Although Sequoyah Johnson moved into his studio a few days before our photoshoot, it brilliantly resembled his colorful aura. Potted wildflowers, ceramic art of all shapes, sizes, and designs, wall art, Polaroid photos, and even a baguette pillow adorned the space. Tasteful R&B music filled the room as we moved from corner to corner, talking about life’s wild journey and the evolution of The Coy collection.
Johnson, a huge fan of target and bagels, is anything but your typical girl. She balances pure honesty with lighthearted dialogue in a way that reassures me. His style is reminiscent of the 90s era, but in unfathomable ways, his ceramic art has a sense of timelessness. As I write this, I’m drinking coffee from a giant, iridescent Cup she did by accident. There’s a random blue dot on the bottom of the piece and her quintessential little yellow smiley on the outside. I feel safe and like a child when I drink.
It’s amazing to witness the rise of The Coy Collection, as I remember sitting next to Johnson on a panel just a couple of years ago. She hadn’t fully committed to her small business and was exploring earrings as her modality. Now, Johnson has built a loyal following, so much so that his mugs sell out within minutes of the collection’s releases. His pieces beautify homes “connecting functional works of art with self-love and care” throughout the country and even in Famous‘homes.
Johnson’s job is not complicated. She leads with two simple elements: pride and joy. It manifested itself so much in our discussion that the words below trickled out of my fingers. I hope you feel it too. If you would like to own one of Johnson’s ceramic art pieces, you can find her and her work at Instagram.
To experience our conversation in audio form, visit The beauty awakens podcast.
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Home, high school and family
Born in Oakland, California, Johnson and her family moved to Oceanside before landing in Texas as a teenager. She describes her style as a kind of hodgepodge, sort of like the dichotomy in her childhood homes. She explains,
“My style is loud. It’s colorful. I am very attracted to colors, lines, textures and shapes. There is absolutely no formula for it. “
Johnson grew up in a home that incited instability and confusion. His father was in the military, which led to him being disconnected from the family for months. He relied on a multitude of groups of friends, studies and exploration at school. And yet, despite her love of people and learning, she felt angry and frustrated with her family dynamics and lack of creativity at home. Those uncomfortable feelings led her to develop an arsenal of skills that helped her cope independently.
I asked Johnson to explain to me how his childhood influences his current job. Growing up, she was forbidden from putting on makeup, painting her nails, or wearing braids – anything that was considered artificial. She would go to stores, buy earrings, deconstruct them, and then select them to match the styles she would wear. Johnson explains why The Coy Collection has been so successful,
“It is an ode to my younger inner self. I think that part of me is the most interesting. My inner child is really thriving at this point in my life. I am only a vehicle to help your voice be heard. The Coy Collection is a tribute to my past. My ceramic art gives my inner child room to create and thrive. “
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How it ended up in the art of ceramics
One of the reasons Johnson sold earrings in the beginning, along with her teaching job, was to fund her art in ceramics. It needed a lot of equipment to raise its production caliber. Having specialized in ceramics in college, he knew the risk. Many detractors doubted the validity of a career in ceramics. Johnson tells me about that experience,
“I was very discouraged. Throughout college, people would refute, ‘How are you going to make money?’ ‘How are you going to be an artist like that?’ Maybe you should try something more lucrative. Initially, I dedicated myself to teaching art for stability. I loved my children, but principles and politics were my kryptonite. “
Johnson has a deep need for experiential processes. Recently, he bought a dozen canvases while considering exploring painting and printmaking as other mediums. She is a chameleon even in her artistic practice. There is nothing calculated in your process. Everything is improvised. Curious about how she got to smiling faces and cow prints, I ask her about her brand identity. She says,
“I don’t draw. I go with the flow and wonder. I don’t think I have a clear brand identity, but I have a style. I wonder fundamental basics: is it brilliant? Is it shiny? Strong? Charming? Those are the factors that guide me in my creation. “
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Embodying trust and saying no
Johnson and I moved on to social validation. In unconventional fields, it can be difficult to embody trust and navigate spaces that attract high-end deals. Johnson has “his stuff together” to a point where he feels like he’s excelling. Although you’ve been approached by big brands and celebrities, you don’t feel like you have to depend on them to be successful. Many of them have hidden agendas, which do not benefit Johnson. I asked him how he filtered customers. She said,
“I am starting to have a more internal dialogue. When people approach me, I ask myself critically, ‘Is this a good fit? I do not care ‘? If it is ‘No and No’ then my answer is obvious. Collaboration is key. I want to work with clients, no by clients to be able to continually invest in me, my creativity and my brand. “
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Summer 2020 and Black Lives Matter
This section of our conversation sparked thoughts about last summer, when our society became concerned about Black Lives Matter, even though the movement began in 2013. Many small, black-owned businesses grew enormously (including mine) after people suddenly and assertively began to support us in new ways. On the one hand, it was satisfying and, on the other, frustrating. While many of our businesses continue to evolve today, the further we get from the summer of 2020, concern for the lives of Blacks, the education of Blacks, and the equity of Blacks begins to wane. It is as if horrible events are needed to arouse interest.
Johnson and I sympathize together as we proliferate our alternative views on the matter. Johnson’s audience on Instagram had sat at 900 followers for two years until last summer, when his account was tagged in a post that shot his audience to more than 20,000 followers. I confirmed that my commitment was higher than ever. Johnson continued,
“The spotlight was extremely counterproductive because it put too much light in too little time. I tagged myself in a post on the last day of May before going to bed. I woke up the next morning with 300 orders for pottery. It was unproductive. I literally went from 0 to 300 … no space … no oven. The growth was much appreciated, but it took a lot of will to make it happen. I know not everyone had the resources or the capacity as the brutality continued and our inboxes were flooded with messages from people we hadn’t heard from in a long time. “
Johnson’s response to unexpected attention, (sometimes) wrong, was smart. She raised her prices
“My mugs started at $ 30. So I asked myself, ‘How can I create a narrative around who are you buying these things? ‘People needed to genuinely support rather than buy too fast to be able to say they supported a black-owned business. That was my answer. I went to college to learn ceramics. I didn’t find my ceramic art on Pinterest. So if you want to have one of my works of art, you have to pay the price. I found that even at higher rates, I kept selling myself. The support felt more authentic, like I was appreciated beyond the color of my skin. “
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Racial identity and smiling faces
Racial identity quickly became a focal point of our conversation. Although Johnson identifies as a black woman, it is not the only trait that identifies her. And if you look at his work without knowing the face behind him, you would not know that he is black.
“… I think that speaks to the transcendence of my work. I have come out of the web of oppression to the point that I am creating things that do not symbolize pain. My work recognizes pain without embodying it completely. The smiling faces, in their hand-drawn imperfection, they are a form of celebration. They are a symbol of smiley face stickers that we don’t often receive. Even if the space is difficult to inhabit, we are still here. And we deserve to be congratulated for that, imperfect and authentically. I don’t know. I think it’s really simple. If you don’t like supporting black work, you don’t have to. Do it for real, without feeling guilty or not at all. “
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Honesty and trust
I did my best to get the smallest details of Johnson’s life, like his favorite book, drink, or preferred way of eating. Their answers were quite straightforward and they said with a giant smile:
“I don’t read, I drink water and the occasional Earl Gray tea because it smells like fruit and I love bagels.”
So we dive into my most pressing question relatively quickly: If you could talk to yourself 10 years ago, what would you say to him?
“I would tell you to trust the answers you have. I used to force discovery, but all I had to do was trust myself, I had the answers. “
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