Some people color inside of the lines, some people color outside of the lines, and then there’s Vanessa Kiki Johanning. Vanessa colors outside of this world. Her Technicolor art is not limited to a canvas. Her home, studio, and gardens offer a wild panoply of hues. She’s an explosion of delight and being around her either virtually or in real life shocks you into a state of pure bliss. Her positive, persistent, playful nature draws people into her orbit and her uplifting, energizing messages keep them coming back for more. With 21 years in landscape garden design, Vanessa’s love for color sprouted from her love of flowers. That’s evident in her mixed media art, which features vibrant floral motifs as a recurring theme.
Known as The Rhinestone Contessa, Vanessa is a landscape and floral design expert, fine artist, trend forecaster, teacher, consultant, event planner, and life-styler. That restless creativity has resulted in an impressive body of work. From journals to canvases to licensed clothing to fabric and even entire cars and trucks, she’s a prolific artist who sees the possibility for embellishment in every surface. She’s recently emblazoned her artwork on an array of products ranging from home décor to wearables, all of which you can find on her website. Endlessly inspired, constantly evolving, Vanessa is a one of a kind, rare and wondrous, walking work of art.
First off …thank you so much Margot for including me in this series, I am honored and extremely humbled! You are such a Light shiner, in this world because Your integrity will always be the bottom line, that is sooo special in this day and age!
Let me see, where does it all begin?
With your background in landscaping and your love of gardening, flowers play an integral role in so much of what you do. Your art is a virtual garden, and nobody paints flowers like you, Vanessa. What is it, exactly, about flowers that intrigues you? How have they informed your creativity?
I started my love of horticulture with my father, we spent many hours together in our Large Midwest Yard. I have three younger sisters and they all got the inside laundry chores, I was the oldest and the one that got sent outside to help him. Sometimes we would even be working in the Gardens till way after dark, he was so passionate about it so I really felt special and close to him. He taught me how to plant the right way, and really nurture the growth. You can see right away that flowers have super special meanings, and that feelings attached to them! This is where my artwork comes from.
I have designed hundreds of Gardens, and the Main ingredient to having a special space is to add feelings… Yes! its true! That is what my secret to design always is! Whether its to plant with names of friends or words that resonate with the overall theme, that was what makes it so special! Flowers to me will always represent rebirth and growth…for instance when you unfurl a tiny new leaf, YOU are the ONLY person in the world that has ever seen it! Its so magical!
I’ve also always taken thousands of photos in the spaces I created, this became helpful when I began painting full time, later in my career. It was filling up my paint palette with every color imaginable! Some times I would plant 200-300 of a single variety, because I could just tell that it was needed, the same judgment is used now in my art!
You have a fabulous sense of style and a fearlessness in how you dress. Even though you were bullied relentlessly as a child, you’ve refused to shrink yourself or become invisible. I love this about you. Many women over 50 feel as if they’re disappearing or feel pressured by society to fade into the background. You’ve taken the opposite approach. You’re a wild, unfettered, fabulous force of nature! Have you always dressed outrageously?
Yes looking back I guess I always did, even in High school I would alter my clothes, but we always thought that was ‘Normal!’ Nowadays, I dress for Comfort, and I enjoy the fine art of Pattern Collecting. In my artists eye, I see my daily clothes choices are like a happy quilt, the patterns have a chance to dance and it makes the day so much Fun!
How would you describe your approach to fashion?
A little too much, but still adorable and fun. Pippi Longstocking goes shopping at Anthropologie!
How can other women follow your lead and tap into their wild side?
I feel my best when I try to look like an artist. Getting a little attention is okay! Believe me! You never know where your next inspiration will come from, and it might come from a clothes conversation! Just do it! There is no such thing as 'The Clothes Police!' Have Fun! You don’t have to go full out wild, if you don’t feel like it. Try dressing like a Artist/Designer, and soon you will be one. Be Yourself… however that looks!
Some days I’m a wild Hippie, other days I'm comfortable in a Chanel suit. NO rules!!
You married your high school sweetheart, and the two of you have been together for 35 years. That’s a long time, and very impressive. So many marriages fade away or fall apart or become untenable. Tending to a marriage is like tending to a garden, you need to nurture it, water it, feed it, or it withers and eventually it dies. Can you talk about how you’ve cultivated your relationship? How have you two managed to make it work for 35 years?
First off, He is incredible! He is a robotic engineer and a super creative. He just thinks up inventions every day… and then I come along and want to add color to everything. We are a great team.
