A downsizing casualty, Darren Johnson reinvents himself as an artist

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 10, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
Can a bad economy ever be a good thing?
Perhaps so, if it gives someone the push needed in order to pursue a passion, rather than simply a paycheck.
Although it wasn’t how he’d envisioned his life, Darren Johnson of Charlotte found himself working in a corporate job that paid well but didn’t excite him.
Not long ago, the office in which he worked was eliminated, a casualty of a tough economy.
Instead of polishing up a resumé focusing on his corporate skills and setting his sights on the kind of job he’d had before, Johnson decided it was time to return to his first love: art.
He’s now happy to be spending his days pursuing art as a full-time job, and lately, he’s been doing it in Salisbury.
Those around Darren recognized his artistic talent early on, and he’s been frequently tapped to do various art projects for friends and family since he was a teenager.
In college, he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration. He later got a master’s degree in education.
After teaching for a while, he landed in Asheville and found himself working in corporate training and information technology.
His jobs, he says, were “far removed from art.”
After his job disappeared, he consulted with wife Meg, who works for Merrill Lynch, and they agreed he should take a year to pursue art full-time to see if he could make it work. He’s converted a bedroom in his home to an art studio.
So far, he’s relishing the change.
“It’s a hundred times better than sitting at a desk,” he says.
He loves the freedom to come and go, and and is confident in his skills; now the challenge, he says, is to figure out the business aspect of being an artist.
He markets his services through word of mouth. He prefers not to use a computer in his design work, preferring the directness and tactile nature of putting hand to paper.
The first project of his new vocation was to paint a nursery.
Most recently, he’s been creating a garden-themed mural for Barb and Cliff Sorel, who are sprucing up their garden since their Fulton Street home will be a stop on the Symphony Guild’s Festival of Summer Gardens tour coming up June 25-26.
The Sorels have lived at 603 S. Fulton St. since 1999 and have transformed the gardens that were overwhelmed by old boxwoods into a lovely and welcoming space.
Darren’s canvas for the mural is Barb’s potting shed. The Sorels added the shed to the side of their house so that Barb wouldn’t have to store all of her gardening supplies in the garage. The shed’s attractively weathered door came from the basement, Barb says.
Barb gave Darren a list of items that she wanted to appear in the scene.
“She wanted a little bit of everything,” he says, including bees, a hummingbird, gardening gloves, seeds and a watering can.
Darren has known the Sorels for 12 years, a relationship that came out of his wife, Meg, working with Cliff. In fact, Barb and Cliff were travelling with Darren and Meg in Italy when Darren proposed to Meg, so the couples share plenty of happy history.
As an artist, Johnson’s specialties include nurseries, game rooms, pet portraits, corporate logos and T-shirt designs. He can be contacted by email at darren@drawnbydarren.com or by phone at 980-285-7239.