An Aberdeenshire fish farm is not necessarily the typical breeding ground you’d expect for developing young creative talent, but the flora and fauna surrounding Johanna Basford in her early years had a lasting impact on her work. Her intricate and beautiful illustration style is organic and free-flowing, and she uses the highly futuristic medium of pen and paper — with Photoshop coming to the rescue to remove any tea stains. We’re big fans of her work and it seems we’re not alone — clients such as DKNY, Channel 4, H&M, Creative Review, Heals, The Tate Modern, The Body Shop and Johnson & Johnson have formed an orderly queue to commission her work. And no doubt you know already know about her love affair with Starbucks?
Johanna put the fineliner down for two minutes to answer our Ten Questions.
1. How do you describe what you do?
Hand drawn, pen and ink illustration, predominately (although not exclusively) in black and white.
2. What made you want to do what you do?
I love drawing and wanted to find a job where I could do it everyday. The craft of putting pen (or pencil) to paper and creating something from scratch, complete with inky finger prints and wrinkly corners, makes me sublimely happy.
3. How would you describe your workplace?
I work from home. We have a 2 bedroom flat; master bedroom and a box room. We sleep in the box room. As I tell the boyfriend, art requires a bit of sacrifice.
Most of the studio is taken up with a plan chest stuffed to the brim with every drawing I’ve created over the last 5 years, a big stack of prints which I sell on my online shop and various jam jars and show boxes containing my ever growing pen collection. Some girls like shoes, hand bags or twinkly things, I like pens.
I try to keep my workspace tidy, but there’s inevitably a few open layout pads, a cluster of pens and a half drunk Starbucks vanilla latte on my desk. I work low fi.
I have a Hello Kitty clicky pencil which I sketch out almost every single piece of work with, then I add detail with various fineliners and inks. Drawings are scanned in sections using my battered old A4 scanner and pieced together in Photoshop where the highly technical process of removing fingerprints and tea spills takes place. I also do a bit of re-scaling, cutting and pasting and the odd vertical mirror flip. My work is tactile and so is the process to create it.
4. What is your favourite colour?
I should say black or white. Truthfully though, it would be green.
5. Who is your favourite artist or writer?
Currently in love with the work of Lotte and Bloom, a beautiful florist in Glasgow whom I did some work for last year. I love flowers. I adore Lotte’s contemporary yet charming approach to blossoms.
6. What was your previous job?
I set-up as a freelancer straight after graduating from Art School in 2005, so technically, this is my first “proper” job. The hours are long, the boss is a bit pernickety and there’s a strict ‘no pilfering’ policy from the stationery cupboard, but I do love it.
7. Do you work within a team? If so, how many people do you work with?
No, it’s just me, all by myself.
A majority of my clients are design studios who commission me to create illustrations as part of a project which they are managing. In this case, I’m sort of drafted in as a temporary member of their team, working remotely from my own studio but in close contact with the studio. I like this. I’ve met and worked for / with some really talented, creative and inspiring people over the last few years.
8. Do you listen to music whilst working? If so, what do you listen to?
Sometimes. I’ve got the XX and Fleet Foxes on loop at the moment, but if I’m being completely honest, I quite like listening to Radio 4 in the studio.
I know, it’s not exactly cutting edge cool, however I like listening to documentaries about micro finance in India and the demise of bumble bees etc, so why not multi-task and learn whilst I draw? My all time favourite audio to draw to is the midnight Shipping Forecast, there’s just something magical about it.
9. Who inspires you to do what you’re doing?
My contemporaries. The Design industry in the UK is such an amazing field to work in just now. The rise of social media and the internet has made it possible for individuals like myself, with very little experience, backing and profile to set-up shop doing something we love and pursue it to a global level.
The work and ideas being generated by illustrators, artists, designers and bloggers here in the UK is amongst the best in the world. I find that hugely inspiring.
10. Which advice has helped you the most
I can’t pin point one single piece of advice. I currently have the following quote from Paul Arden’s ‘It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be’ book pinned above my desk:
“YOU CAN ACHIEVE THE UNACHIEVABLE
FIRSTLY you need to aim beyond what you are capable of.
You must develop a complete disregard for where your abilities end.
Try to do the things that you’re incapable of.
Make your vision of where you want to be a reality.
Nothing is impossible”
And as ever, big thanks to you lot for reading.