Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Richard Johnson


© Richard Johnson

Nov. 16, 2018


We are excited to feature PB author-illustrator Richard Johnson and his picture book, ONCE UPON A SNOWSTORM (Faber & Faber Children's November 1, 2018). Be sure to enter to win a copy at the end of this interview!



Tell us about yourself and how you came to write and illustrate for children.

I’ve always been fascinated with storytelling but I am most definitely not a writer. Most of my work over the years has been concerned with trying to create some sense of narrative through image making, either through character or atmosphere, emotional response to my work is probably the most important to me. 

Illustrating for children can be even more complex, I think the challenge of designing work that unfolds across a sequence of images is a process that really excites me, there is a certain amount of self art-direction that happens when working over 32 pages where pacing, flow, scale and movement all become important to each other. Stories can be simple or complex, but they should make their audience feel something.


© Richard Johnson

Congrats on ONCE UPON A SNOWSTORM. What inspired you?

Thanks. My initial ideas for the story developed around my own relationship with my father, but it was also from doodling in my sketch book that the visuals really began to develop. For a while I had kept coming back to the idea of a boy and his father surrounded by ghosts, which sounds a bit strange but thats what sketchbooks are for I guess! Over time, the image developed so that these things became a snowstorm. This led me to explore the relationship between nature and man, and also the boy and his father. The ghosts became animals and dancing snowflakes, a narrative began to develop between the tensions and differences between these elements.


© Richard Johnson


To be honest, I was also inspired by the cinematography of Iñárritu’s The Revenant and Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, which I think I might of subconsciously combined with inspiration from Murakami and Briggs' The Snowman, this was my sister’s favourite animation as a child, so much so that our VHS player eventually broke. Moving image has had a big part to play in how I think of my work. 

The narrative I’ve created for "Once Upon a Snowstorm" is fairly simple but I suppose it could be interpreted in different ways by a child and by an adult. Its by no accident that the book is wordless, there are certain themes I wanted to explore from the boy’s adventure in another world, to our own relationship with nature and animals, from friendships to the loss of a parent. I didn't want words to influence the pictures.


© Richard Johnson


You do a variety of illustration, design, and editorial work. How do the other art forms inform your children's illustration?

Yes, a lot of the design work I am commissioned for is story telling, but I also create designs for packaging and more functional uses. As you may have guessed I’m inspired by a great deal of art forms. Design is an area that really influences me, the relationship between shape, composition and textual elements is something that is fundamental in my work. Its this interest in abstraction and design, and the use of light and more naturalistic forms that really gets me going. Its a bit tricky to explain in words, I started out as a fine artist in my formative years and have become a designer because I liked creating things with a purpose, I sort of have a foot in both camps I think. 



© Richard Johnson


Some examples of this type of thinking can been seen in the work Ive produced this year for the London Transport Museum poster,The Night Bus. And the work I produced for a symposium with Joshibi University exploring Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Spirit of Competition. You can see how this approach softens in my children’s illustrations including Migration, part of a children’s exhibition set up by the International Centre for the Picture Book, to draw attention to the plight of thousands of children and their families who are, as a result of oppressive regimes forced to migrate to safer places in the world. 


© Richard Johnson


What projects are you working on now?   

I’ve got quite a few things in development at the moment, a Christmas magazine cover (snow and fun again!), finishing a pop-up book (which I love to work on as it involves elements of three dimensional design and paper engineering that becomes a real experience to pick up and interact with) and working on some character designs for a new book involving a girl and a museum ( I cant say much more with that project ). I’d love to work with Faber again too, they saw something in "Once Upon a Snowstorm" and gave me a chance to develop my vision. In my private sketchbook I have a number of stories waiting to be explored and some quite strange ideas…



© Richard Johnson



Walk us through your illustration process.

Sketchbook: I use my imagination and play. I doodle and I don't really care about the quality of drawing, no one is going to see these things but me and I'm looking for ideas and compositions. 

