Johanna Basford – “dream clients are just 140 characters away”

This week illustrator Johanna Basford is publishing her second book – Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Colouring Book (Laurence King, £9.95). We talk to Basford about dealing with mistakes and the importance of internships and social media.

Johanna Basford_042 copy

When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

I always knew I wanted a creative job, I just wasn’t sure what exactly. I remember aged 3 making a robot out of a shoe box, an egg carton and some pipe cleaners and thinking that making stuff would be a pretty cool thing to do when I was a grown up. So I guess then.

What was your first job?

Strawberry picker. My first job in design (not including internships) was working for myself when I set-up my studio in 2006. I made silk-screen-printed wallpapers and fabrics.

How would you describe what you currently do?

Freelance illustration. Got a space? I’ll draw something to fill it. Whether it’s a shop window, a book cover, a beer bottle label or your forearm (?!) I can draw something to fill it.

What has been the biggest change in design since you started?

Social Media. We chat, share, post, comment and network all online now. The world has got smaller. Dream clients are just 140 characters away and everyone and their nan has an opinion on that WIP shot you just posted… 


What is your favourite project, that you’ve worked on? 

My colouring books have been an amazing experience. Secret Garden has sold a million copies worldwide and my second book, Enchanted Forest is launching this week. I think of them as mini international collaborations; I draw the black and white illustrations, then people all over the world add the colour.

What is your favourite project, that you haven’t worked on?

I love Alice in Wonderland, my favourite illustrated version is Ralph Steadman’s. It would be pretty cool to do my own inky edition.

What was your biggest mistake?

I turned down a few cool internships after art school because I wanted to crack on and set-up my own studio. Big mistake. Do as many internships as time and finances will allow. Learn from other people, then improve on their ideas.

What is your greatest ambition?

To still be doing work I love when all my friends are retiring. 

Who is the most inspirational person you have worked with?

Not a person, but I did some work with Maggie’s a couple of years ago and it was such a rewarding and eye-opening experience. I love the way this charity approaches architecture and design and harnesses the power in each to create their unique cancer caring centres. I’m acutely aware the my contribution to humanity is ‘drawing pictures’ so it’s wonderful to draw pictures for an organisation who can make a real and tangible difference to so many lives.

Enchanted Forest colour 1

What piece of advice would you give to people starting out in design?

Everyone struggles at times in their career. The people that succeed aren’t more talented, well connected or even more lucky than you. They just pick themselves up faster. When something happens that makes you fall, don’t lie there wallowing in your misfortune and misery, pick yourself up, work out what you’ve learnt and fire back in. The quicker you can do this, the better.

All images courtesy Johanna Basford and Laurence King.

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  • Chris Wannop March 17, 2015 at 10:09 am

    love the the illustrations and great advice there 🙂

  • Annette Taylor-Anderson June 15, 2016 at 9:21 am

    Congratulations to a very talented lady.

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