Park City-based artist’s watercolors make a splash at the Pioneer Theatre |

Park City-based artist’s watercolors make a splash at the Pioneer Theatre

When watercolor artist Robert J. Johnson first started painting, he thought it would be easy.

"It was hard," Johnson said during an interview with The Park Record. "I took a class at an art association in Springfield, Illinois, and found when I got the paper wet, all the paint had a tendency to puddle at the bottom, or run in the middle. Seriously, my first painting looked like a chicken had skittered across the paper."

To make matters worse, Johnson didn’t feel comfortable having someone look over his shoulder.

"So I bought a couple of watercolor books published by the Grumbacher Academy," Johnson said. "They had a few paintings that were divided into steps, which made it more understandable to me."

Through those books, the developing artist learned the dry- and wet-brush techniques and what colors he needed to use to create realistic sky and winter scenes.

Johnson eventually became a professional watercolor artist. His latest exhibit is displayed at the Pioneer Memorial Theatre’s Loge Gallery, which will be up through the run of the musical "Annie," which will end Dec. 23.

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Johnson’s first public display was at a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream shop he owned while living in Illinois.

"I did a little painting of some leaves and asked if it was possible for me to hang it in the store," he said. "I ended up selling the painting for $25, and then got to thinking about how many ice cream cones I had to sell to make $25.

"I would make a 15 percent profit off of each ice cream cone I sold for 25 cents," he said. "I figured out I had to scoop 400 ice cream cones to make $25 in profit, so I thought it would be nice if I could sell more paintings."

Within 10 years, after selling his art during shows and art fairs, Johnson sold the store and turned to painting watercolors full time.

"I liked watercolor painting because when I looked at them, they appeared more crisp and more clear and precise," he said. "With oils and acrylics, the farther away you get from the painting, the more detail you see, but in most cases, when you look at a watercolor painting, the closer you get the more you see."

Over the past two decades, Johnson has developed a style that includes rich detail and color.

"I tried to make myself a little looser and let the colors bleed in the past, but I’m pretty tight about the control I want with my paintings," he said. "The last details I put on the paper are done with a brush that has about 10 bristles."

Johnson and his wife, Janet, moved to Utah a few years ago to be with their grandchildren.

"My son works at the Huntsman Cancer Institute as a research pharmacist and my wife and I would come out to visit my grandkids. During one visit, we thought, ‘Let’s see how much a condo costs.’ And then the next thing we knew, we were owning a condo on Main Street in downtown Park City, traveling back-and-forth to Illinois to our other home."

Johnson would paint his pieces in Utah and take the canvases back to Illinois to be framed or to participate in art shows.

"One day we said, ‘The weather is a lot nicer in Utah, so let’s sell the house and live there,’" he remembered. "We enjoy living the simpler life, even though it doesn’t feel like that when I have to deliver 50 paintings to the Pioneer Theatre."

Johnson got the Loge Gallery invitation a few years ago.

"There was an opening during a group show for the Park City Professional Art Association at the Loge Gallery and I brought in four paintings and sold three of them," Johnson said. "George Maxwell, the Loge Gallery curator, asked me if I was interested in doing a private showing of 45 to 50 paintings and I agreed and proceeded to forget about it for a year or two."

In August, Johnson participated in the Kimball Art Festival, where he sold 25 pieces, which made him happy, until he remembered his deal with Maxwell.

"I had two months to paint 25 new works, so I’ve been painting every day," Johnson said with a laugh. "I’m a commercial artist, I watch TV and paint when the commercial comes on."

The Loge Gallery located on the second floor of the Simmons Pioneer Theatre, 1400 E. 300 South, is presenting "High Contrast Watercolors," and exhibit of work by Park City-based painter Robert J. Johnson in connection with Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of "Annie," through Saturday, Dec. 23. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m. until noon on Saturdays. For more information, visit