Type in Action: Ben Johnston

Welcome to the first installment of Type in Action, where Ligatures YYZ picks the creative brains of talented typographers and designers in Toronto about the things that inspire their work, and tips to chew on for other designers.

Meet Ben Johnston, a self-described multidisciplinary artist and designer with a focus on custom branding and typography -- not to mention an established mural artist that makes his mark.

What was the spark or influence to drive you to seriously pursue typography?

I think spending a lot of my teenage years doing graffiti played a major part in my interest for letters, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I really got back into lettering. For the first five years or so of my design career I focused primarily on branding and packaging while working at various ad agencies. During this time I started experimenting with type and illustration while slowly getting freelance projects in which opened up doors to the kind of work I really wanted to be doing. It wasn't until about four years ago that I started painting murals, so I still feel like I'm learning with each new piece.


Who or what were some of the key influences in the formation of your personal style? How would you define your style?

Personally, I feel like I don't have a set style as I like to be as versatile as possible depending on the brief that comes my way. I feel like I'd get bored doing just one thing, so I'm constantly trying to come up with new pieces and ways of working. It's important to me to be able to adapt my work to whatever project I'm working, which means I have to constantly be brushing up on my skills in all areas of lettering and painting.


What tips would you give to a budding designer trying to find their voice or style?

Just have fun and experiment with every style. If you put in the time it won't take long before you find your own way of working. Set some goals and stick to them.


Does Toronto specifically offer any advantages to your career, and if so, what does Toronto offer?

There's a really great emerging art and design scene in Toronto at the moment that's also getting a lot of support from big brands which is great to see. I find the culture to be really supportive and even the public seem to respond positively to murals going up all around the city.


What are some of the most meaningful collaborative projects you've participated in? 

I've been lucky enough to collaborate with a lot of different artists and designers in Toronto, which has led to some pretty great work in mediums I would've have never otherwise explored. More recently, I worked on a mural with Lauren Pirie for the Dudebox charity in support of the Humane Society and I'm also currently working on a mural campaign with CAMH which will be happening in the next month or so.

I'm big on collaboration, so I generally always jump at the chance.

Do you have a routine/things you do that are essential in keeping sharp in your practice?

Although I work for myself, I try to stick to a regular work routine. Get up early and start the day with a bike ride, then coffee and emails. From there I would either head off to paint until it gets dark, or head to the studio and work on whatever projects are on the go. I try to stick to a 'normal' work day, otherwise you can just end up spending your whole life at the studio as there's always something that you could be doing. The trick is try and find a good work / life balance. I also never bring work home, I think it's important to have a separation in what we do.

All photos courtesy of Ben Johnston's Behance