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Blogging artist to set off on four-week cross-country adventure

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Winchester artist Elizabeth A. Johnston sketches beside her car recently. She plans to leave on a cross-country trip Sunday to spend the next four weeks traveling, sketching and blogging about the experience at HaveSketchbookWillTravel.blogspot.com. — Josette Keelor/Daily

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Only a few months ago Winchester artist Elizabeth A. Johnston was an environmental scientist working in Leesburg. Then, in January, she quit her job to become a full-time artist.

"The timing just sort of worked out at the office," she said. She remembered thinking, "I don't want to wait to do this." So she gave herself a year to see if she could make it on her own.

In April she began focusing on selling her work through her website, and on Sunday morning she will begin a one-month driving tour of the United States to hunt down artistic opportunities and blog about the experience before returning home to focus on her business.

For many years, art had been only a hobby, she said.

"I took the scenic route through college," said the 36-year-old, and during her studies she took some studio art classes at the University of South Alabama and at Shenandoah University.

Having two bachelor of arts degrees in biology and environmental studies would not seem to contribute to her current ambition, but she said it helps with the business aspects of her plans.

Whatever job you leave, she explained, "Now you are your own IT department, now you are your own marketing department."

Something she has already learned is when to self manage and when to ask for help.
She has not altered her travel plans much since learning that fellow Winchester artist Jose Perez had to back out on their cross country drive.

"I'm disappointed that he wasn't able to go," Johnston said. "I have a lot of friends that have done the cross-country trip. ... Never before as a working experience."

It was a big deal for both of them, Johnston said.

It's a lot of money, she said, but she considers it a business expense.
She rememberd thinking, "We've got the time off, and we can make this work."

Besides the cost, though, traveling and blogging alone has its challenges, like making time to upload photos and update the blog.

Originally, the friends thought, one partner would drive while the other could be online. Now Johnston has to do it all herself.

"I've done long-distance traveling ever since I had a car," she said. "The thought of traveling across the country isn't scary."

Intending to arrive home in mid-September, she plans to leave Sunday and head for the Smoky Mountains near Knoxville, Tenn. From there she'll drive to Nashville, then Mobile, Ala., then hit New Orleans and Santa Fe, N.M., before making a straight shot for Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, where she can stay with family.

"Santa Barbara's such a beautiful spot, you can't not go," she said. Next on tap is Roseburg, Ore., south of Eugene. While in Oregon she'll attend the Plein Air Event near Portland, featuring artists painting outside and interacting with passersby who come to watch. Then Johnston will continue on to Salt Lake City, Chicago and Detroit before making the "downhill slide home" through Dayton, Ohio, and Parkersburg, W.Va.

The idea for the trip started when she was invited to the Plein Air Event. Rather than flying, she said, why not drive?

"It just sort of became this cross-country adventure," she said. Then, she remembered thinking, "If we're going to do that, why don't we journal about it? ... It'll be a great marketing concept."

She calls her blog Lines on the Road, at the Web address HaveSketchbookWillTravel.blogspot.com.

"We thought, you know it's perfect, it's traveling, it's drawing," she said. "I'm hoping that it will just help generate some interest in the trip."

Though she hasn't even left yet, she has not discounted the notion of trying this again in the future, doing similar trips with other artists. In the mean time, though, she wants to incorporate others in her upcoming adventure, saying maybe those reading her blog will meet up with her at her scheduled stops.

After returning she said she'll post illustrations to her website, http://pencilated.com, and see what happens.

So far she has had good responses after participating in Art at the Mill, at the Burwell-Morgan Mill in Millwood last spring.

On her website she offers colored pencil drawings and even photographs, but she said her passion is drawing from still life.

"I mostly do colored pencil work," she said, and "photo realistic rendering." What she calls painting with pencil, however, has a stigma in the art world. "Drawing is never as good as painting," she said.

She works around highlights and shadows and said a lot of artists don't typically see depth in colored pencil work.

"It's not common to see someone who's blended images," she said. "I am starting landscapes with the illustration work ... almost kind of like cartooning."

Along her driving tour, she said she'll seek out interesting locations to draw, planning to focus attention on aspects that make the cities along her route what they are.
"I'm just going to let things speak to me while I'm there," she said. In a way, the real work will start when she returns.

"I'm just a nobody who's coming in fresh," she said. "Let me show you what I can do."

Read Elizabeth A. Johnston's blog, Lines on the Road, at HaveSketchbookWillTravel.blogspot.com or visit her website at http://pencilated.com

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