Rhonda Johnson has had art in her blood as long as she can remember.
“I’ve been doing art, like all of my life,” said Johnson. “As a little kid, I’d save up my money and buy little art kits.”
As a teenager, Johnson spent a lot of time at the public library while her mother worked downtown.
“I pretty much lived at the library as a teenager,” said Johnson. “I might have checked out every single art book that’s there.”
Johnson got some practical experience in the 1990s working for a company that produced tie-dye clothing in bulk for wholesale.
“From nine in the morning until about four in the afternoon just making tie-dye, Monday through Friday,” said Johnson. “I got really good at that.”
After a brief career as a veterinary tech, motherhood caused Johnson to step away from her day job. She started making clothes, carriers and cloth diapers for her son. Soon, requests started coming in from friends for her original creations. The requests began to snowball, and a slowly but surely, a business venture was born.
Johnson is now the owner of J Tribe Creations, and she is able to share the fruits of her years of self-teaching and dabbling in various art forms with customers near and far. Her business moniker gives a nod to both her last name and her Native American heritage, and the word “Creations” was added to best reflect the broad array of artwork she sells.
“I didn’t want to get niched into just tie-dye,” said Johnson.
In addition to selling tie-dye shirts, dresses, skirts and more, Johnson offers a diverse inventory of artwork including acrylic paintings, woodburning using locally sourced wood, macrame, dream catchers, wire wrapping, jewelry and much more.
“I make a lot of stuff,” said Johnson.
One particular technique Johnson uses is batik, a style of art she taught herself using a book from the public library. The batik process involves using wax and dyes to create original artwork on fabric.
“I use special tools with metal tips that have a little funnel to allow melted wax to come out of it. So, I literally use it like a pen to draw with,” explained Johnson. “You have to work pretty fast because the wax cools off.”
As the design is drawn, the wax penetrates the fabric and creates a barrier through which dye cannot pass. Solid color dyes or tie-dye are then applied to the remaining areas, and the wax is boiled out of the fabric, leaving behind the original design. The fabric is then washed to remove any excess dye before it is ready to sell and wear.
Johnson also likes to create using resin art. Tea light holders, paper weights and jewelry are some of the products she creates with resin.
Over the last year, Johnson has invested in additional equipment to allow her to expand the types of merchandise she can sell. Her most recent acquisition is a sublimation printer that allows her to take her original drawings and designs and put them onto items such as koozies, mugs and earrings. Johnson says that having some smaller merchandise offerings allows her to take more items with her to sell at in-person events.
J Tribe Creations reaches customers both through in-person sales at festivals and online via Johnson’s Etsy shop. The Etsy shop, along with both the Facebook and Instagram pages for J Tribe Creations, can be reached through Johnson’s business website.
While Johnson appreciates both sales avenues, in the past she has relied heavily on the spring and fall festival circuit to drive sales. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last spring, however, forced her to get creative in reaching customers.
“We were, last year, actually at a festival the weekend of the shutdown,” said Johnson. “By the end of the night, a lot of the other vendors that were around me were already getting calls that their next weekend events were getting cancelled.”
With a lack of in-person events in 2020, artists began to flood the online market. Johnson knew she would have to find a way to stand out and began relying heavily on custom orders to allow her business to continue despite the challenges of the pandemic.
“That’s really what kept us floating last year,” said Johnson.
Johnson enjoys seeing where the orders come in from, sometimes from places as far away as Alaska and Hawaii. She considers it a personal win to see orders come in from places like California where locally sourced art and tie-dye options abound.
“I’m just like, ‘Yea, they like my east coast tie-dye,’” laughed Johnson.
Despite the online success, Johnson is eager for the return of festivals later this year, including Deep Roots Festival in Milledgeville. She says she has gone into “production mode” for the summer to ensure she will have plenty of merchandise ready for fall festivals.
In the meantime, Johnson says she is never without a small legal pad. Since she never knows where and when inspiration will hit, she knows she needs to write things down in the moment so she can continue creating.
“I’m really not happy unless I’m making things,” said Johnson.