Meet Melanie Johnnson: Right at Home in the Water

It is crystal clear that UK-based illustrator, Melanie Johnnson, is captivated by the deep ocean. Shades of blue and green and beach play are recurring themes that appear in her drawings.

Hello Melanie, thanks for taking the time for an email conversation. Firstly, let’s hear more about you, your background and where you live?
Hi! I was born and raised in France, where I also studied visual arts in Paris before travelling the world to look for my creative voice. I settled in the UK back in 2014. It seemed like the best place to start my career as a graphic designer and illustrator. Then a few years ago, I moved from London to the south east coast of England and now call Margate my home, which I absolutely love. I don’t know how I ever lived that long without seeing the sea or the horizon every day! This place is magical and it keeps me so inspired.

When did you first realise that you are a creative?
Well, I deeply believe that all humans are born creative. I also think being creative doesn’t necessarily mean being artistic. It’s a very interesting subject! I know a lot of people who think they’re not creative just because they can’t draw. But creativity is so much more than that. If you have original ideas - no matter what they relate to - then you’re a very creative being. If you’re surrounded with kids, you’ll notice that they’re very creative too. The hard part is to remain creative as we grow up and become full-functioning adults with boring responsabilities and a lot less fun stuff to do! Personally, I realised I was creative and artistic very early on. I luckily grew up in a family of artists and creative souls who showed me the ropes of the creative industry and shared their knowledge and wisdom with me.

Tell me about your creative process. Do you have ‘rituals’ or go with the flow?
I tend to go with the flow but I’m also more creative in the morning. Now that I am a mum, I really treasure the few hours I get to myself to regroup and work before my little one wakes up in the morning. My main ritual would be making lists! I would be lost without them because I really need to put my ideas down on paper. I tend to have a million of them swirling around in my brain and it helps to write everything down.

Recently you joined the Future Folk family with a collection of prints. What was the inspiration for these?
These prints were inspired by some of the things I love most: the Oceans, sea creatures, surfing... I love shades of blue or anything that reminds me of being underwater or surfing waves. I also love to depict women in my illustrations, I just think they’re the most badass!

Who has inspired you the most with your art? And why?
It’s hard to pin down only one person or artist who has inspired me the most. It’s usually such a mix and match of inspirations! But I could say my grandad has been a constant source of inspiration. He was a graphic designer, photographer, illustrator...all around genius. He passed away when I was seventeen but I wish everyday he was still here because I know we’d be best friends. We have so much in common, we love the same things and I always get inspired looking back at what he achieved. I’d love to be able to exhibit all he’s done one day, that’s definitely one of my dreams!

Melanie, what would be your dream project?
Weirdly enough, I don’t really have one...For me, it’s all about trying new things, working with passionate people and having fun! So any project can potentially be a dream project. I’m always very open to oppor- tunities and I love a challenge. I appreciate being pushed out of my comfort zone and I love working on projects that are good to our planet and its people in one way or another. When I think about it, creating my magazine, Spellbound, was definitely a dream project. And I made it happen on my own! I think that’s the key. If you have a dream project, just make it happen, don’t wait around for someone to hand it to you.

What do you do to ensure your business is eco-friendly and sustainable?
I think about that everyday. I try to choose my clients carefully: I like them to have a true purpose and care about the planet as well as other human beings. I prefer working with small businesses because they usually are more eco-friendly and aware of the challenges we’re facing. And they’re always led by passionate individuals! Obviously, I’m not perfect and I still need to pay the bills, so I’ll sometimes work with bigger clients which aren’t as sustainable, but I try to limit that.

Most of what I do is digital but when it comes to my shop, I make sure to be as sustainable as possible. I only print very limited edition of my prints (10 max) so I know there’s no waste there. I obviously package everything completely plastic-free. I donate monthly to a few of my favourite charities: Ecologi, Surfers Against Sewage, The Marine Conservation Society and the Shark Trust. I try to add to this list every year.

I also created a magazine called Spellbound which is all about raising awareness for the planet and its people. In it, I share the stories of humans doing great things and hopefully inspire people to start following their dreams without sacrificing our Planet!

What is a typical day for you?
No two days look the same nowadays. It all depends if my partner is working or not. If it’s windy (we own a kiteboarding school) he’ll be working and I’ll be looking after our daughter River, doing some bits of work whenever she naps. If I’ve got a lot to do work-wise on those busy days, I’ll wake up extra early to get a head start. I’m a real early bird and I love it. The morning is my favourite time of day. On the days when my partner isn’t working and can look after River, I’ll just work all day and take some breaks to play with her and enjoy the giggles too. I take each day as they come and it’s been amazing so far. I feel very lucky!

Outside of art, what do you love to do?
I love being in the sea. I kite surf, surf, freedive, swim...and I want to start skydiving again next year. I used to do it a lot when I was a teenager and I miss it. I love a little bit of adrenaline. Completely unrelated but I also love baking! I find it quite relaxing. When I’m not outdoors or baking, you’ll find me chilling with my family, reading, watching films or playing backgammon. I find it hard to turn my brain off work, so I really try to carve out time where I’m not on a computer or a phone!

No wonder you fit right in here, Melanie. Now what advice would you offer to those starting out as a designer?
Work hard, focus on your craft, keep learning, do what you love and share your work! Create the work you want to be doing, do a lot of self-initiated projects and don’t give up.

Finally, give me three words to describe your style.
Bold, colourful, fun.

Shop Melanie's range of prints at