It just works… We always seem to have a project going on to work on together, it adds to the spark into the everyday. We have found out that we are most successful at anything we do together. We do a lot of singing and joking all the time at our house. We both Love experiences! Having his and her garages has been a lifesaver! He is a great cook, and I’m a great eater! (Ha ha!)
In the book Fifty and Other F-words, I talk about facing the empty nest. How have you and your husband navigated this, especially with your children moving to another state?
We always raised them to be ‘World Thinkers’ My husband has traveled in the service to over 20 countries, so it was not a surprise to us that they would “grow wings.” Of course it was sad, both our children left on the same day with our blessings after they graduated from college. They were ready to have some adventure! It is hard to not have them so close, but thank goodness for FaceTime and airplanes! In these times, we are still considered a close knit family. They are super creative, and believe in living a positive motivational life. Its always great to hear what they are up to!
You’ve navigated your share of difficulties in your lifetime, as have most women over 50. I’m a believer in perspective, and how that informs our reality. We get that upon which we focus, and if we focus on the positive, it shifts our attitude into attracting more of the same. You’re a beacon of positivity, and so much of your messaging is about embracing happiness. You said this, “I never consider the story of my past to be a ‘weight’ of the future…it’s more of a slingshot!” How has your past, even the painful aspects, been a slingshot for your future?
When we think long and hard about the paths that we have chosen, You can see the lowest moments were actually the ones that you can learn the most. You hear that a lot nowadays, but its so true! Tell me I can’t do something and I will want to do it even more!
I have had traumatic things happen in my life that I have turned into a Focus. For instance I am an extreme cheerleader for bullied kids, I just want them to know that there are ways they can turn it around, to reset the narrative that will try to worm its way into their head…it is possible! I am proof!
One of the recurring themes in these interviews is the idea of reinvention, or as Kathy Cano-Murillo reframed it, evolution. This is perhaps a more apt description, since we’re not tossing out what we’ve gathered along the way, we’re just tapping into new avenues of expression. Can you talk about your evolution? What led you from landscaping to retail to full time art? How did each experience feed into the next? How do you see yourself evolving in the future?
I sold my Landscaping company and my store in the same day, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I needed to find a new way to create and the voice in my heart was screaming to walk a new path. I still didn’t know I was an “Artist” believe it or not, but I had a taste of the Good feeling, and that would not let go of me. I wanted more.
Somewhere along the way I heard “Fake it till you make it”… and it was not in a negative way! I truly believe that there are many jobs or roles in this life that you can just grow into! You can reinvent yourself at any time. Just TRY to become what you want! Try reading every book, blog watching every movie, and YYouTube video on the subject that you can! Take some classes! Immerse yourself into believing it can happen, and then don’t be surprised when you wake up one day and you will need to find New dreams to fulfill, because you've reached your goals!
I have always been creative and kept looking for outlets that made me feel accepted. The Art world is my home now…and can proudly say I am an artist, without blushing.
Its the most wonderful time in the universe and I’m loving to create within these moments! I want to have my artwork in homes across the world, in anyway I can!
I’m also loving your products, they need to be everywhere!!!! What else is on the horizon for Vanessa? Where can people find you and dive into your world?
Of course I post daily on Instagram and Facebook. They're just other ways to express creativity and artwork, right? Also super exciting news, I will be teaching Live at “Art is You” in Stamford Connecticut this fall, and other venues around the county! Check out their website for all the details coming soon!
My colorful art products are with a company called Vida. They feature all of the creative parts of me that love color and Joy! They are always having great sales and amazing products! I love this company!
Speaking of evolution, can you tell us about your Bohemian Forest Workshop Event? It sounds incredible!
Yes! It is going to be so Special! My latest project is one I have been planning for 3 years. “Bohemian Enchanted Forest Workshop” is coming up June 23, 2018, in Southeastern Wisconsin. I have been making and painting creative gifts for many hours into the night!
Working together with the famous Artist named Bonnie Lynn Laduha, we are so excited to have a space to make into an magical fantasy Woodland Dream for the day!
Its a workshop that will be so fun with the motivational speaker; Rachel Awes, a wooden angel Fairy Art project (we supply everything!), a Gorgeous salad luncheon, and so much more! With photo booths and fairy costume prizes, its sure going to be a memory for sure! Look for more info on my website: www.VanessaJohanning.com, tickets are still available until the June 18th deadline! Please come and bring a special friend for a super, once in a life time day!
Thank you again Margot for taking the time to chat!! Your writing is mesmerizing, stimulating, and so Fresh! Love all your ways that you jump into Life!
I look forward to all the amazing future adventures these moments have to offer!! Bring it!! We are ready for anything !! ~VKJ