Interview: Marc Johns
Whimsical is a wonderful word, and one that feels just right when talking about illustrator Marc Johns' work.
Creating watercolour illustrations with witty words as their companions, Marc Johns' oddball style is immediately recognisable. Brimming with pipes, boomboxes, antlers and moustaches. Johns' illustrations give you a reaffirming pat on the back and remind you to take life with a pinch of salt. From condensed rainbows to happy bananas, his art is funny, simple and jam-packed with dry wit.
We're lucky enough to stock a whole bunch of products featuring Marc's glorious illustrations in our online shop here. His work is the perfect way to remind someone that everything is hunky dory or maybe even to give your sofa a chance to run amok.
Having accrued quite a following online, Marc is one of the celebs of the illustration world and in the past he's steered his pen for the likes of National Geographic, Wired, Newsweek and Harper Collins.
We spoke to Marc about everything from tatts to sketchbooks:
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I make drawings and sell them and share them on the internet. I went to university and learned to make serious art, and now I make art that is sometimes serious, sometimes funny. I live with my wife Kristen, two sons, and a drawer full of pens in Victoria, BC, Canada.
Were you a creative child?
Yes. I drew all the time. I made little comic books, I drew greeting cards for my parents’ birthdays, I drew my favourite superheroes. I also liked building things when I was a kid, like toy guns.
How do you create your illustrations?
I use pens and watercolours. I sketch the drawing out with pencil on watercolour paper, then go over it with pen, erase the pencil, and then apply watercolours.
Funniness is vital to lots of your pieces, how often do you laugh?
I’m not sure how often I laugh, but it’s never enough!
How do you come up with neat little ideas for new illustrations?
I think the world we’ve created (as a human species) is a tad absurd, so I make drawings about that, drawings that are absurd. My drawings are often about navigating contemporary life. Sometimes they’re funny. I get my ideas from everything and everywhere. I carry a small sketchbook and pen with me at all times, so that whenever an idea comes to mind I can get it on paper. I might be in a lineup at a coffee shop, on the bus, watching TV, or putting the kids to sleep. I’ll overhear a conversation, see some quirky signage, spot an interesting pattern, or think of an odd combination of objects and I’ll pull out a sketchbook and get the idea down on paper. Sometimes an idea for a drawing shows up in my head all ready to go. Other times it's just a single word, sometimes an object, a layout, which I come back to later to flesh out into something more complete.
Do you have one notebook that stands out in your mind?
Not really. They all contain mostly terrible ideas, but each one tends to have at least one decent idea worth drawing.
Where do you do most of your drawing?
It used to be about 80% at my desk at home, and 20% at a coffee shop. But I’ve recently signed up with a shared studio space, so I’ll be doing most of my art making there.
Your art has recurring themes, such as antlers, what keeps these things popping up again and again?
I guess I have a hard time letting go of some ideas! And sometimes I need to make a series of things to really make a point, to get the idea across, or to just get it out of my system.
Has having children changed your art?
Immensely. Looking at the world through their eyes provides an endless supply of fresh perspectives.
How did you have the idea for your sticky note project?
I was at my office job (back when I had one) on my lunch break, and had the urge to draw something. So I raided the supply closet and used what was there: sticky notes, highlighters, and pens. The small format was perfect for making a simple creation in a short amount of time (e.g. a lunch break). And they read really well on a screen, since they end up being about life size when they show up on a blog.
Your illustrations often come with words, and you're an avid blogger, do you see yourself as a writer too?
I get fixated on words, on how they sound, how they can rhyme with others. I love the combination of words and pictures, and the way you can say a ton with just three words and simply drawn image. So I suppose I am a writer of very very very short stories.
How did you go about getting I MADE THESE DRAWINGS FOR YOU published?
I published it myself through Amazon’s CreateSpace service. I've always wanted to make my own book, at least once in my career. I've always admired people who did. I make drawings and share them online, for you, and I wanted to make a book for you. I wanted to keep it personal. Like a zine, only a bit more polished.
Lots of your fans get tattoos of your work, how do you feel seeing your designs 'in the flesh'?
Very strange. It still surprises me.
What single illustration of yours are you the most fond of?
‘What to focus on’. I drew it as a reminder to myself, and it ended up resonating with so many people. It’s my most popular print, and my most-tattooed drawing.