She writes notes and thoughts on orange peels.

She writes notes and thoughts on orange peels.

Using artwork to express feelings

Story and photos by Laura Brookhart

“One night, I was on the phone with my sister. She was having an awful day, and we both ended up crying about some nonsense drama that, at the time, felt terrible,” Ana-Sky Johnson relates. “We talked for hours, and during that time, I ate a few oranges, and the peels were sitting on my desk just staring at me. When we finally got off the phone, I picked up the peel to destroy it, but instead, I wrote a message on it,” Johnson says.

She says she wanted to watch that message wither and die like the nonsense drama, and that moment set off a switch in her head.

“I started thinking about the significance of oranges throughout history and the uniqueness of the peel. It doesn’t rot like a banana peel; it can be easily torn open without a tool; it’s really a unique fruit,” she explains.

Since then, she has incorporated this idea into her work.

As Helena High School photography teacher, Johnson assigns her students to photograph something every day of the month.

“It is easier for the students to work on a project when they see me working on one as well,” Johnson notes. “They have this idea of what art is supposed to be, and I like to try to break those walls down in their minds.”

So each day in February, Johnson ate an orange, wrote her message and put the peel on the marker tray of the board.

“My students began to get excited about seeing the new oranges go up and would ask me to read the new ones each day,” she says.

On the fifth day, Johnson wrote, “Sometimes I wonder why people don’t wonder more.” And on Day 16, she wrote, “Words are just words sometimes.”

This related to a student project inspired by music group All American Rejects “Dirty Little Secrets.” Each student had to write something meaningful and find an interesting way to photograph themselves with the writing, while attempting to remain anonymous. Class discussion began with what kinds of “secrets” a student might choose and about the weight that words carry.

“I really loved cameras growing up — my dad wouldn’t let me use the camera until I taught myself how to load film — and then I photographed all the plants in the yard, the cats and dogs, everything,” Johnson recalls.

“This was all on film,” she continues. “At the University of Montevallo, I majored in photography, but I really loved mixed media.”

Johnson’s senior show was a series of photographs printed in the darkroom directly on glass. Each one was placed in a hand-built frame and lighted from behind.

After graduating in May 2010, Johnson applied for the grad program at UM and graduated in December 2011. In January of 2012, she began teaching Art Appreciation at Jefferson State, eventually picking up the Photography I & II classes.

“I still teach at evening classes at the Jeff State Clanton campus,” she says. “It’s interesting to contrast how different and yet amazingly the same the students are between high school and college.”