What Made Me: 5 things that keep illustrator Adrian Johnson's creativity in top form

The master of bold, ‘economical’ illustration has found favour across editorial, advertising and apparel. Here he picks his five biggest influences.

The films of Ray Harryhausen

“When I was a kid, it was all about Jason and the Argonauts. Sure, I had a loving and affectionate affair with Batman and Star Wars – who didn’t? But Jason, along with The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans, and so on, were pretty much the best things in my life (okay, possibly not true, but hey). I’d watch Jason on video, pause during my favourite scenes, then draw from the screen. The awakening of Talos is possibly my favourite scene in any film I’ve seen – the soundtrack is incredible – and a lot of Ray’s creations make some of today’s CG effects seem hollow and soulless. 

“His films really whetted my appetite for ancient mythology and legend – something that still inspires and fascinates me today.”

2 Modern Publicity 30, Annual of International Ad Art 1960-61

“Not for want of sounding like a dinosaur (I’m not, I’m 37), but the internet wasn’t really around when I started out. The only way of coming across such influential designers as Paul Rand and Saul Bass was through the library or going to exhibitions. 

“Kingston University’s library was great, but there was the only one book that predominantly featured mid-20th century graphic design, which ultimately was a good thing. There wasn’t a lot in it; just small, mostly black-and-white vignettes, but it was full of inspiration. Because the artwork in the annual wasn’t featured in any real depth, I wasn’t too heavily influenced by any one particular image or aesthetic. 

“Sure, I borrowed elements from here and there, but then I had to fill in the gaps myself. The material provided me with the catalyst to take me to where my work is today.” 

3 Terry Durack’s Food & Drink Column, The Independent on Sunday Review (1998-2002)

“This was my first regular (weekly) editorial job, and it changed my life. First, it was ‘more or less’ a regular income (£300 per week), which gave me a degree of security for the first time since leaving college. To know that money was coming in every week meant I could afford to rent a studio. 

“Joining a studio meant I got to know other illustrators and designers over 10 years my senior, who passed on invaluable knowledge and experience. Having a better understanding of the industry meant more commissions came my way. 

“And finally, my work was in a major broadsheet every week for nearly four years, which gave me plenty of exposure. It provided the bedrock of my career.”

4 New York

Quite simply, the greatest city on Earth (and being from Liverpool and having lived in London for most of my adult life) I stand by that. I’ve long lost count of the number of times I’ve visited, and I have many friends there. No matter what, every time the Manhattan skyline appears from behind the underpass on the freeway in from JFK, I get goosebumps. It’s such an infectious city. 

“We moved out of London a couple of years ago and now live in Lewes, East Sussex. Part of the deal I made with my wife was that if we’re going to leave the city, I have to get my fill of city life in visiting New York at least twice a year – I’m going this month.”

5 Tricker’s Keswick Brogue, C Shade

Tricker’s Brogue is a fine example of timeless design, and they only improve with age. They transcend fashions and trends, and go with anything – smart or casual. They’re hand-made. There are plenty of imitators on the market, but none come close to the original Tricker’s Brogue. I own two pairs. 

“I think the metaphor is there for all to see – I aspire to have a career that takes me through the next 40 years. I’ll never be ‘cool’, I’ll never strive to fit in with zeitgeist. I’ll always create my artwork by hand – never over-relying on technology, and hopefully, in 40 years time, I’ll still have my integrity. 

“I recently met an 81-year-old designer and illustrator by the name of Bob Gill, while judging this year’s D&AD awards. This guy has had a career spanning over 50 years, yet his portfolio of work is still valid and full of integrity. I admire him greatly, as I do anyone who can be consistently creative for a sustained number of years. I’m not interested in being ‘fashionable’, I aspire to be like Tricker’s Keswick Brogue.” adrianjohnson.org.uk


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