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Matt Johnson Coastal Illustration

December 13, 2021

You can’t look at the clothing line called Seasalt without noticing the beautiful illustrations by their Senior Creative Designer Matt Johnson. Not surprisingly he is based in Falmouth, near the sea, where he derives much of his coastal inspiration.

What do you remember about your very early childhood days when it comes to art ?

One thing I remember (because I still have it now), is making a sequel book to The Tale of Jeremy Fisher by Beatrix Potter. I clearly had lots of help from my teachers and the plot is quite derivative (I was 9…) but the illustrations are action packed. It’s a pretty good early attempt! 

How did you discover your present artistic style and the techniques you use today ?

I tried to emulate a lot of illustration and printmaking that I like, from the mid twentieth century. I felt that I could assemble things on the computer in a roughly similar way to the collage and printmaking techniques they used back then. That didn’t entirely work! But it resulted in my current style. 

Here’s is a glance around Matt’s studio room at home where everything is created. Also you can see some of his fab sketchbooks.

You use a mix of digital and non-digital markmaking and drawing skills in your art, do you have a preference for either and if so why ?

They are both great and have their pros and cons… but I enjoy drawing on paper the best and I could happily live without the digital stuff. Drawing and painting is so immediate and tactile, and you don’t need any fancy gadgets to do it. 

Congratulations to Seasalt who this year has been in operation for 40 yrs !! Matt has been working for the company for the last 14 years, I wondered how that might both enable and disenable him as a designer at the same time.

There’s a wonderful sense of freedom and movement in your work, what restraints when working for Seasalt, would you say hamper your creativity and also give you structure whilst working to a brief ?

I find limits and constraints a very good thing! For example, if I can only use three print colours it forces me to get creative with how I use them. I start stylising and abstracting the image to make it work, and things get more interesting. We get a lovely brief and colour scheme to work within each season and I find that great – it’s like a being given a beautiful area to play in.  

Having said that, the same items, with the same restraints, reoccur over and over, so it’s brilliant to work with freelance clients and get some different constraints to grapple with. 

It’s lovely for me as a textile designer, to see how Matt’s art naturally lends itself to work as scarves and fashion fabric.

Working for the same company for 14 years and with such defined subject matter, do you ever feel the need to draw and create for a different clientel or in an alternative way ?

I love working for Seasalt and I never get tired of making illustrations of Cornwall. But there is other subject matter I’d like to tackle more. Things like different landscapes, the wilder aspects of nature, cityscapes, music, and more illustrations of people. I recently did some designs for the RNLI and I’d love to work with some more charities or environmental groups too.  

What would be your ideal design brief and what would be totally uncreative for you ?

I like it when the illustration is the product or part of the product, or part of an artistic work. Designing book or record covers for authors or musicians I really like is ideal. Illustrations that advertises or market something else are still creative, but I’m less keen on them I think.

During your time with Seasalt to date, what is your happiest design moment ?

Working on the Prussia Cove jute bag design for Judie Dench was a huge thrill. It also feels great when something I’ve designed sells out or gets a positive response from the customers.

Great to see you are developing posters and greeting cards for Seasalt and here under your own name. Where do you see your artwork leading you in the next 5 years ?

I’m so excited about where my artwork will go in the next few years. There will be lots more stuff under my own name. I will naturally keep exploring the landscape and wildlife in Cornwall – I have a constantly expanding list of views that I want to depict. I’m also just finishing my first illustrated book (first one that will be published anyway…) It’s about fishing in Cornwall and is very detailed and full of maps, cutaways, underwater scenes, and lots of things I liked when I was little (and still like). I would love to do some more books, and book covers in the next few years for sure.

Many thanks to Matt for taking time out of his busy week to be featured with Fishink Blog here today. I hope you enjoyed seeing his work and discovering more behind his creations for Seasalt too.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Luna North permalink
    December 13, 2021 7:36 pm

    What a lovely blog. I have just bought Matt’s Seasalt diary, what a treat

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