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Watercolors and Photography – An Artist’s Life

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - August 9, 2011

Artists are born, not made. Any painter, musician, sculptor, or person involved in making art will agree they spent their childhood happily engaged in creating things.

This was always the case for Cheryl Johnson, a highly skilled and talented watercolor artist from Campton. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing art. I was always drawing when I was a kid. Six years ago I started to pursue painting; before that I was a pen and ink artist for many years.”

Cheryl is a member (and executive director) of Plymouth’s Artistic Roots gallery. Located on the Main Street of downtown Plymouth, the group shop/gallery recently moved from a side street location and Cheryl says it’s greatly increased their awareness and traffic flow. She gives watercolor classes and exhibits her artwork for sale in the classroom/gallery portion of the shop.

It’s a productive time for Cheryl, who says her two children are now grown, which allows her more time to paint. She lives in Campton with her husband Don. Always an animal lover, she names two Shelties and two cats as beloved family members. In the past she was a sign painter and graphic artist. In 1981, she formed a business partnership and started Campton Printing & Design. After spending 23 years running the shop. Cheryl sold Campton Printing, which allowed her to focus many more hours on painting and drawing.

Over the years, while she owned the print shop, Cheryl spent what precious free time she could find drawing in pen and ink, and developing her personal style of finely detailed renderings of birds, animals and country buildings.

After selling the print shop, Cheryl began to study watercolor painting more seriously. It can be a difficult medium to master and it takes practice and skill.

“I wanted to attempt something different, so I thought I would give watercolors a try,” she recalls. Always happy to immerse herself in artwork, Cheryl got some how-to watercolor books and did all the lessons. By the time the class started, she realized she was proficient in the techniques necessary to master this fluid medium.

“I work mostly in watercolor, a medium I have come to love in spite of and because of its challenges. I particularly enjoy the ability to create soft, atmospheric backgrounds for the highly detailed subjects I do, such as owls, birds of prey and old, rustic barns. I also enjoy working in oils.

“After some time, I joined Artistic Roots,” she adds. “My work has been well received. I like to paint traditional New England landscapes, and people respond to the images and subject matter.”

Most of Cheryl’s watercolors are either 10 x 15 inches or 15 x 20 inches. She is not afraid to tackle any scene and her work covers a very wide range from landscapes to still life scenes to animals.

“I would say my specialty is birds of prey; they sell very well,” she says. She is also an avid photographer, and her photos are also for sale at Artistic Roots.

When not working at the gallery, Cheryl enjoys traveling around the area taking photographs, which she often uses as a reference point in her watercolors. Due to NH’s often cold and snowy winters, Cheryl does a lot of watercolor painting indoors.

“I am lucky to have a studio at the top of a remodeled barn on my property in Campton. It is winterized and I can paint there year round. I love the solitude.”

When asked if it’s been difficult to be a working artist in one of the country’s worst recessions, she says, “Frankly, being in a co-op is the answer. It’s allowed me to exhibit and sell my work in a group setting. We have a good main street location, which helps a lot. There are 45 artists involved in the gallery and we take turns manning the shop.”

Artistic Roots offers a huge main floor gallery space as well as the back area for classes and exhibition of Cheryl’s watercolors and photographs, and a second floor space that allows more artists to exhibit their work.

“We are a juried shop,” Cheryl adds, which means any and all work is of the highest quality. “We are open seven days a week, year round, and we are very busy.”

The group is a non-profit organization with a mission to educate the public about art and to provide peer mentoring. Those wishing to take a class have certainly come to the right place; those shopping for beautiful handmade gifts from jewelry to pottery to watercolors will find many choices at Artistic Roots.

“We have added a gift registry, and brides-to-be can come in and register for handmade items in the shop that they would love to receive as wedding gifts,” Cheryl goes on to explain.

Cheryl is a signature member of the Vermont Watercolor Society and also a member of the NH Art Association. Further, she belongs to the New England Watercolor Society, the American Watercolor Society and the National Watercolor Society.

Her work sells well at Artistic Roots and she has exhibited at many galleries and in shows throughout the area.

She reflects, when asked what spurs her on create artwork, “There is such satisfaction in taking a blank sheet of paper and turning it into a work of art. In the future I would love to become a member of the National Watercolor Society and to show my work nationally.”

Those who want to see more of Cheryl’s work can visit Artistic Roots gallery on Main Street in Plymouth or go to Her website features a blog where Cheryl discusses her artwork, shares photos of works in progress, and the spots she chooses to use as subjects in her paintings. 

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