How Mélanie Johnsson promotes conservation through illustration

Melanie Johnsson portrait

Freelance illustrator Mélanie Johnsson combines her passions for the environment, fonts and design to create colorful artwork with a message.

French-born designer, illustrator and letterer Mélanie Johnsson swapped France for Margate and found herself inspired by her new environment. We caught up with her to talk about eco-friendly design and the freedoms of being freelance.

When Mélanie collaborated with MOO to create a set of Postcards, the outcome was a colorful series centred around the natural world, inspiring change and  inviting people to re-discover the beautiful species we need to protect.

Choosing Futura as her font (“I believe it’s one of the strongest, clearest and most beautifully drawn typeface out there,” she explains), the cards feature single, striking letters, teeming with wildlife — a snake wrapped around the bars of a capital E; a cheetah prowling beneath an R.

Together, the letters spell ‘PRESERVE!’ and the backs of her striking designs feature 10 tips for preserving the environment.

Now, working freelance from her home studio, MOO caught up with Mélanie to find out how she aligns her brand with her eco-friendly values, and the benefits of allowing your creative mind the time and space to wander.

Tell us about yourself and your background

I was born and raised in France by a family of designers. I studied visual communications at Duperré in Paris for three years then went travelling, and was lucky enough to get some freelancing jobs.

After a while, I decided to settle in London and find a full-time job. Then after a year, I realized I wanted to go back to being self-employed. I recently moved to the seaside, in Margate, and I really love it here.

You run your business from your home studio – do you have any tips for others thinking of doing the same?

I love working from my home studio because I can control my environment. I try to keep ‘normal’ hours for work — although I’m more efficient in the morning, so I tend to start work very early and finish early too.

I do the work that needs to be done, but I’m not afraid of pausing in the afternoon if I feel like it. That’s what I love about working on your own terms — you’re free to do what you want and work whenever you’re the most inspired.

Some days, I’ll work for crazy hours, and others I’ll only work half a day and go outside, walk by the beach, or go for a kite surfing session. That’s what I need to stay sane and creative. It’s important to spend time refining your art, but not at the expense of life experiences! It’s about finding that magical balance.

If you’re thinking of setting up your own studio, I’d offer these five tips:

  1. Make it bright and airy
  2. Keep your office tidy and clean so you have space to think and be creative
  3. Have lots of plants around
  4. Always have blank paper next to you so you can jot down ideas
  5. Make yourself a few playlists for different moods

  • Melanie Johnsson studio
  • Melanie Johnsson painting
  • Melanie Johnsson at home

How do you stay inspired?

Travel, nature and the cinema are my biggest sources of inspiration. Moving to the seaside has been really inspiring too — I love being able to leave home, walk for four minutes, and be by the sea. I feel terribly lucky.

You’ve got a really strong creative identity – how have you developed your style?

I guess it’s by making things from my heart about themes I care about. Whatever happened, I kept listening to my inner voice and never let myself be influenced by others people’s opinions too much. You have to make a lot of things before you start making things you actually like.

I’m also pretty good at saying no to projects that don’t feel exactly right, and I dislike when things are rushed, because I know I won’t do my best work. So I’m getting better at communicating with my clients on the time needed to create our best work together.

  • Melanie Johnsson minicards
  • Melanie Johnsson business cards
  • Melanie Johnsson card designs

How important is choosing the right font to the overall aesthetic of your designs?

Choosing the right font for a project is one of the most important decisions you have to make. Each font has a singular history and personality, and you have to make sure they’re a good fit for the story you’re trying to tell.

If I had to choose a favourite, I’d say Futura. It was beautifully drawn by Paul Renner in 1927, and is still used in a lot of designs today. I love that it’s based on simple geometric figures, which makes it timeless. Plus my grandad was a designer too, and it was one of his favourites.

You like to work with people who care about the planet – tell us about that.

I recently made the move to working only with brands that are sustainable and eco-friendly. I’m finally mixing my personal values with my brand values, and I want to work for people who are as passionate about raising awareness as I am. It’s been wonderful working with people who care and aren’t just here to make money without thinking about a green future.

What’s been your favourite project so far?

I know I don’t have to say this, but my project with MOO has been a favourite this year. I was given the opportunity to speak out about preserving a few of the extraordinary animals that inhabit this planet, and I love a project that’s visually enticing and carries an important message.

Your Instagram feed is beautiful! What are your tips for curating a feed and cultivating a community?

I believe that posting your best work consistently is key. Edit yourself a little bit, but not too much — you don’t want to lose spontaneity. Have fun with it. And don’t do it for the likes — they don’t really mean anything.

I love my little Instagram community, and I’ve made some really good friends there. It’s an amazing place to share opinions and ideas with like-minded people. I’ve also found some amazing clients through social media, because my feed really reflects who I am, what I do and who I want to work with.

Do you have any advice for design entrepreneurs about to embark on their own freelance journey?

Don’t undervalue yourself (you’re great), don’t say yes to a project you’re not sure about (follow your gut), don’t work with disrespectful people twice (although you’ll learn that by making the mistake once) and always have fun — because that’s how you’ll do your best work.

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