© Richard Johnson
 Once I hit upon something then its the process of refining the work, sometimes through observation and sometimes by redrawing the thing numerous times. Often I scan in these drawings and re-work them, some even become part of the finished artwork which I usually build digitally. I use a Wacom Cintiq, which is quite honestly the best piece of circuitry I’ve ever bought. 
© Richard Johnson



© Richard Johnson


© Richard Johnson
I use traditional medium too, acrylic paint and I find and photograph odd textures, they all become compiled through digitally layering and painting. Sometimes I‘ll paint, or digitally push pixels around and sometimes I’ll use a pencil, I really don't have a fixed way of creating my finished work anymore, just what I feel the project needs. 


© Richard Johnson
© Richard Johnson


What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators or authors?


It's too easy to get attracted by style I suppose. I think the best illustrators I know develop their own visions and personal visual languages through hard work and drawing. I believe the important bit is the personality between the lines. Its what you are saying rather than how you are saying it that really counts, if you can make the viewer feel something or have impact through visual communication, then thats quite a powerful thing. 



© Richard Johnson


What is something most people don't know about you?

I hate social media. Though I've been toying with the idea of starting a proper Instagram account for a few years now!


Where can people find you online?


www.richardjohnsonillustration.co.uk



Richard Johnson works from his studio with his partner, situated on the edge of a large wood in Lincolnshire, England. He is a professional freelance illustrator with 18 years experience working within the industry. He specializes in Children's Book illustration but has also developed illustrations for advertisement campaigns, newspapers, and magazines.

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30 comments:

  1. This looks perfect for where I live! Forest friends and snow.

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  2. This book looks stunning!! Congratulations, Richard!

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  3. I'm pulled into ONCE UPON A SNOWSTORM by your artistic style. I appreciate that you care about the true nature of every creature. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. ONCE UPON A SNOWSTORM is beautifully illustrated. As a non-illustrator, I was very interested in the process. Thank you for sharing the sketches, Richard.

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  5. Richard, this is a beautiful book! I love the colors and "softness" of your illustrations. I also love that you used your illustrations as the dialog. Thank you for sharing your process with us. It's always a treat to see how others set up shop!

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  6. My goodness, this book doesn't need words. I had all the feels with those impressive sketches/illustrations! Well done.

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  7. Gorgeous! Can't wait to read this one! The forest, snow, excitement. Congratulations!

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  8. This book looks beautiful! I just reserved it at my library and am looking forward to reading it.

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  10. I love the cover, and the wonderful scene in the cave. I think my favorite thing here is the black-and-white mock-ups--those would look great with just a touch of color added with colored pencils, I think!

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  11. I think you accomplished your advice in this story, I was about to say, you seem to provide the reader/viewer with on depth feelings beyond the story, the I read this, "Its what you are saying rather than how you are saying it that really counts, if you can make the viewer feel something or have impact through visual communication, then thats quite a powerful thing." I'm really excited for this. It eels so powerful, even with just the glimse you provided here. Adding to my wish list now.

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  12. This book is gorgeous! Your art is so beautiful and a joy to look at. Excited to find a copy of this book soon.

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  13. This book looks so beautiful! Thanks for having the giveaway.

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  14. The art work is so soft and quiet - like a snowstorm.

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  15. Such lovely dreamy illustrations - I can't wait to get a copy!

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  16. I love how in-depth this interview is... Really beautiful art--inspiring.

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  17. These illustrations are magical! Congrats!

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  18. Great looking book! I got chilly just looking at those illustrations. Thanks!

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  19. Beautiful. No words needed. Your art says it all. Inspirational and heart-warming.

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  20. Gorgeous artwork! Thanks for sharing your process. I have a lot to learn. I just quit my facebook account and know it will limit me, for example entering contests such as these giveaways, but for now it feels good. I look forward to seeing Once Upon a Snowstorm in person. Congratulations!

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  21. The artwork is amazing! Thanks for a look at your process.

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  22. Thanks for sharing your beautiful art!

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  23. Learning about the illustration process is fascinating.

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  24. Beautiful illustrations. I love that we -- both children and adults -- can create our own personal narrative.

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