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designer highlight with matthew johnson of seventh.ink
min read

designer highlight with matthew johnson of seventh.ink

I’ve always been an illustrator, from day one. However, in high school I took a commercial arts class that opened up my eyes to the world of graphic design and from then on I was hooked. It started with simply playing in Photoshop and turned into a deeper need to create as much as I could with this newfound technology. I decided to go to college for graphic design so I could learn how to create and illustrate digitally and actually make a living out of it. Not long after exiting college I decided to create an identity for myself and Seventhfury Studios was born. To this day I’m working on both corporate and small business projects, including the ever-exciting Zombie Pub Crawl website that I have the distinct pleasure of reviving every year.

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If so, how did/does that inspiration impact how you design?

I learned that creating and design can come more naturally if you have a solid background in art and design principles, and if you understand how to apply them in the correct ways. There are plenty of great artists who don’t need to follow these rules, but I find that I am a much more productive person if I am at least somewhat aware of the art and design around me in every day life.

Did you go to school for design? If so, where did you go to school?

I went to AI Minnesota, not the most prestigious art school out there but I loved it. I was done in three years because I went year-round, and I learned a lot from some great artists and designers who taught there.

Do you believe that designers need to attend school to break it in the design world?

Not at all. I’d say it’s definitely beneficial for most people, and I certainly learned a fair share from my time in college, but there are some seriously talented artists out there who either dropped out or never attended. I think the draw for that is that you can always attend school later if you don’t make it without, but you could be pushing back the timeline on getting your career started. So, it’s really an individual experience.

Can good design be learned or does it have to be somewhat inherent?

I think it’s a bit of both, and as I stated previously it does help to be aware of the fundamentals of art and design. If you think you can just pick up a pen or mouse or brush and create a masterpiece you might have a reality check coming.. unless you’re a prodigy.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a new designer?

Be true to yourself and listen to criticism. Finding value in what people have to say about your work will help you exponentially as an artist or designer, and will help you open doors for yourself. If you think you’re always right and you don’t need to hear what people have to say you might not be as successful as the person who can gather insight from these opinions and strengthen their work.

What do you like to do when you’re not designing? What are your hobbies?

When I’m not working as a full time graphic design freelancer, I’m putting what’s left of me into illustrating and marketing for my clothing and art line, Seventh.Ink. Beyond that, I love spending time with my wife and daughter as well as playing PS3, watching and discussing movies, and tasting as many craft beers as humanely possible. Travel is also a huge passion of mine, but that of course is dependent upon time off and money money money.

Do you have a particular design that received great recognition in the design world?

Imperial Sandtrooper IPA was very well received, as were the Gods & Goddesses Series 1 designs. My hope is that every piece I put out is my best yet.

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What are the things that you do to stretch yourself as a designer?

I like to try new things with my style and my concepts. If I see something that sparks an idea I’ll try to incorporate that into one of my upcoming pieces, whether it’s an illustration style or a color scheme or a type of theme in the design.

What gets you “Itchy” to design (Inspiration to design)? Is there an act of kindness, crime, sport, emotion that really gets you going?

I think the main motivator I have right now is the lack of time that I actually have to do it! When I finally sit down to begin an illustration it is sometimes weeks or even months after I originally intended to do so. I try to stay ahead on my releases, but my daytime work is the deciding factor on that one.

However, from an emotional or nostalgic standpoint I will say that the seasons really impact my designs. For example, Halloween is my favorite holiday and so I find myself revved up every August to get the Haunted Collection series ready to roll. This year is the third year and I’ve cooked up some exciting stuff for the release.

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What is your favorite thing to design and why?

I have a newfound love of illustrating for prints that I am starting to explore. I’ve always loved designing shirts, but a part of me really likes the idea of a much larger version of a piece up on a wall in a frame on constant display. It’s a different type of product for me, since I’ve been working on shirt illustration for so long, but it’s good to change it up every now and again.

Beyond that, I simply love designing new things and pushing my boundaries. I’m a huge fan of designing for apparel of all types and it still gets me to think that people are out there wearing items that I’ve designed.

Along with life events, people often inspire design. Do you have any role models, or superheroes in design?

Absolutely! There are quite a few, but recently I’ve narrowed down my list to a solid four individuals who really inspire me right now. There are three artists: Godmachine, PaleHorse, and Hydro74; and one indie brand owner: Greg Kerr of Miles To Go Clothing. These four individuals have been inspiring me for years, and I’m lucky enough to have had quite a few conversations with all of them regarding art, design, and running an indie brand. It’s really inspiring to know that they’re willing to take the time to converse with me, and so I always am sure to do the same when people reach out to me in a similar manner. What goes around comes around, and I like to keep that karma on the positive side.

How do you find the balance between maintaining your voice and style as an artist, and still making your clients happy?

I’ll be honest, that’s a tricky one. When it comes to actual graphic design, I try to leave my style out of it completely and focus on what the client needs to succeed as a brand. However, when it comes to illustration, I find myself putting a more personal part of myself into my work. Communication with the client is key, if you’re going to do some of your trademark styles you had better make sure the client approves of them before you put in all of the work.

If you could have any super power what would it be?

As great as sleep is, I really wish I didn’t need it. I’m a contradictory morning person and night owl in one.. if I could work on art all night and play all day that would be just about the best life I can think of. Party on!

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