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Holladay Journal

Insects and bugs are ornamental additions to artist’s flora and fauna paintings

Feb 09, 2024 12:00PM ● By Collette Hayes

Illa Johnson enjoys using insects and bugs as ornamental additions to her flora and fauna art. (Photo credit Illa Johnson)

Selected by the Holladay Arts Council as Holladay Artist of the Month, Illa Johnson attributes her artistic success to being surrounded by a family of artists and inspirational art teachers at Cottonwood High School.

Johnson comes from a long line of artistic family members recognized by the community as exemplary artists. As a skilled and highly respected graphic designer, Illa’s mother drew all illustrations by hand without the convenience of modern graphic design software. Johnson’s aunt, Rosie Mitchell, a former school art specialist, also influenced Johnson’s artistic career path. Johnson worked as a paraeducator at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School under the direction of Mitchell. She was instrumental in helping Mitchell integrate art into the kindergarten through sixth-grade core curriculum. However, it was the inspiration of her grandmother’s watercolor art that led Johnson to become a watercolor artist. 

“My grandma was a watercolor artist,” Johnson said. “She is the primary reason I chose the medium of watercolor as my main artistic focus. More importantly, she is why I’m a watercolor artist today.”

Although Johnson studied art at Salt Lake Community College and then moved to California to study fine art at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, her art teachers at Cottonwood High School, John Fackrell and Bill Laurson, are the two educators she looks to for contributing the most to her success as an artist. 

“In high school, I was fortunate to have teachers who were passionate about art,” Johnson said. “John Fackrell and Bill Laurson were two teachers at Cottonwood who broadened my awareness of art and what could be done with art as a teacher or simply as a hobby. Our art class at Cottonwood traveled to New York and Washington, D.C. We saw amazing original artwork. The experience definitely had a huge influence on my becoming a lifelong artist.”

After caring for her mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer, Johnson turned her artistic focus to clay and flower arranging. 

“I took care of my mom for 10 months after she was diagnosed with cancer,” Johnson said.  “After my mom passed, I really started diving into art therapy, getting my hands dirty with ceramic clay. Also, I became a florist. Flower arranging is such a great art form. I worked at the Petal Coop as a volunteer and then as an employee. Using the discarded petals from the Flower Coop, I dried them and then used a mortar and pestle to crush the flowers to make my own paint. I enjoy making paint from the elements of the earth.”

Johnson's art is centered around nature. She enjoys using insects and bugs as ornamental additions to her flora and fauna art. Also, she completes several pet commissions each year.

“I love incorporating insects and bugs into my art,” Johnson said. “But I must admit, dog and cat portraits are the most precious commissions I’m asked to paint.”

Johnson teaches art at the Art Cottage in Gardner’s Village in West Jordan. She teaches a four-week course that walks a beginning artist through the basic principles and elements of drawing, acrylic, watercolor and oil painting.

“It’s great to share a passion and see someone's eyes light up when they receive the same joy or energy you as an artist experience,” Johnson said. “I think teaching is something I’ve always been passionate about. I have all ages in my classes, but my favorite class to teach is teen watercolor. Connecting teaching and art has been so fulfilling.”

Johnson’s artwork will be on display at Holladay City Hall, 4580 S. 2300 East, through February.

If you would like more information about Johnson’s art, visit Instagram@Illacreates

To nominate a Holladay resident for Artist of the Month, visit