Meet Your Merchant: Lover of color shares her art with two brushes

Jenny Luna
Special to the Bonanza
Hairstylist and salon owner Monika Johnson blends her love for the outdoors with her hobby of painting.
Courtesy Monika Piper Johnson |

More Info

What: m studio

Location: 774 Mays Blvd., Ste. No. 14

Phone: 775-831-1877


INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — “It isn’t who I am,” said business owner Monika Piper Johnson. “It’s what I do.”

After years of defining herself by her work, Monika has found a new passion that allows her explore her identity in other ways.

“Who I am is a creative, hard-working person that could do anything,” she said. “When you say, ‘I am a salon owner’— it’s like the salon owns you.”

No,” Monika said. “I own a salon.”

“There are a lot of skills that translate, like working with our hands, brushes, color, texture and shape.”
Monika Johnson

The fiery redhead’s identity once did revolve around her salon, m studio, in Incline Village.

With a growing clientele and a second location, Monika said her life had become all about work.

“I used to go home, think about work, think about the business,” she said. “I had too much wrapped up in my business, in myself.”

By spending time outdoors with her dog Moxie and exploring new creative options, Monika has changed a life she described as hectic and stressed, to one filled with passion.

“If my brain can have a break, a few hours off, then when I am at work, I am more focused,” she said.


A few years ago, Monika’s client introduced her to “en plein air” painting.

Monika’s love for the outdoors and her artistic eye came together. Now m studio has become somewhat of an art gallery and displays more than 100 of its owner’s landscape paintings.

Plein air is a style made known by impressionists like Monet and Renior. The act of painting takes place outdoors, using natural light to create a landscape.

Monika said she spends many afternoons unwinding with her easel, her paints and her pup.

“I paint outside in the natural environment, and that encourages me to capture the moment quickly,” Monika said.

“The light changes, the shadows move, the temperature changes or the wind comes up, so I’m forced to carpe diem,” she said. “If I try to go back, another day to the same spot, it’s just never the same.”


M studio is her main job, but as Monika keeps painting, more opportunities in art present themselves.

At a recent plein air festival in Jackson Hole, Monika won a ribbon and second place. She said the prize is “if anything, something fun to talk about with clients.”

Monika was a part of this year’s North Lake Tahoe Art Tour, and she has paintings at St. Mary’s Arts Center in Virginia City, North Tahoe Arts Center in Tahoe City and in galleries in Markleeville and Carson City.

“To watch yourself improve and grow at something is uplifting and exciting,” Monika said.

M studio’s receptionist, Greta Waller, describes Monika as “a smart and savvy business lady,” saying that she “does it all.”

“She’s such a creative person in general and she’s so talented,” Greta said.


Monika defines herself as a lover of color. The artist is half painter, half hair stylist, and her love for color comes out both on the canvas and as a stylist.

“There are a lot of skills that translate,” Monika said. “Working with our hands, brushes, color, texture and shape.”

Monika studied art in college and was drawn to hair by the color, the way she could play with mixing dyes and using brushes, watching hues transform on her clients just as they did on the canvas.

“My favorite thing about hair is color,” she said. “I started painting hair, mixing colors came easily to me.”


Monika has been styling hair for more than 25 years and plans to continue.

Her hobby for painting may soon be her second calling, but she said she’s not relying on the income from her art.

“If it doesn’t sell or doesn’t come our well, at least I had a relaxing afternoon in a beautiful spot,” she said.

Monika still paints because she loves it, because of the creative process, because she believes “once you’re focused on outcome, product and results, the painting doesn’t turn out well.”

To learn more about plein air workshops taught by Monika or more information about her art, visit

Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at

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