Artist Profile: senior art student transforms comic imagery into art

By Elizabeth Lande, Reporter
A worn sketchbook lies open on senior Dandan Johannessen’s desk, bursting with rough pencil outlines and intricate ink figures. Drawings crafted with colored pen cover the heavy draft paper, evidence of years of work.
Like many artists, Johannessen learned to draw from cartoon strips, beginning her journey at an early age. However, she has found her own unique style, and for the past 13 years, she has used the comics to carefully improve her craft, reaching the point where she can now profit from it.
After moving from Minnesota to Vashon at age four, she began copying characters and artistic styles out of comic books from Thriftway.
“They used to have a section [with] a bunch of comics,” Johannessen said. “They had Sonic the Hedgehog and then a few Marvel and a ton of Archie comics. I didn’t really like the art style of Archie, so I’d usually look at Spider-Man and Sonic. Sonic was an easier style, so I started drawing from that.”
As she grew older, Johannessen actively continued drawing and sketching from comic books, experimenting with different styles and subject matters before developing her own technique, partially influenced by manga cartoons and anime movies.
“I guess I went through a [anthropomorphic] phase … because animals are … easier to draw than humans,” Johannessen said. “But then I started drawing humans more and more as I got more into manga and anime. So that’s how I started slowly developing my style from Sonic to humans.”
The development was a challenging process for Johannessen. She struggled with drawing people and making her art look more realistic, and she still looks to improve this in her daily artwork.
“My biggest challenge has [been] in terms of anatomy,” she said. “I have a really hard time making sure everything looks proportionally right, and then also, I have a hard time with anything that has limbs, so hands and toes have been my greatest enemy lately.”
Dedicated to her work, Johannessen practices these weaker aspects of her drawings by regularly watching videos of other artists and sketching.
“I’ve been just drawing hands and feet constantly to try to improve,” she said. “The way to help that, of course, is tutorials online. [The internet has] a lot of helpful [videos] that you can just look up ’cause a lot of other artists want to help other younger artists improve, which is nice.”
Johannessen’s passion for improving her art is born not only out of a deep love for it as a hobby, but also as a way to relieve anxiety.
“It’s a medium I can use to de-stress,” she said. “Art allows me to get my creative juices flowing and then transfer my stress from my body … to paper, so then I can go back to studying for that big test, or I can make it through another day at work.”
Johannessen said she is open to the possibility of an artistic career, but only after the pursuance of a non-artistic career, and she does not plan to attend an art college after graduation.
“I feel, at my age, if I try to make art a full time [career], I’ll slowly begin to hate art,” she said.
Johannessen isn’t against selling her artwork, though. An ink drawing she did of a crow sold in last year’s student art show at the Katherine L. White Hall.
“It was called ‘The Crow,’ and I felt pretty proud because apparently somebody — when they first opened the gallery … just walked in and was like ‘Oh, I’ll take that’ immediately,” Johannessen said. “I didn’t expect that at all.”
Her love of creating art transfers over to her love of creating food — Johannessen is an adventurous cook and is always looking to push her skills.
“I always want to cook a sort of complex dish that takes like five hours,” she said. “I’ve cooked phô before, and now I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to make dim sum dumplings.”
Johannessen has always been extremely passionate when it comes to art, and plans to for the rest of her life.
“I just love art,” she said. “If you’re going to do anything in your free time, you should do something productive. I feel like art is productive because you get a new skill set and you see things from a new perspective.”

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