August 25, 2023

United Goods (Season 5 Episode 28)

Welcome back to Makers of Minnesota! Today, we have a special guest, Christy Johnson, the creative mind behind United Goods. Christy is a talented artist who shares her passion for illustration and collaboration in her work. Christy’s journey in the art world has been filled with surprises and successes, from her notebook with ideas to her unique artwork that can’t be found in big box stores. Tune in as we delve into her story, from her beginnings in greeting cards and event design to her participation in the Stone Arch Bridge Festival, where she connects with a community of fellow artists. We’ll also explore Christy’s love for drawing people’s houses, pets, and landmarks while maintaining creative control over her prints. Stay tuned for an inspiring conversation with Christy Johnson, the creative force behind United Goods.



Stephanie [00:00:12]:

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the makers of Minnesota Podcast where we talk to cool people doing cool things. And today, I’m talking to Christy Johnson, and her company is called United Goods, and your company is a funny name because it doesn’t sound at all like what it is that you do. Did you ever get that from anyone? I haven’t,

Christy Johnson [00:00:31]:

because it fits more than what it was when first began, which was red shoes 26. Okay. I love this. So,

Stephanie [00:00:39]:

Christy, will you explain how you describe your company? Because you’re an artist, you’re a designer, and I have a couple of your pieces. And I just want I know when you describe it that people listening will know who you are.

Christy Johnson [00:00:53]:

So I make, what I call state icons. They’re little, framed illustrations that focus on the US landmarks. So I draw anything from the really well known to the quirky ones that only the locals would know.

Stephanie [00:01:10]:

So, like, the Corn Palace.

Christy Johnson [00:01:13]:

Right. That’s one. I have that one. Yep. First Avenue, you know, Paul and Babe and then some dive bars and things that have been closed for years that people miss. So they like to, you know, have that little reminisce moment when they see it hanging in there. Yes. I think I have the Monte Carlo.

Stephanie [00:01:33]:

That’s on my dad’s dresser. And he has since passed, but his wife keeps it on the dresser because that’s where they met. we have First Avenue that someone gave me as a gift. You’re just you really capture with your illustrations, the essence of a lot of these places. How did you get started originally?

Christy Johnson [00:01:54]:

I worked for a while at Minneapolis St. Paul magazine.

Stephanie [00:01:57]:

Oh, you did? I did I meet you there? I don’t think so.

Christy Johnson [00:02:02]:

in special sections. So I did, writing and editing for the, advertising sections. And a coworker of mine, hired me to do her wedding invitations because I used to do a lot of that kind of thing. And, then after I left, she reached out to see if I could draw some they’re, called they’re little table cards, like escort cards, They were doing teacher in the wedding issue of the magazine. And I said I had never done them, but I would dream up with some concepts and send her ideas. So, I came up with this couple getting married in Minneapolis, and they were gonna have a Minneapolis themed wedding. So I drew these teeny little illustrations of spoon, bridge, and cherry, and the Fauci, and things like that. And I just really love drawing them, so I just kept doing it even after that hit the newsstands and everything.

Stephanie [00:02:56]:

So how long have you had this business?

Christy Johnson [00:03:00]:

It’ll be 20 years in October. Wow.

Stephanie [00:03:04]:

And did you ever think, like, when you started doing illustration that this would be, like, a business versus just like a hobby?

Christy Johnson [00:03:13]:

No. I was doing greeting cards And like I said, a lot of the event and wedding stationery, so that was kind of the track I was rolling down and enjoying it lot of logos and branding and stuff too. So I was just sort of doing that as my main gig and then the illustration stuff on the side. And I said, I would never ever do art shows because that seemed like so much work, but I had a bunch of friends that did them. So I thought I’ll just try one and see how it goes. And I did them for, well, I still do pop ups and things like that. But so, yeah, it snowballs. Yeah. And they became a business because people like them, I like drawing them, and it just kept growing and growing. I was doing art shows in other states, so then I would draw things from those states. And it throughout of Minnesota to be all US?

Stephanie [00:04:02]:

Yes. So you start with an illustration, and then do you make multiples. How do you tell me about your process?

