who planted the seed initially was my mother, who consistently told me, ”You can be anything you want to be. You can DO anything, and BE anything you put your mind to”. My little kid mind literally and figuratively believed her, ultimately instilling tremendous self empowerment at a very early age. She just never told me how extremely hard this path would be! My grandmother… I’ve always called her my “Granny Massey”, majorly helped fuel my creative fires. She enrolled me in piano and music lessons beginning at an early age, to even encouraging me to sing in the church youth choir! My father also honed and supported my talents an early age, planting seeds of encouragement telling me, “People will always need to be entertained. You’ve got talents, that’s your path.” He planted the dream of broadening my horizons, to want MORE for myself, and the need and desire to be driven. A specific teacher I’d like to thankfully mention, is my high school drama teacher from Oklahoma, Mrs. Sue Anglin. She really sparked my fire for acting, performance and character development. It was through her guidance, mentoring and direction which led me to win multiple drama trophies, competing in state level speech and debate tournaments in Oklahoma. The path of a creative is incredibly hard and very competitive, and your family and friends will never truly understand exactly “what it is you do” for a living! I can’t begin to tell you, growing up, how many people would literally try and advise me to stop pursuing the path of an artist and focus on “getting a real job”. I didn’t listen. When you create something from nothing and you get the rush of what that feels like and you want more, that’s a solid indicator of what you supposed to be doing with your life. Creativity is addictive. I’ve always wanted more!
Image Credits: Photo | Avery Wong | Avery Wong Photography Photo | Hanna Olivia Bichsel | Bixel Photography Photo | Aidin Davoudi Artwork | “Land of the Free. Home of the Depraved.” | 22.5 x 13 inches | mixed media mounted on Russian Birch | Hollywood, CA | 2009 | dEN jOHNSON Artwork | “BisKitt Eye” | 8.5×11 | Colored Pencil and Ink | Hollywood, CA | 2018 | dEN jOHNSON Artwork | “Iniquitous” | 27 x 33 inches | oil, acrylic and mixed media mounted on Russian Birch | Hollywood, CA | 2007 | dEN jOHNSON Artwork | “My Maria” | 8.5×11 | Colored Pencil and Ink | Hollywood, CA | 2019 | dEN jOHNSON