Johan David Fridlund, Color Pencil Artist & Musician
How did you get started working in your craft?
I was 16 when my mother more or less forced me to apply to an art school in the small town we lived in, in southern Sweden. I was sick and tired of school, but didn't know any alternatives. My mom, who was always creative, certainly knew what she did when she pushed me to apply. I think it saved my life in many ways.
What was your professional journey before practicing art?
Apart from all kinds of boring day jobs, such as custodian, stage builder, mailman and city worker, I was also a musician. After five years in art school, I started writing songs to deal with my mother's suicide. I was 23 when she ended her life, and writing songs about it was my way of dealing with it and healing. I started a band named David & the Citizens and we recorded three albums together (I have also released two solo albums under my own name). Almost all those songs dealt with her passing in one way or another. We gained a large following of fans, and I think the band became so popular because the songs were so very sincere and straight from the heart. We did a lot of shows, toured, and had loads of raving reviews, even earning a Grammy nomination in 2004. The band split up in 2007, but I still get emails and messages from people telling me how much my songs mean to them, how it helped them get through a tough passage in life, and that is incredibly rewarding!
What do your days typically look like?
Since I work 40 hours/week at Whole Foods, I try to squeeze in a little bit of drawing when I can. If I work a closing shift, I try to get up around 7:00 AM to get a couple of hours of work in on whatever drawing I'm working on. If I work a morning or midday shift, it's hard to do any drawing at all. That is part of why my drawings take a long time to finish, but also because they have a lot of detail in them. My wife has a chronic illness and has not been able to work for almost seven years now, and was recently kicked off of Medicaid, so I try to do extra work on the side, like pulling weeds and stuff like that so we can get a few more bucks in for bills and food...
What makes your pieces special?
I think my work balances on an edge between very traditional and somewhat odd. I thought about this not that long ago; it's like my drawings would be extremely mainstream and maybe a little boring, if the motives where more traditional, but I don't typically draw mainstream things… I've always preferred the odd, the hidden, the ugly and overlooked. There's a lot of beauty in ugly things and places and that has always been very appealing to me. I think of my art more as documentation of my surroundings than some grand art project, if you know what I mean? When we lived in Austin, Texas, I did a series of drawings from construction sites and houses being torn down, as a way of remembering what used to be. It's amazing how fast we forget things -- maybe art is meant to help us remember.
What is your future vision for your business?
I wish every day that I could focus more on my art and music and not have to work a day job, at least not 40 hours/week. I have visions, but for the time being, they're kind of set aside by the urgency of trying to get my wife better. It has come to dominate both our lives for several years, and sometimes it's hard to set up bold goals because of it all. I'd like to be able to make a bunch of prints, for example, and sell at markets and stores. I am 100% certain that people would like my drawings, but I can never afford to print anything, so everything is kind of put on hold for the time being. In the meantime, I am working away on my drawings and building a strong collection of work.
What's your favorite thing about your work?
Drawing is my meditation. When everything else in life is chaotic and uncertain, working on a drawing is the one place where I am in control completely. It is very relaxing and an awesome feeling to see an image come to life.
What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Finding the time to actually do it!
Who do you go to for professional advice, and what's the best advice they've given you?
I don't really know many people, but I have a friend named Jonathan Keeton, who is a wonderfully talented painter, and he has helped me and my wife both with getting things set up for shows we've had. He's been a great resource and help!
What advice can you give to budding creatives and entrepreneurs in Santa Fe?
If you are creative, you just have to keep working, doing your thing, and never give up. Never think that you're not good enough just because you're not picked up by a gallery or not getting the feedback you'd like on social media and so on. True creatives will keep working whatever life throws at them!
When and why did you decide to move to Santa Fe?
My wife and I came to Santa Fe three years ago. We moved to Austin from Sweden on July 27, 2009 to start a new life from scratch...we came with no jobs waiting, no friends, nothing decided, just the dream of a better life, a couple of suitcases and our 13 year old cat. We worked hard at starting over, and then just a few years later, Austin became so expensive and traffic was just getting worse. So, we decided on Santa Fe to get away from the big city and be close to nature.
What makes Santa Fe special to you? What is/are your favorite thing(s) about this place?
There's just something magical about this place. It took me a while to realize that, though. In fact; it all dawned on me early this year. In November 2018, my wife fell and broke her wrist. In December she fell and broke the other wrist, shortly thereafter our current landlord gave us notice, and we had to find a place to live. We looked for weeks and months, but were not able to find anything in Santa Fe that we could afford, so we were forced to move to Albuquerque. I was still working here, and every time I'd come up the hill, driving towards Santa Fe on I-25, I felt this deep warmth in my chest, just a strong sense of belonging here. I haven't really felt that anywhere else. It's hard to put your finger on it, but there is magic around here, in the hills and the landscape, no doubt about it! After two months in Albuquerque, we found a place in SF and moved back! I moved our entire household by myself since my dear wife was still recovering from her broken wrists, but I didn't care - I was just happy to be back!
If you could change one thing about Santa Fe, what would it be?
I hope that Santa Fe is smarter than Austin, a city that chose profit over people. To move forward without losing direction, there has to be a change in a lot of things. People have to get a decent pay, rent has to be affordable, and healthcare has to be affordable. Amazing art is often born out of extreme struggle, but it would be nice if it didn't have to be that way. I always find it interesting that we measure lost civilizations in terms of the level of the art produced in those cultures, and yet there seems to never be any funds for encouraging artists and creatives in our modern day society...
What are you passionate about outside of your craft?
Honestly - art and music really are my two favorite things! But like I mentioned, I love to travel and see new places. I love doing hikes with our dogs and I dream of hiking the PCT, the Continental Divide, or the Appalachian Trail. I'd love to buy a camper van, drive across this amazing country, and just take in the beauty and the grandness of this nation. As a Swede living here, I guess I have another perspective on things. And even though my wife and I have struggled tremendously over the past ten years, there's nowhere else I'd rather be.
At the end of the day, why do you do what you do?
I'm too dumb to quit, haha! No, seriously, I just love working on my art, just like I love writing songs. I think being creative isn't even a choice -- if you have it, you have it. It's just a part of your DNA, and not being creative in some way is not an option. When life seems too overwhelming, that creative space is a refuge, a safe place if you will. It's a place that you control, a place that allows you to pause and get energized. My creativity is what helped me get through my mother's suicide, and it is more than a hobby. But, it can be a blessing and a curse at the same time, I've wished many times that I didn't have the urge and the longing to be creative, it would be nice to turn off sometimes too… but I'm not sure it's up to me to decide.