Traded by the White Sox to the Dodgers last offseason, Johnson was called upon by new manager Dave Roberts last spring and was asked a mundane question.
"He said, 'What do you like to do?' and I said, 'I like to paint,'" recalled Johnson. "So, he says, 'You're making a painting of Maury Wills. That's your assignment.'"
Less than a year later, Johnson is approaching the holidays by working on his two passions. In the morning, he's at Dodger Stadium, refining skills he hopes will put him in the mix at second base in 2017 for the big club. In the afternoon, he's in a studio painting and planning art exhibits he'll hold in conjunction with Skyart.org in Chicago on Jan. 21 and in Los Angeles with the Dodgers Foundation on Jan. 28, events designed to make a difference.
"The shows are to kick back to the community, support emerging artists and create conversation about cultural issues," said Johnson, 26.
Johnson said he got the idea while rehabbing in the winter of 2015 after undergoing knee surgery.
"I lived in River North, and you hear about stuff happening on the South Side, but it has zero effect on you living up North, right?" Johnson said. "So, I was thinking, how can I do something? So I started art. It really kicked off when Dave Roberts brought me up in front of the clubhouse, so I really got into it, I enjoyed it. It was like a release. I kind of figured out what I was good at and what I wasn't good at."
Growing up in Indianapolis, Johnson said he didn't have formal instruction for non-baseball passions like art, piano and guitar.
"There were sports communities for kids, but if the kid is artistic, how does he get into a community like that?" Johnson asked. "I wanted to incorporate giving back. Sky Art enhances the experience for inner-city kids on Chicago's South Side. They produce murals and really, really amazing works of art. I really like art that creates cultural conversation when you look at it."
Johnson said that, like Chicago, Los Angeles has its "pockets and bubbles," convincing him that his artistic outreach initiative could work there, too.
Johnson said his current artwork is a six-foot by five-foot portrait dedicated to legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who just retired after his 67th season in the booth.
"The idea is for somebody that doesn't really know the impact Vin Scully had can look at this piece, and there's a timeline of his career, and it shows a bunch of the historic moments in the world that happened over the course of his career," Johnson said. "I mean, he broadcast games of Jackie Robinson. He was working during the moon landing and Vietnam. It's got a disco ball, Pac-Man, computers, iPhones, September 11th. He broadcasted through all of that. Think about that. His calm, soothing voice through terrible times. Civil rights. He broadcast when we had separate drinking fountains. He saw all of this."
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.