Christy Johnson [00:04:11]:

Yeah. I draw everything with a mouse. So their digital illustration to begin with. And I actually draw them at the small size that they’re printed, the finished product. I’ve always drawn really small ever since I was a little kid. So that was just sort of natural. And, so, yeah, I draw them with a mouse on the computer and then I print them from my home studio. I, like, have the control of the colors and everything. And then my parents make the little wood frames for them. So they think so, you know, and I collect them from them in shoe boxes. That’s how we transfer the product back and forth. And then I, so I put my little prints in the frames, and then they’re complete. How did that process of them making the frames begin? Well, I went to a big box store when first started because I was like, there’s no way I’m gonna find frames for this small print. So I thought I was gonna have to make them bigger, but I did find a little frame that I liked, but then as it grew, the business kind of grew the that store couldn’t keep up with me. I was driving around all over the twin cities trying to buy all the frames that they had on the store shelves. So I was frustrated by that and mentioned it to my dad who was just a part time for fun woodworker, and he was a electrical engineer by trade. And so he said, I’ll try to make them for you, and it took off from there. They’re still making them for me. My dad retired from his job.

Stephanie [00:05:43]:

like, 10 years ago now, but, I keep him very, very busy, and my mom hand paints every single one. Okay. I love this. So in their retirement, it’s given them, like, something to stay active. And, I mean, that’s so important. Right?

Christy Johnson [00:05:59]:

Sure. Yeah. Most things they like it. Most some things they don’t.

Stephanie [00:06:04]:

Yeah. And plus communication with their daughter and helping her seed. That’s so sweet. I love that part of your story.

Christy Johnson [00:06:10]:

It’s so it’s important to me that everything is handmade. I always wanted that, but I just thought I would never ever find anybody to make them. So good old dad. Yeah. Now do you ever beer from

Stephanie [00:06:24]:

landmarks into, like, I don’t know, pets or other types of illustrations?

Christy Johnson [00:06:30]:

Yeah. I have done that over the years and only just recently started kind of advertising that I do it. so I’ll draw people’s houses. I really like doing that. And then pets have been something I’ve been doing. it’s expanded a little bit into, like, I did a TV show landmark series last year and then a few movie landmarks. So that’s something I might continue to do. And then every once in a while, I do something just that I want to draw pop culture, maybe, like, Bernie Sanders at the inauguration

Stephanie [00:07:04]:

and things like that. Yeah. And sitting in the chair with the mitten

Christy Johnson [00:07:08]:

looking miserable. Yeah.

Stephanie [00:07:11]:

Yeah. I love all that, and that’s I think part of what makes your stuff so unique. too is there’s amongst all of your landmarks. There’s always like a little bit of a wink and a nod and a little bit of humor in some of it, which I really appreciate.

Christy Johnson [00:07:24]:

Yeah. I have people at shows say, oh, these are so cute. Oh, maybe I shouldn’t say that. And I say, no. They’re cute. It’s fine. Yeah.

Stephanie [00:07:32]:

And it’s also one of the things that I liked about it. It’s an entry point price point. like it’s not super expensive. So I think people get really wound up. First of all, one of the things I like to do, and this is a weird thing about me, but I like to walk around at night and look in people’s windows. Now, I don’t like to walk right up to their window and people, Thomas, but when I’m walking, I just like, look, and I like when people have lights on, I like to see, like, there are decorations, and I’m always stunned that people don’t have more art on their walls. They’re very, They might have photographs, but they real very few people have art, which I’m all about the art. Yeah. So I like the you’re giving people an entry point that maybe feels accessible to them.

Christy Johnson [00:08:17]:

Yeah. It’s the small size makes them fit just about anywhere too. So you don’t have to commit to hanging it on the wall. Either you can just set it on a desk or a bookshelf or something. just have that little reminder of a place that you love or a funny story from your past or something. So, yeah, they’re kind of a little gateway drug to figure art.

Stephanie [00:08:39]:

Now that this is a business, is it different? Because I feel like for me, you know, cooking and food has started as a hobby, and now that’s becoming a business for me. And it feels different. Does it feel different for you?

Christy Johnson [00:08:56]:

I think I still have so much, creative freedom with what I’m drawing. I get requests a lot. I have a notebook that’s filled with ideas from shows that I do still go through and, check something off if I’ve drawn it. But I do have so much freedom still that it doesn’t really feel too much of a a job but there are some days when I’m doing, like, the business y stuff. Or if I’ve got to prep a hundred frames for an art show that weekend or something, then it kind of gets a little more sluggish, but for the most part, I still feels like fun. Now United goods, you your your first name was 2 red shoes, did you say? It was red shoes 26. It was my, nickname in college. I played softball in college, and I wore red cleats, so they called me red shoes. and my Jersey number for many, many, many years is 26. So I just crammed them together. Yep. It weird name, but eventually I thought Well, I have this United States connection. I like collaborating with people, so uniting. In that way, because I’ve made a few products with other, small businesses, which has been fun and something I really like to do. and then the goods just sort of kept it open in case things expanded. So since it’s digital, I can print on so many different things. So that’s where that name came from.

