Investment adviser follows passion as a painter

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 10, 2013

For 40 years, Sheryl Johnson has waited to be a painter. After three children and a career as an investment adviser, she’s waiting no more.

As a college senior in her native South Dakota, Sheryl found herself with only two credit hours left to earn degrees in textiles and economics. She filled out her schedule with art classes.

When she went home at Easter, mere weeks before graduation, she told her parents, “We need to talk.” Her plan was to change her major and move to Paris to paint. Her father nearly choked on his coffee.

Get a job and make some money, he told her. Then you can paint.

“So like a good girl,” she says, “I did.”

Back then, she says, you didn’t disagree with your folks.

She got a job and got married and raised a family. She loves to travel and, over the years, the first place she’d go in any city was to the art museum.

“I kinda figure I’ve been studying art all these years,” says Sheryl, now 66.

When she was cleaning out her parents’ house, she found lots of her old paintings, and realized she wasn’t half bad. She told one of her sons she’d paint when she retired. He said, why are you waiting?

Sheryl said she had no time, but she decided to make time. Several years ago, her daughter gave her a gift certificate to take a class at Waterworks Visual Arts Center. She took mornings off from her business, Johnson Advisory, and lugged plastic grocery bags full of supplies with her to class.

She arrived at the class, which was taught by Phyllis Steimel. The first person she met was the late Lou Murphy.

“I’m not easily intimidated,” she says, “but these people had so much experience. I thought, I’m drowning here! What should I do? I decided to suck it up and take the class and learn from all these artists.”

The first morning, Phyllis took out a frying pan and set three eggs inside.

“The frying pan is not all black, and the eggs are not all white,” Phyllis said. “Now let’s paint.”

“I thought, what?!?” Sheryl remembers. But she did paint, and every day of that class presented a new challenge. She told her friend, Allen Terry, “I’m pretty good!” He rolled his eyes.

That was in 2005, and Sheryl has been painting ever since — mostly in oils. She’s ready to start selling her work. You can see it at Emma’s, Allen’s new restaurant on Lee Street.

Sheryl is continuing to work at her investment firm, which moved to Kernersville several years ago. She works with son Erik, who will eventually take over for her. Daughter Bethany Moore and her husband, Josh, live in East Lansing, Mich., where she’s studying for a doctorate in plant biology. Son Christopher, a painter by trade, lives in New York City, working as a dog walker in Harlem.

When she can, Sheryl paints with the local plein air group. She’s found the local art community to be supportive, wonderful folks.

“There’s a lot of talent in this group,” she says.

Sheryl paints in her sunroom, either early in the morning or late at night — or sometimes in the middle of the night when she can’t sleep. She tends to paint when she’s stressed out, and says it makes her feel better.

Over the years, she’s given away a lot of her paintings, to friends and clients who admired them. They’re priced at $475 and up.

Walking through Emma’s before the restaurant opens for the day, Sheryl points out some of her favorite pieces: an abstract entitled “Peace Within the Chaos”; a seascape she painted onsite; a beautiful, large painting of the Smoky Mountains — lovely in shades of blue, green, yellow, purple, turquoise; a landscape of the Himalayas; a sunrise — or sunset, depending on your attitude that day — she painted especially for the restaurant.

“We get quite a few compliments on these paintings,” Allen says. “People really seem to enjoy them.”

When Emma’s was located in Concord, Allen asked her to paint a scene of three jazz players. She said, “Sure!”

“Because I didn’t know I couldn’t,” she notes. People, she says, are much harder to paint than landscapes. The painting now hangs in Emma’s lobby area, and draws comments daily.

Johnson says she enjoys painting, and doesn’t want it to be like a job. She doesn’t plan to keep any sort of schedule. She’ll finish a painting when she finishes it.

Which, by the way, how does she know when a painting is done?

“That’s the hardest thing,” Sheryl admits. “Most of the time, you overwork a painting. You paint until you don’t know what you’re gonna do next.”

Then she lets it sit — three days or three weeks — ’til she decides what to add. She plays with frames to see how the painting looks.

Then, it’s finished.

Her firm’s broker/dealer is LPL Financial, which matches employees’ charitable contributions. Therefore, Sheryl has decided to donate profits from her paintings to her three favorite charities: Shriners’ Hospitals, the Leukemia Foundation and Wounded Warriors.

For more information about Sheryl Johnson’s artwork, call her at 704-431-4222.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.