How to decide what to draw

Aug 7, 2023
By Christy Johnson, founder & CEO of United Goods

You recently helped me choose which Minnesota State Fair landmark I'd draw next. My email subscribers and social media followers were asked to decide between a Pronto Pup booth or a Corn Dog stand (Team Pronto Pup was victorious!). It was a really fun way to crowdsource the new State Icon I illustrate annually in the weeks leading up to the Fair.

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When participating in art shows and chatting with fellow makers, one question gets asked time and time again: "How do you decide what State Icons you draw?" With more than 500 mini prints (to date) in my collection, I understand your curiosity!

While I haven't yet drawn a landmark from all 50 states, that's been my goal since I started this work. Currently, 43 states have been covered, plus a few international options (not to mention the TV Show and Movie Prints). So you've gotta know I've not personally seen with my own two eyes all of the signs, statues, buildings, etc., I've illustrated. I wish!

But you're likely curious about the other ways I choose which of the many, many past and present-day landmarks from the United States that will turn into tiny, graphic art:


  1. Pick favorites. When I first started drawing my mini State Icon prints, I sat down and chose some of Minneapolis landmarks that were personal favorites. The very first one I illustrated was the Spoonbridge & Cherry Sculpture. From there, I completed First Avenue, Stone Arch Bridge, the Grain Belt Beer Sign, the Gold Medal Flour Sign, and Foshay Tower. After that, it's a blur—I can't recall what came next! But these were the ones I felt compelled to create from the onset of my idea. As an artist, I find drawing objects I'm interested in makes the process more enjoyable and fulfilling.

  2. Look around. Inspiration is everywhere! I started scanning the landscape every time I drove anywhere or explored a new city or state. I still do this today, especially when traveling. My phone is filled with quick snaps of buildings, signs, statues, and more that I've seen while out and about. When you pay attention, you'll usually discover something that catches your eye.

  3. Welcome suggestions. This is my favorite! I've been all over the Twin Cities and Minnesota in general, since I grew up here, and I do travel a lot around the country. But there's no way I can see (or have seen) it all. That's where you come in. I love it when friends, family, and fans propose ideas on what landmark I could turn into a State Icon. This is the best because oftentimes your ideas are things I've never heard of—or sometimes they're businesses that have been closed for years so I likely wouldn't have stumbled upon them with an online search. If you've ever shared an idea with me at an art show, you've seen my little black notebook that's crammed with ideas from all 50 states. When I have a chance to sit down at my computer to draw, if I don't already have a focus in mind I'll whip out this notebook and scan the pages until a submission grabs my attention. So keep 'em coming!

  4. Experiment with themes. Sometimes the suggestions I receive aren't for U.S. landmarks but instead based on entirely different subject matter. Fans reaching out with thoughts on topical, trendy, and meme-worthy moments have sparked a couple of prints, including my illustration of Bernie Sanders after his iconic, mitten-clad moment at the 2021 Inauguration. And the idea for my TV Show and Movie Prints came from a friend, who hinted and hinted until I finally took the leap. I don't know that I ever would have produced these prints if not for the support of people like you.

  5. Set a goal. This is something I do annually with my State Fair prints. Each year I illustrate a new Minnesota State Fair–themed State Icon, which challenges me to come up with a landmark you'll get excited about. It helps that I typically look to you for input on what you'd like me to create (subscribe to our email list so you won't miss out on these prompts!).

  6. Draw on emotions. I make my art to celebrate the places, people, and memories you cherish. Because of that, the State Icon prints that resonate the most are ones you have deep connections with. So I'll lean on my own feelings when considering what landmarks to illustrate next, or I'll think back to the stories you've told me at events, in emails, or on social media. These are so satisfying to design.

Overall, the most important thing I keep in mind when deciding what to draw next is to have fun. I don't usually worry too much about whether or not others will buy what I create. Instead, I draw things that excite me or that mean a lot to you. It's all an experiment, and I try to learn from my mistakes and listen to you, my fans (aka the people who matter the most).

Tell me: What landmark would you like to become the next State Icon? Comment on this post with your answer! I really wanna know.

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