BFA student's art speaks for itself

Johanna Schaly talks formal training and avoiding messages in her work

Johanna Schaly.

BFA student Johanna Schaly resists giving her artwork too much meaning. Instead, she lets it speak for itself.  

Schaly is pursuing Fine Arts through the concurrent education stream and is currently in her fourth year at Queen’s. She’ll graduate from her undergrad in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program in ’21, then from ConEd in ’22. She spoke to The Journal in a phone interview about her artistic goals and motivations.

The artist has always had a fascination with art supplies, but she never knew how to use any of them properly. She grew up homeschooled by her mother, who didn’t know much about art. Because she had no access to formal training at the time, she started experimenting on her own.  

In grade nine, Schaly started to take her artwork seriously. At Moira (now called Eastside) Secondary School in Belleville, she was finally able to take art classes each year, where she learned technical skills and dabbled in different mediums.

Taking as many art classes as her school would allow—a total of five over her four years of high school—Schaly took what she learned and headed off to Kingston with her newfound abilities.

Her favourite medium, and the one she works with most often, is printmaking.

“My prints always start out with something that I see or I think is cool. For instance, one of my prints was a picture of the tops of some houses and trees that I saw on my way to campus in the fall,” Schaly said. “It’s my [favourite] because of the colours, and it feels harmonious.”

The art student doesn’t start making a piece with a set message or purpose in mind. Rather, she makes art because she loves the process.


Photo by: Jodie Grieve 


“I create to play with the feeling of actually making art itself, then once I’ve created the piece, I consider [it] to be a by-product of my process,” Schaly said. “I encourage viewers […] to come up with their own meaning because I want them to feel whatever they feel from the art. There’s no right answer with what I’m trying to do.”

Schaly finds inspiration from other artists on Instagram and Pinterest, though she doesn’t think her work mirrors or mimics anyone else’s. After taking art history classes over the past four years, she’s seen pieces that have sparked her interest, like work by the art collective Guerrilla Girls, but she doesn’t relate specifically to anyone else’s style.

“I don’t connect to a single artists’ body of work. I’m excited though, because I know someday I will connect to a single artist’s body of work, but that day hasn’t happened yet. I haven’t found the right person.”

Through her fine art studies at Queen’s, Schaly has learned a lot about her preferences and her limitations as an artist. She was forced to face this when she took a painting class teaching still-life skills early on in her studies.

“I will never perform and create the way that my peers will and the way that my profs would expect me to,” Schaly said. “I almost failed the class because, for the life of me, I could not create a copy of [a painting.]”

Schaly says that although this was challenging at the time, and her grades suffered for it, she’s at a point in her life and artistic career where she no longer cares about those boundaries. She knows where her strengths lie, and she knows what kind of art she wants to make.

“I’ve reached a point where I’ve put in my time of being told what to do, and now it’s time for me to do what I want to do.”

Since that realization, the artist has made linoleum and wood prints in her house. By carving images and shapes into the linoleum or wood, inking them, and then rolling them onto paper, she’s able to make her art without the need for studio space or professional equipment. This reminds Schaly of when she first fell in love with print making in her first high school art classes.

“I’m trying to get back to that and explore that process using the knowledge and skills that I’ve build through my art education.”

In the future, Schaly sees herself returning to the classroom as an elementary school teacher. After graduating from ConEd in 2022, Schaly believes that one day in the future, she’ll be teaching art to her students.

“I know that somewhere in my life, I’m going to end up being an art teacher. It’s just the nature of having this skillset,” she said.

“I want to take my work into the classroom to show students that you can create something meaningful, without knowing what it is you’re trying to say.”

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