Posted on

Level Best Art Gallery Show

This month I had an art show with Wendy Fransella at Level Best Art Gallery in Colchester.

Colour Form Expression art gallery show Ella Johnston Wendy Fransella

I was really pleased with the show. Level Best Art Gallery is an exquisite space and it was wonderful to see my work and Wendy’s wonderful paintings in such a beautiful setting.


I enjoy working with other artists and have adored Wendy’s work for a while now.

Wendy is a pleasure to work with and I felt there was a meeting of minds as well as a synergy with our art.

Our pieces really spoke to each other at the show. Our love for abstraction and mark-making was evident. While our work is different, I felt there was a harmony in the show and a conversation was being had with the pieces.

Ella Johnston paintings and drawings at the Level best art gallery show
My paintings and drawings at the show


Paintings by Wendy Fransella
Paintings by Wendy Fransella at Level Best Art Gallery.


The work I chose to  display in this show is a deep exploration of mark-making, spontaneity and memory. The pieces are also a record of my interior thoughts and reflections on my own history and the lives of people that have influenced me. With this in mind I thought I’d give you my motivations and thoughts behind the individual pieces in the show.

Musical landscapes and hard remembered conversations

Musical landscapes Ella Johnston
Musical landscapes

My small MUSICAL LANDSCAPES are miniature abstract music scores that reference asemic text and pay homage to the artist Victor Pasmore. 

Half remembered conversations, paint on canvas
Half remembered conversations, paint on canvas

My HALF REMEMBERED CONVERSATIONS paintings further explore asemic mark-making and recall the vague dreams and plans I’ve made on hopeful sunny days.  These pieces also reference  the calligraphic line seen in graffiti and are a reference to my urban upbringing. 

Live generously

Live generously painting Ella Johnston
Live generously

My  large-scale piece,  LIVE GENEROUSLY,  is part of a series of homage paintings that seek to pay tribute to female trailblazers. These women have defied the expectations of their families, society, prevailing narratives and/or authorities to challenge conventional thinking.  The series is a contemplation on the lives of these women.

Live generously painting by Ella Johnston
Live generously painting

The layering of colours and mediums explores the many complexities and contradictions of their lives and the people they knew, as well as the scenes and political landscape that were part of. The pieces also visually reference military fatigues and camouflage, in light of the battles these individuals have fought. 

The bats in the garden over lockdown, Centred in time and We are here now

Ella Johnston Level Best Art Gallery
Ella Johnston Level Best Art Gallery

I explore memory and love in THE BATS IN THE GARDEN OVER LOCKDOWN.  Created in 2023, these pieces evoke a memory of looking out of the window during the pandemic with my partner.  The brush strokes hope to evoke the sense of magic and wonder we had while watching the bats swoop for moths in the dusk. 

The CENTRED IN TIME  and WE ARE HERE NOW now ink on paper pieces are abstract tributes to nature and the mood evoked by a walk along a river, estuary or beach. Whatever the time of year, on any particular day, the meeting of sky, land and water can have a uniquely beautiful quality to it. 

We are here now, ink on paper Ella Johnston
We are here now, ink on paper

These artworks perform as palimpsests, with layer after layer of ink colour being applied to the paper, saturating the surface and merging into another. With hues of navy, pink and black it aims to conjure a sense of the magical quality of the landscape as the day turns into evening.

Rave sounds of the reed warblers and  I can hear the music travel

Ella Johnston Level Best Art Gallery jan 2024
I can hear the music travel and We are here now at Level Best Art Gallery 

My RAVE SOUNDS OF THE REED WARBLERS artwork  is a remembered landscape. I created it using feathers found in Wivenhoe woods and teasels gathered from the Ferry Marsh along with tin-can pens and Japanese calligraphy brushes. I wanted to capture the feeling of looking over the Ferry Marsh and being in the space. It is created purely as a memory rather than a depiction.  The hasty strokes and dynamic layering reflects the changes in movement and sound in the environment. 

Rave sounds of the reed warblers, Ella Johnston
Rave sounds of the reed warblers, Ella Johnston

I CAN HEAR THE MUSIC TRAVEL is another remembered landscape inspired by memories of the Ferry Marsh. I wanted to reflect the drama of environment on a stormy day. The darkness of the skies, the choppiness of the water, the violence of the wind-blown reeds are all evoked here.

Posted on

Wordless text and mark making

Ella Johnston, art and illustration. Photography Nathan Jones

My current work is an exploration of mark making. The marks are a kind of text. Some of the pieces are specifically asemic. They are an exploration of the types of marks I make when writing.

Asemic text, Ella Johnston artist

This is actually very personal. Because of the way I held my pen when I was a kid, I was bullied by a teacher for my writing. Ever since then I’ve been strongly protective over my writing and my mark making. And it’s something that I’ve needed to explore. It’s something that I’ve had to think about from an early age – the marks I was making and how I was making them.

