Nathan Johnson is an Art Director and Designer with over 15 years experience in Design. With hand drawn type and his curation of words, Nathan has carved a signature style through imperfect perfection – that many designers strive to emulate but never quite succeed. His work is as unique as he is. Unpredictable and genuine.
You may recognise Nathan from his popular art prints and stationery brand Blacklist, that he shares with his partner Jaynie Johnson. When you meet this pair you can’t help but bare witness to an incredible bond, that showcases itself in love struck words throughout Nathan’s artwork. This genuine affection continues onto Nathan’s clock. In classic black and white, emblazoned with lyrics from The Cure’s Long Song. It’s electric pace and unrehearsed treatment is everything I love about Nathan’s work and have no doubt you will to.
When did you realise you were creative?
I think I’ve always felt creative and always loved to create things ever since I was young. I remember cutting out craft with my mum when I was like 6 years old and cutting out colours from a magazine, that’s a pretty early memory of feeling like I wanted to create and loved doing craft-based projects.
Can you describe the feeling that you get when you’re creating?
I think for me when I create something or when I’m being creative, it’s just a natural output of who I am. I think over the years that’s developed from working in a really corporate environment and now kind of controlling my own artwork. It’s always been this natural expression of who I feel like I am and what I need to do with life.
Where do you draw inspiration?
Inspiration comes from probably, first and foremost, the ocean and living close to the ocean’s a pretty big inspiration for us. I love to look at things that are more natural and I think that relates back to my artwork with lines being not so neat and words being pretty messy. That relates back to nature and the unpredictability of the way the ocean is and the way nature is.
How do you start a new piece?
Starting a new piece, I think it’s just something that appears in my mind and then I have to get onto paper. That’s probably the easiest way to describe it. I often will see the finished piece and then just have to be able to create it, whether that’s on the computer or with paints.
What’s the most important part of your creative process?
I think my process from start to finish is always a very natural process. It’s not something that I think about too much and dwell upon. It’s just like a natural reaction to what I need to create or what needs to happen on the paper.
How do you know when your work is finished?
I don’t think you ever know that it’s finished. I think that when you have a deadline and you need to deliver it, then it’s finished.
Do you prefer working to deadlines?
Yeah, I think to work to deadlines is something that drives me in a sense that there’s always this end result and something always needs to be finished by a certain date. Not just a creative person, but I think something that pushes you and makes you grow as an artist is deadlines. You’re just forced to finish your work and then start a new one and then finish that and start a new one. There’s always this cycle of work, starting and finishing. I think that’s important.
You have a very signature style. When did you first discover it and how has it evolved?
I think for me as an artist and a graphic designer, you always want to chase after, or you always want to create your own style and you always want people see work and think, “ah, that’s such and such’s work.”
I think that’s something that’s always been in the back of my mind. When exploring new ideas and new techniques, I’ve always wanted to create something that was original. Those things have always been drawn by different influences from the past, which I think is every artist’s experience. Seeing work from old artists from 200, 100 years ago and then reinterpreting those.
For me, I think I’ve landed in some kind of style that I feel like I’m happy with. I think that’s probably most important for me that I feel like it is a true representation of who I am and what I want to create.
How would you describe your style?
I use a lot of typography in my work. I really love that the words can connect with somebody. They can resonate with them in a way that a work without words doesn’t.
You can write the world “love” in this beautiful, perfect way and it just looks perfect. Then you can write it in this messy, kind of, awkward way and it has a whole different interpretation. I think that’s what I love about typography, is that you can write a word 70 different ways and the way you write it and the way you interpret it gives the word different meaning.
Given that you come from a graphic design background, you learnt about typography. When you started studying typography, did you always feel drawn to hand-drawn type as as opposed to starting on the computer?
I’ve always worked on the computer, that’s something that I still love to do and I love clean typography. I think that the hand-done element came into play because personally, I don’t love everything being clean. I like this element of awkwardness and unpredictability in the work. I just wanted to incorporate some elements of imperfection in the work and so I thought, “Hey, I’ll hand-do it and scan it in.”
A lot of my work, I use textures and layers to kind of mess things up a little bit. I think that’s kind of where it began, just wanting something to be not as perfect as maybe other graphic designers were doing at the time.
Is there anything that people don’t know about you?
I drink about 6 cups of green tea a day. That’s probably something that people don’t know about me and I don’t like coffee. Maybe that’s rare in this Instagram day and age.
Why did you say yes to this collaboration?
I just love what you guys do. I have never have done a clock before. I’ve never done a circular artwork and I love telling the time. I love that people can take my work and then be able to tell the time. I think that’s cool.
Did you approach this artwork differently because it was a circle or just like any new piece?
I knew I didn’t want it to be this perfectly thought out piece. When I started, I just decided to do it in 20 min and I wanted to finish it, start to finish in one session. It was a really quick piece for me to do.
That pace and energy is quite reflective in your work. Does limiting the amount of time you spend on an artwork help?
Yeah, I think I try and restrict myself to how long I spend on my work. And I try and act instinctively on the paper and just try to get it out. I don’t like it to be this forced artwork, where everything is neat and perfect and arranged beautifully. There are elements of that, that do work and then elements where I just look at it after a half hour, an hour, and just screw it up and start again.
Have you ever hated something, left it, come back, and then loved it?
Yeah, I come back to different artworks I’ve created but often feel the same kind of hatred I do when I screwed it up in the first place. I often take photos on my phone of work in progress and then I get down the line and then realize I should’ve stopped like 2 hours ago. That’s kind of frustrating.
What type of person do you think will be drawn to this clock?
I think someone would love this clock who really wants to be on time to work in the morning. The lyrics are sung by The Cure called, “Love Song,” and potentially, somebody who loves that song, might be drawn to it.
If you could single out one thing, what do you love most about being creative?
The thing I love most about what I do is probably the freedom in what I get to do. There’s no one dictating what I need to work on. At the same time, that brings different challenges, but I think the challenge is something that I love. Controlling where your career is going and where your business is going is pretty exciting to me.
Nathan Johnson’s Clock for the Hunting Collective 2016.
Nathan’s clock is made with acrylic paint and water based marker. Nathan’s clock is available via online auction. To bid, click here. Nathan Johnson is a designer and typographer based in Cronulla, New South Wales. With hand drawn type and his curation of words Nathan has carved a signature style through imperfect perfection.