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Meet Johanna Hibbs, owner and designer of JoHa Designs, modern bohemian-inspired handmade upcycled paper jewelry.  Johanna shares her inspirational journey of how coping with depression lead to her discovery of art therapy and eventually to her full-time passion of eco-friendly jewelry design. 

NATURAWL:  Can you give us a little backstory on your business?  How and when did the idea for JoHa Designs originate and where did the concept come from?

Johanna:  The origin of JoHa Designs is a bit complex as I have always gravitated towards paper collage/mixed media/upcycled art since I was in high school.  However, the actual push into using old book paper to roll beads happened around 2009 after I was hospitalized for a severe depressive episode and needed to find a craft that I could lose myself in but not spend a lot of money on materials.  Having collected so many large color-filled books from my days as an Art History major, the idea to roll them into beads happened rather smoothly after I did a little research on paper crafts.

For the next eight years, I used the repetitive nature of rolling beads to help me escape my own thoughts and negativity that I battled every day.

The actual business and jewelry design end was something of a side project/experiment since I had so many freaking beads.  I really only made stuff for my family and close friends for a while and I even had to get my ears pierced a few years ago so I could gain better insight for what worked.

However, when my partner lost their income suddenly a couple of summers ago, I decided that I wanted to at least try selling my stuff at the local farmer markets because the only alternative was losing our apartment and moving back to NJ.

Needless to say, I am very happy that I took the leap of faith because I am now growing my business into something I am truly proud of and am evolving constantly as an artist.  As for my depression/anxiety, I still struggle from time to time but my work with therapy, both craft and clinical, over the years and my laser focus on my business keep me grounded for the most part.

NATURAWL:  Tell us about your first farmers' market experience.  Were your perspective customers surprised that your pieces are actually produced from paper?

Johanna:  A few months prior to the farmers' market season, my very first show was in the old Stafford Tavern in town (Stafford Springs, CT).  I was actually piggy-backing on my boss, who was asked to be a vender.  Once I set out the notoriously funky blanket I use and set up the lampshades (which the earrings are displayed from), people started heading over. Then when I began explaining what they were and how I created the beads, they were even more intrigued! I will admit that it is a huge selling point… both the handmade/unique aspect and the upcycled angle.

NATURAWL:  I own a couple of your pieces which I love and wear quite often. I may or may not be guilty of accidentally wearing them in the shower a time or two, surprisingly no damage was done. Can you tell us about the paper bead making process and how you are able to make them so durable?

Johanna:  Haha!  So, I tell people my stuff is generally water resistant but not water proof. This means you can do the occasional shower jump (I've done this!) or get caught in the rain but I would encourage as little of this type of exposure as it can wear on the glaze... Speaking of glaze! I apply two *separate* thick coats of a professional quality glaze. I emphasize the word "separate" because it's the extra layer and time that make my beads so shiny and loved!

As for the rolling process, I tell people I started like anyone else... Watching YouTube videos and reading blogs of other beaders. I definitely developed my own unique methods and habits that I'm sure are not what other paper beadists do and that's totally fine! I have several "rollers" which anyone can find online and I free hand cut all my strips which is definitely hard work and took years of practice to know how to cut the paper by eye and have it come out certain ways.

NATURAWL:  Every artist has their own methods for keeping their creative juices flowing.  Which methods do you use?

Johanna:  More recently, I've been really loving finding glass to accompany my pieces which keeps me excited about discovering new color combinations, textures, lengths... Also, just getting out there and meeting new clients and hearing them react excites me as an artist!                                                                                                                         
NATURAWL:  Who and what inspires your pieces?
Johanna:  Oh my gosh!  I have thought about my influences and they are a mix from my childhood and art history days:  Weird TV from the 80's/90's (Fraggle Rock, Pee Wee Herman, all bright/fun cartoons), Dr. Seuss.  Artists that inspire me;  Picasso, Cezanne, Basquiat, Color Field artists, Modern Art, Post-Impressionists (Van Gogh, Gaugain).  There are more, I'm sure!
NATURAWL:  Speaking of Basquiat, one of his paintings recently sold for nearly 111 million dollars, setting an auction record for an American artist!
Johanna:  I think I saw that!!!  What a crazy world!
NATURAWL:  I notice that you use a lot of Dali in your pieces.  Has he been an influence for you, as well?             
Johanna:  Yes, I love Dali but mostly the person and strange figure he was!!  His colors are amazing on beads!   
NATURAWL: Yes, very interesting individual. So, tell us, what's in store for JoHa Designs. What can we expect in the near future?                  
Johanna:  So, the hope is to continue to grow the brand online/wholesale so I can do fewer shows and focus on experimenting/growing my craft.  I am definitely not stuck on just paper beads as I have a background in mixed media/collage but, the way my schedule is, I don’t have a ton of time for new types of work. I have actually been slowly shedding/retiring old designs I used to do because it’s just not possible to create them nor is it worth the time it takes. I tend to admire designers who micro-focus within a field of design because they become experts at that craft and I find that so cool! If I could focus mostly on earring designs, I’d be a happy camper!  Wholesale is the dream!  Consignment is a nice runner-up.     
NATURAWL:  Johanna, you are a true testament to the benefits of art therapy.  Thank you for sharing your creations with us!  It's been a pleasure getting to know you.
Johanna holds both an undergraduate degree in Art History and a Master in Humanities from Arcadia University. She resides in Connecticut with her partner and two cats.  You can explore JoHa Designs here. 


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