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jonny hannah appreciation post

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

So, you're not really the illustration type? That's fine. But you should still definitely look at this stuff...

At first glance, you might see this work and feel like it's purely illustration - traditional illustration, too (you won't find any perfectly symmetrical vectors here) - but upon further inspection you will find that the typography in this work is truly inspiring, the balance of image and type is impeccable and the overall feel to Jonny Hannah's work is something which can inspire all of us, whether we're purely digital or purely traditional artists / designers (not forgetting those in between, like me!). Jonny recently visited NTU to give a guest lecture on his experiences and work, as well as his whole alternate world named Darktown. I wanted to document his work for inspiration purposes as I loved everything that I saw; and now I'm finally getting around to it.


I was really impressed by the different book covers Jonny has designed previously. I really love the sense of life and excitement given to the books from his work; especially his cover design for Isabel Losada's book, Men - in particular, the power created by the combination of red, black and white definitely gives the cover bucketfuls of energy, and caught my attention immediately. Jonny's classic handwritten, rough and expressive style of illustration really lends itself to this cover; reflecting everything we think of when we hear the word men. I also really liked the cover for The Atmospheric Railway: new and selected stories too, as although it is a typographically based cover (which would usually make it much less of my cup of tea) it still has a lot of energy; I love the angle that the type sits on and how Jonny makes use of a 3D effect to give the cover more power. Interestingly, during his talk, Jonny mentioned that in most cases he doesn't have time to read the book in full before creating the cover - in a way, I think this almost helps the designs as a book cover is meant to give a flavour of the content inside rather than the whole plot, after all. One of the things that really impresses me about Jonny's work is how he handles typography, especially as he uses a lot of it. The way he emphasises particular words to create a clear sense of hierarchy within such busy pieces inspires me as this is something I often struggle with. I particularly like the use of capitalised, bold text mixed with lower case handwritten text in the Air Speed Railway print, used to draw your attention to the most important information. A similar technique is used on the Burns Cabaret poster; I like how colour is used to highlight certain words or even parts of words, like the 'adm' in 'admission'.

Jonny talked a lot about how he is often given opportunities to create projects for fun or even reuse older works to create new outcomes. He explained that his book, The Captain's Alphabet, is actually a collection of screenprints he had created several years previously in the form of a book. I really love the pages in this book and how they have very limited colour schemes, mainly using only one colour per spread. The whole book feels unmistakably Jonny. He is a great example of having a recognisable style that is unique to you and sticks out from the sea of other designers out there; I for one have never seen another designer's work look anything like this. I think that is what is so inspiring about Jonny - he is unapologetically himself, even throughout all of the modern design trends we have seen in recent years. This is something I will strive to achieve myself as I feel like having the resilience and ability to just be yourself must feel lovely, and be really empowering in that you can just do whatever and not worry about how others may try to be similar, or be doing the total opposite to you.

This theme of being unique and yourself is continued with Jonny's personal project, Darktown. In his talk, Jonny explained that he is very much focussed on just having fun (which he does have 90% of the time, according to him) as we must do what we enjoy. Darktown started as something in Jonny's mind which has developed over an extended period of time, which has now been compiled into the book Greetings from Darktown. I feel incredibly inspired by his ability to just come up with this whole town, the places, the characters, and what it looks like, all for fun, as well as the illustrations as individual pieces. I would love to see the inner workings of Jonny's mind; it seems like there is so much imagination and idea generation constantly happening in it. I also love the expressive, textured, heavily decorated style of the Darktown buildings and how they use contrasting colours so well. The illustrations almost feel effortless, almost like they are ideas which are still in progress, always developing and changing slightly over time.

The last thing that really inspires me about Jonny is that he will agree to try anything, and just have fun messing around with things, even if he's never done them before. This was particularly apparent in the 3D works that he showed to us during his talk. I was amazed to find that he had painted, written and scribbled on so many different surfaces like cars, guitars, fabric, wood, whole walls and door panels, and lots of toy cars. In particular, the life size 'Darktown Turbo Taxi' really inspired me as something which must have been incredibly intimidating at first; having to cover the whole surface of a car must have been a big commitment and personally I would worry about making a mistake on something so large, especially due to the 3D nature of it. Jonny manages to tackle these 3D objects as though they were pieces of paper, working on them both as flat panels and whole objects at the same time. I feel like this has definitely inspired me to try to work in 3D, just to see what happens, or to at least try something new without worrying so much about the outcome.

So, in conclusion, I feel as though Jonny's talk was great in showing me how far we can be pushed and what is really achievable as an English designer, particularly one based in illustration (which is one of my main passions). Jonny has this great sense of imagination and unique thinking that I would love to develop throughout the remainder of my time at NTU and design career.

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