Maisie Johnson typifies the new generation of artists: passionate and talented, with the unique quirk of a creative. However, it’s the rise of social media and its ability to capture a ready-made, global market that’s providing young people like Maisie with the confidence to pursue their artistic dreams.
A skilled craftswoman, Maisie set up @mai.designs on Instagram in late 2015 to showcase her woven and watercolour pieces. “I guess following an artistic pathway doesn’t seem so daunting when platforms like Instagram can turn a hobby into a viable business seemingly overnight, which is essentially how Mai Designs came to be.”
While the pursuit of creativity had been a lifelong passion, her greatest inspiration and success to date evolved from the unlikeliest of sources. “Six months into a diploma of visual arts in Brisbane I developed glandular fever. It totally floored me, to the point of having to return home to my parents to recover. What was a fairly grueling time actually presented a huge opportunity to really focus on the practice of art as therapy.”
The rhythmic and graceful skill of weaving provided much comfort during her illness, with overwhelming acclaim inspiring her to establish Mai Designs. “Art therapy has always been of great interest to me, more so now than ever. When someone is stressed or sad, having a creative outlet is almost medicinal, and the influence colours have on feelings and emotions I find fascinating.”
True to word, one glimpse of Maisie’s bright woven wall hangings and you can’t help but smile. Bright neon pops of colour delicately interwoven into patterns and eruptions of texture – the dense and tactile nature of wool is a refreshing contrast to other forms of wall art.
Textiles have been used in society since ancient times, based on the essential needs of warmth and protection. However, Maisie’s woven creations are nothing short of fine art.
The influences of her favourite artists – Jai Vasicek, Amanda Humphries, Maryanne Moody and former art teacher Georgina Hooper – are credited for her quirky style, and the social media mecca for creative inspiration, Instagram, for her business success.
“Instagram is ground breaking. I can be at home in Moree selling my pieces across Australia. It’s such a visual and supportive platform to showcase creative industries and discover a like-minded, creative community,” Maisie says.
Some of Maisie’s favourite Instagram accounts include @thedesignfiles, @redartshed, @theweavingkind, @warpedthreads and @theunusualpear. The convenience of having such inspiration “literally at your fingertips” has been a game changer in the creative sector.
It was in fact a workshop held by Instagram sensation Natalie Miller at Sydney’s Koskela where Maisie first discovered the art of weaving.
“I was a crazy fan of Natalie’s so I was really nervous, but it was just the best day ever. We sat and wove all day, we didn’t even stop to eat we were all so in the zone.”
At just 19 years old, Maisie’s rise to creative acclaim seems meteoric, however, she staunchly defends that honing her talent has been a slow evolution. “My mother, Helen, is very creative so art was always a big part of my life growing up, but I just hated painting and drawing; I was not good at it at all. Art is so often associated with painting and drawing, which I really felt no affinity for, but my parents obviously recognised my creative streak and encouraged me to keep going.”
It was her senior art teachers at Brisbane’s Stuartholme Maisie credits for igniting her creative passion. “Slowly I found my own personal style and while it was unique from the other students’, my teachers were so encouraging, and I finally thought, yes, I can do this. The weaving workshop came shortly after and was like an epiphany, everything started to finally make sense. I instantly fell in love with weaving, it’s a way of creating designs and imagery by simply using your hands in a different way.”
So encouraged by this newfound creativity, Maisie once again began dabbling in painting, with exceptional results. “I discovered watercolour in my final year of school, found a style I loved and suddenly painting didn’t seem so bad!” Her dewy watercolours are instantly recognisable thanks to her use of circular patterns and bubble-like formations. The formality and structure of the patterns are softened by Maisie’s signature dripping technique, with whimsical and calming results.
Recently stocked in Moree’s My Store and exhibited at Toowoomba’s Bush Christmas Trade Fair, Mai Designs is moving beyond the social media platform and gaining attention, fast.
“My Store has always been my favourite homeware shop so it was an absolute thrill when owner Penny Jones asked if she could stock my work. That’s the wonderful thing about living in a small country town, there is so much community support and old-fashioned word of mouth marketing should never be underestimated!”
After six months recuperating, Maisie is now fully recovered and about to embark on an interior design course at CATC in Brisbane, but not before squeezing in one more burst of inspiration. “Mum and I have just returned from an artistic retreat in Thailand and it was absolutely amazing. As well as weaving we also learnt the crafts of crocheting, macramé and fabric dyeing and my mind is now abuzz.”
Maisie is shocked that Mai Designs has taken off as it has. “It’s hard to know where art will take you, there are so many elements to keep exploring, but for now I’m just so happy to have this creative outlet.” And with youth, talent and the online world literally at her fingertips, Maisie’s path is sure to be marvellously creative and certainly one to watch.
STORY & PHOTOS Georgina Poole