Asemic poem ella johnston

It’s quite a psychological thing for me. I like my writing. People comment on my handwriting. What is ‘my own hand’? What is it to play and experiment with that? Asemic poetry really interests me because it’s about making marks and enjoying these marks without actually writing a text that people can immediately read. But the visual language of handwriting can be found within my own artistic practice. I also once I had my handwriting studied by a graphologist. She noticed all the flourishes and was alarmingly accurate with her analysis. Regardless of what words you write, the marks you make give the game away. I employ all of my handwriting and gestural mark-making in the pieces.

Asemic modernity Ella Johnston


The pieces are definitely wordless texts and there’s a dialogue between the different marks. But they’re also simply about being in the moment when the artwork is created. I might have my reflections or even a particular agenda, and it’s also in some ways a projection of the future, but really it’s simply about the moment, the now, in which the artwork is made. I don’t want to impose my own narrative. The question is just about what it means to make a mark, and to make those marks on the paper.

Water Meditations Sea Glass I, ink on Awagami Factory Bamboo washi paper Ella Johnston

With different papers you get different reactions. I love the experiment of paper. The surface is as important as the ink or the paint. A cheap watercolour paper, made without bleach so it’s greyish in tone, produces a certain effect. Some papers absorb liquid too much, some resist it. A washi inkjet paper and a fine washi rice paper give different results. Some absorb the ink very quickly, some completely blot it. 

Lifeforce poem, Ella Johnston

With a very fine paper, you’ve got to be careful if you want a solid line. You’ve got to be light, like you’re barely touching the paper, because if you apply any kind of pressure or wetness, it’s going to suck it up. It’s really delicate. Or you might use a good quality, heavy paper, and they’re so dense, but they hold colour so well that you’re challenged to be decisive in the marks that you make. On some papers the black ink buckles the paper, it sits and stays shiny on it, raised in relief. Some papers can look so frail against this force of the black. You have to work with that. You’ve got to work with the ink and the paper as equally important components.

Memory of days past, Fraggle, ink on Fabriano UNICA Printmaking Paper

Posted on

Being an artist, some thoughts

art tools. Photography Nathan Jones

 Artists eh? Funny little creatures. Well some are. Some really aren’t. Anyway I was thinking about being an artist and I thought I would share some musings.

Ella Johnston, art and illustration. Photography Nathan Jones

I have no idea why I’m an artist. I don’t know whether it’s a compulsion, a habit or a passion. All I know is that I am more who I am when I’m painting or drawing, when I’m making marks or thinking about marks. 

art tools. Photography Nathan Jones

When I approach each new work, in some ways I don’t have any set thing in mind. I just kind of know I want to get to work on it. I might know I want to work with inks, or paint, or pens. Then, when I’m sat with the paper, canvas, the inks, brushes or pens, I take a bit of time. It’s almost like a sort of meditation. I take a breath, I think about the marks I want to make, and then I start. 

Ella Johnston, artist. Photography Nathan Jones

For me, I want a sense of finding some sort of peace in this chaos, or beauty out of chaos. It has to feel harmonious but have a real sense of visceral life. A lot of that is established in the first layer of black. If that’s wrong, it won’t work. 

Water Meditations Sea Glass II, Ink on Awagami-Factory Bamboo washi paper, Ella Johnston
Water Meditations Sea Glass II, Ink on Awagami-Factory Bamboo washi paper, Ella Johnston


I’m also very conscious of colour and colour density, and of what remains still against the eruption of other shapes and lines. The pieces are all very spontaneous, and yet in some ways not, too. Ink needs to dry before you add colour. One colour needs to dry before you add another. 

Of course, all the colours have connotations. A deep, vibrant red. A grey. A green. A strong, clear blue. There’s a multitude of stories associated them. You can say so much in what tone of grey you use and how it’s placed against something as visceral and solid as a black or a red.

Memory of days past, Indie, ink on Surrey Cartridge Paper, Ella Johnston
Memory of days past, Indie, ink on Surrey Cartridge Paper, Ella Johnston

If you put a red and a yellow together, you may suddenly feel more hopeful or invigorated. Putting orangey pinks, blues and yellows together can feel joyous. Some colours give a sense of opulence. But then I might add colours that relate to mid-century design and the London housing estates I’ve lived in or buildings I’ve worked in. Colour and form can be incredibly autobiographical. There’s a whole psychology of colour.

 Brutalist Asemic III, ink on Fabriano UNICA Printmaking Paper, Ella Johnston
Brutalist Asemic III, ink on Fabriano UNICA Printmaking Paper, Ella Johnston


I have no idea what people see when they see my work, or what they think about it. I’m not in control of it and I’ve no desire to be in control of it. That’s not up to me. It’s none of my business. I wouldn’t be so grand as to think I make any particular kind of impression.

Ella Johnston art studio photography Nathan Jones

That’s why I can’t really offer any practical advice for fellow artists. And there is no real reason for me to make the work I do. There is no practical reason for anybody to make art. But when I see other people’s work that excites me, it gets my brain going. I get all itchy. And so regardless of whether people like my work or what their reaction is, it’s that as an artist, and as a community of artists around the world – musicians or visual artists or dancers or writers – we are a network of people that provide a kind of alternative universe, or a reflection, or an opposition. Our function is to unsettle, to reward, to excite, to question, to spark. And if I’m part of that, then that’s cool with me.