Stephanie [00:10:20]:

Okay. because tell me about a collaboration that you liked. You mentioned you’ve done some. Yeah. I’m,

Christy Johnson [00:10:26]:

with a woman who lives in Chanhassen, she does pet memorial candles. She is Nellie Goods. Nellie Designs. Nellie’s studio. Oh my gosh. I I’m she’s gonna kill me. I’m just screwing up the name. so we collaborated on a Paul and babe candle. so we’d sold those for many years, and I just sort of phase those out, probably right before the pandemic, I think. And I sold my very last one that I still had laying around at the at Arta World.

Stephanie [00:11:00]:

Oh, wow. And on your website, I’m imagining that you have all these items Is do you maintain your own website or for small businesses that can be a real challenge? So how does that work for you?

Christy Johnson [00:11:13]:

Yeah. I do control my own website at Shopify, so it’s pretty easy plug and play even for somebody who’s not super techie. so I update it as much as I can with where I’m going to be and new items that I have. It kinda acts as my catalog if people wanna see Since I have over 500 illustrations, it’s kind of a good place I can just send them.

Stephanie [00:11:37]:

Was there any that you’ve drawn that really resonated with people that you were surprised by? Let

Christy Johnson [00:11:44]:

me think. Yeah. I have had a few over the years that have surprised me a little bit. I did one that comes right to mind was I did a contest at a show 1 year where could put an idea in a drawing, and I would pick it and draw it. And, it was the arches at Saint Thomas. There’s this little archway that’s known as a place where you, like, have a first kiss or something like that kissing under the art. So I drew that one, for her and just put it on the website just to see if anybody else would like it. And, yeah, that one has been more popular than I thought. And the terrorist chairs at the mat at Madison, University of Wisconsin Madison. I’d never heard of them. A friend suggested that I draw them, and that one is one of my top 5 most popular. Terrace chairs. Yeah. They’re these really cool iconic metal chairs that are out on this, bar seating area by the water. And anybody who went to school there is just in love with these chairs. So that’s been really fun. Oh, that’s funny. My sister went there, so I’ll have to ask her about that. I’m sure she knows about the chairs. Yeah. And just how, like, people see art in the regular every day is something that appeals to me. Yeah. And that’s what I like about what I’m doing. You know, you can find a print of the Eiffel Tower, you know, just about any big box store, but where are you gonna find one of Matt’s bar? Yeah. Exactly.

Stephanie [00:13:14]:

you do any food illustrations?

Christy Johnson [00:13:16]:

I have done a few, things like that. Yeah. That’s something that would be really fun me. Anything I can draw small I wanna do? Yeah. That’s so great. Well, maybe I’ll think of something for you and we’ll collaborate because it sounds like,

Stephanie [00:13:30]:

super fun And I just love I just love art. Like I just came off. I work on the Stone Arch Bridge Festival, and we just came off of that. It was yesterday. It was the last day. And There’s just something so heart filling about being amongst a community of artists that are working so hard putting their blood, sweat, and tears into these pieces coming outside, setting up these tents braving the elements, the weather, the people. And you know, then the people walking through and looking for different pieces and It just really makes my heart full that that still happens in a place like Minneapolis where it’s a big city. It’s hard to put a festival on that attracts a hundred thousand people in the middle of a functioning city, but yet it does and it happens and everybody has a great experience, and then they go home. And it’s just so weird that all of that happens in a span of like 4 days. And then when it’s all done, you can’t even tell that it happened.

Christy Johnson [00:14:30]:

They’re wild, well oiled machines. The shows done in Minnesota are so seamless. All the volunteers that help out are so good. Yeah. I like doing all of those shows,

Stephanie [00:14:44]:

on that side of it, just seeing the well oiled machine and all the pieces coming together. Yeah. It’s cool. Yeah. And it’s just fun for people to be exposed to art and my sister bought something this weekend, and I don’t think of my sister as an arp buyer. So when she came and showed me this thing that she bought, that really spoke to her and I could see why one that she held it up. I was just like, oh, this is so great.

Christy Johnson [00:15:08]:

Yeah. Introducing her to something she maybe didn’t even know she liked. Yes. Exactly.

Stephanie [00:15:14]:

Well, Christy, it’s great to talk with you. The company is United Goods. You can find her iconic art on her website. Unitedgoodsusa.com is where you can find her art. You can also find her on Instagram, she’s a great follow. I’ve enjoyed following you and seeing what you’re working on and seeing the picture of your dad on Father’s Day was cute too. Who makes your frames? I loved it. Thank you. He’s adorable. Yeah. He really is. So thanks for being on the program, and good luck. Thank you so much, Stephanie. Okay. We’ll talk soon. Bye bye.