WEST NEWBURY -- The 1980s split - level house -- christened "Bill" by its owners -- sits comfortably on a sun-dappled and silent Friday afternoon. Inside, artist Lisa DeJohn, who named the house with her fiance, Scott Patt, is experiencing a moment of shyness.
Normally, she spends her days working inside "Bill" by herself, listening to Sigur Ros and the Beatles as she paints pictures that look as if they were imported from 1960s Norway, or working on collages made of bits of vintage wallpaper and yellowing notebook pages. Most of her daytime conversations take place with Rufus and Darla, the Chihuahua - mix dogs with questioning eyes who warm up quickly to strangers.
But this afternoon DeJohn, 35, is leafing through a book of her art, showing a portfolio that features some of her favorite projects. There's the line of women's sneakers she designed for Converse, the greeting cards for British stationer Vigo Productions, and, finally, the art that has made her something of a celebrity in the design world: her "Blue Flower" painting, which IKEA turned into a print and is now selling in 237 stores around the globe.
"I'm sorry," she says quietly. "I'm a little nervous. I'm not used to talking about myself so much."
DeJohn, who moved to West Newbury, a town north of Boston, two years ago from Portland, Ore., needs to work on her narcissism. Since launching the print late last year, IKEA has sold 36,000 posters of DeJohn's painting, which found it s way to the Swedish retailer via a British art dealer.
" 'Blue Flower' is one of a series, so maybe they'll be interested in reproducing the rest of the paintings in that series," she says with a grin.
The success of "Blue Flower" has led to other offers, ranging from designing a book cover for Random House to creating bedding designs for children's furniture retailer Land of Nod. At May's Surtex show in New York, where artists sell and license their work to everyone from Hallmark to Target, DeJohn was on autograph duty, signing copies of "Blue Flower" for fans.
"We had an immediate connection to her work," says Jamie LaPorta, merchandising director for Land of Nod. "There's something very nostalgic but also very modern about her art."
DeJohn is part of a new school of artists under 40 who have smartly expanded their offerings from the canvas to the retail shelf. In many cases, these artists are able to license their work to larger companies to pay the bills, but they still have creative freedom to pursue their own art. Her good friend Amy Ruppel, best known for depictions of birds on plywood, is designing Target's in-store holiday displays and products for the 2007 season.
This model of DIY, craft-influenced, art-turned-stylish design was pioneered by Lotta Jansdotter and Maine's Angela Adams, and is now proliferating in places like the online shopping site Etsy.com and locally at event s such as December's Bizarre Bazaar at the Cyclorama and the summertime South End Open Market.
"I'm a big fan of her mixed media pieces," says Brooklyn-based Grace Bonney, who runs the website Design*Sponge and has championed DeJohn's work. "A lot of the current trend toward craft can come off as a little hobby-based -- very Popsicle stick and hot-glue gun. But I think she does it in a very different, sophisticated way. I think she has a great future in front of her as a mixed-media artist and a painter, but I also wouldn't be surprised if her surface-pattern work and textile designs get picked up by mainstream retailers like Target or Bed, Bath, and Beyond for linens or melamine dinnerware."
For DeJohn, her art and her surroundings are inspired by a 1970s childhood and the decor in her parents' Midwestern home. Bill -- "He just looked like a Bill," she explains of her home's name -- is sparsely decorated with Danish-modern furniture and art that was created by the couple and their friends. Patt, global creative director of footwear for Converse, painted the giant, perky, and somewhat menacing squirrel mural that lurks on the chimney breast wall. The living room is warmed with teak furniture and bursts of orange canvas on butterfly chairs. It's all done with humor, she says, which explains the inflatable deer head above the fireplace. The adjacent dining room is filled with windows and sliding doors that lead to a deck.
"The light is always changing here," she says as she gives a tour with Rufus at her heels. "In the fall, it's yellow and warm because of the trees, and in the winter it's incredibly bright, and you can see the Merrimack River. I think that's why we decided to live outside of the city, we missed things like that when we were in Portland."
Downstairs in her work room, she starts pulling rolls of vintage wallpaper out of a barrel, showing off a garish-yet-lovely metallic pattern that would have been right at home in a certain 1970s deluxe apartment in the sky. She finds a set of vintage music flash cards that have served as inspiration for a set of cards that she's currently working on and admires their simplicity.
She confesses that she's never been particularly focused on one area, which is why she divides her time between painting, mixed media, and designing patterns that can be used on textiles, wallpaper, wrapping paper, or greeting cards. She was even uncertain that she would pursue art. Growing up, she was interested in math, science, and physics. In college, she pursued both fine art and photography, eventually settling on art.
Her burst of success occurred rapidly within the past year and a half. She launched her web site shortly after moving to Massachusetts, which led to a blurb on Bonney's Design*Sponge site. Shortly after, she was signed by artist rep Lilla Rogers, which, in turn, led to the IKEA print. DeJohn is still absorbing it all.
"They're actually working it into store displays now," she says of the IKEA "Blue Flower" print. "What's fun is seeing someone with the poster in their shopping cart. It's so crazy to think that my painting is hanging in so many houses in so many countries."
Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com.