Home portraits for the house proud

Virginia Johnson turns clients’ homes into whimsical watercolour artworks

Toronto-based Virginia Johnson's watercolour of a private brownstone residence in New York's West Village
Toronto-based Virginia Johnson's watercolour of a private brownstone residence in New York's West Village

Virginia Johnson describes her work as “bright and cheerful”. Her playful illustrations have graced tunics and tote bags, as well as magazine pages and books for the likes of the late Kate Spade – not to mention her own tome, Travels Through The French Riviera: An Artist’s Guide to the Storied Coastline, from Menton to Saint-Tropez. Her subjects range from people and places to motifs of flora and fauna, and last year the Toronto-based artist was asked by a private client to tackle a new theme: a New York brownstone. “She wanted me to create a watercolour of her building to use on a holiday card, making sure I included her little dog in the window,” recalls Johnson. “I really enjoyed that experience and decided to make home portraits [$2,000] a regular offering.” 

Johnson's painting of a friend's clapboard cottage on Lake Erie
Johnson's painting of a friend's clapboard cottage on Lake Erie
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Interiors commissions, Johnson admits, are more exacting and require a higher level of detail. But no matter which is chosen, the three-to-four-week process is the same, resulting in a 23cm x 30cm original watercolour illustration. Potential clients will submit multiple photographs from different angles, from which Johnson creates initial pencil sketches. The process isn’t unlike styling a photo shoot, and favourite flowers, family heirlooms or pets can be included on request. “Recently, I produced an image of a beautiful, traditional white clapboard house surrounded by trees. The client also wanted a version to send as a holiday card, so I created a digital layer where I added Christmas decorations as well as a portrait of the family in front of the house.”

Johnson's portrait of the sitting room of Villa Santo Sospir in the South of France, with its murals by Jean Cocteau
Johnson's portrait of the sitting room of Villa Santo Sospir in the South of France, with its murals by Jean Cocteau
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Johnson, who lives in what she describes as an “old brick box from the 1920s that is a compromise between my modern-loving husband and nostalgic-loving me”, has been honing her horticultural skills and will soon also offer garden portraits – a category of her business that will bloom in the next few months.

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