We had the good fortune of connecting with Sophia Johnson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sophia, what role has risk played in your life or career?
The biggest risk I’ve taken in my life was to pursue art as a career. I decided to major in Illustration with no prior skill in art. I was at a point where I felt I needed to choose a major and had no clue what to do, and my mom suggested I major in art because I loved drawing as a child.
Needless to say, I was far behind all my peers in class but I wasn’t artistically skilled enough to realize it. Art just became such an integral part of my life, which is why, in hindsight, I just kept at it. It wasn’t until I graduated and couldn’t land a job that I realized how far behind I was to where I needed to be. So at that point I had two options: Buckle down, learn the skills I need to to become a concept artist and try to land a job OR pursue another, safer career. I chose the riskier option and after two years, it finally paid off.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m so proud to be able to call myself a costume illustrator, since it’s been a dream of mine since I first discovered what that even was. To backtrack a little, after graduating, I was in a slump, emotionally and artistically. I didn’t feel creative like my peers, and every time I tried drawing or painting, I’d get frustrated and give up after 10 minutes. I spent about a year in this state and thought a lot about giving up on pursuing a concept art career and switching to something else. What did help me get through this period, though, was street photography. So even though I wasn’t necessarily drawing and painting, I was still training my eye to decipher shapes, and understand composition and color.
At the end of 2019, I happened upon the costume illustrations and concept art for Black Panther and them quite literally changed my life. It was in that moment that I thought, “This is what I want to do.” I found Phil Boutte teaching Costume Concept Design at CGMA and immediately signed up. Before the term started, I spent every waking hour painting costumes on different friends or models. I went from not doing any painting at all, to painting all the time, and I loved every second of it. Phil’s class further fueled my love for costuming, since I was able to learn about the storytelling and process behind creating a costume. After that, I took a semester to explore other classes and forms of concept art, and while I enjoyed them and learned a lot, most of the time I kept thinking, “I could be doing costumes right now.” I don’t regret that period of exploration at all, since it really solidified in my mind that costumes is what I wanted to pursue.
What sets my work apart is the same as what sets any artist’s work apart. We have our own experiences, tendencies, and unique histories that inform our decision making. I try to remain as true to myself as possible and use costumes and concept art to tell my story, or stories I’d like to tell.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My first choice would have to be my favorite place of all time: Disneyland! LA also has a lot of great spots to explore art, history, and culture. Some of my favorite spots are The Getty, LACMA, and Huntington Library. They house a beautiful collection of art, and you can spend time strolling in the garden. Or we could take a trip down to San Diego and visit the beaches and walk around the historic Gaslamp Quarter.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to dedicate this shoutout first and foremost to my mentor, Phil Boutte! As a concept artist and storyteller, I’ve learned so much from him. He brought me into his amazing team at 9B Collective (.9bcollective.com) and has guided me through the process of being a costume illustrator and working in the industry. If not for his kindness and generosity, I wouldn’t have any of the opportunities to work on such cool projects and meet the amazing people I have now.
Of course, I also need to thank my parents who actively believed in and supported me as an artist from the moment I decided I wanted to be one. They were there for me through the ups and downs and are an integral part of my journey.