Blacklist’s Nathan Johnson on Collaboration, Creative Compromise and Working with His Wife

Catch him speaking at Kick. Start. Smart. Brisbane



Living proof that family and business do mix, the husband and wife team Nathan and Jaynie Johnson behind Blacklist are self-confessed “dreamers for dreamers”. If you’ve ever clapped eyes on a Blacklist piece, you’ll know their assertion isn’t far from the truth. Fusing stylistic scribbles with a strong yet simplistic aesthetic, you’re sure to have seen Blacklist designs further afield than someone’s wall: the brand has also produced t-shirt designs for One Teaspoon, cover art for Matt Corby and brochure design for Nepresso. And with “beauty” Nathan and “brains” Jaynie, this couple make the perfect design duo.

This month however, the art director teamed up with another creative outside the family – with iconic Aquabumps photographer Eugene Tan to be exact. The pair teamed up to produce 300 limited edition prints fusing both of their distinctive styles, available later this month. (Credit cards at the ready). We spoke to the designer about his latest project and how he navigates the tricky territory of creative collaboration.

Working with your wife, you’d know a thing or two about collaboration: what do you enjoy most about collaboration?

Yeah, I love working with my wife, and it’s only in the past couple of years have we truly nailed our defined roles to allow us to be really productive. I think when you collaborate with someone else, you are coming to the person because they can bring something to the plate that you can’t. I love that you both approach things and ideas from different angles, and end up at a place that you didn’t think you would from the beginning. It’s actually a really pure creative way to work and create.

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What do you think the key is to good collaboration?

I think a good collaboration is when two people can bring something from their unique way of looking at the world and somehow join them together to make something unique and individual – something you could never do on your own. I knew Eugene’s photography would be such an amazing starting point for a print, so it was a dream to actually be able to make it all happen.

blacklist 1You’ve created art prints, magazine illustrations, clothing designs and brand campaigns… with such a broad spectrum of work to produce, how do you ensure that you’re giving the client what they want while not compromising your vision for the project?

I think as a graphic designer, you always approach a project from your own point of view so naturally, you have your own vision of what you want something to be, and your own way of solving a problem. Initially when starting out, I would try to produce work that the client was happy with, and in whatever style was asked. I think as you progress, you have the liberty to start producing work in the style that you’ve created. I am lucky to have clients approach me to produce work in a ‘Blacklist’ style. When you love what you do, you naturally want to be yourself in your work. That’s what I am aiming to do – be myself in whatever I do.

What are some of the advantages of working with someone else in the creative sphere?

It’s two different creative minds working together on the one thing. I love that you can join together with someone who is like-minded and just be creative for the sake of it… not having to rely on any other input but your own instincts.

See Nathan speak at Kick. Start. Smart. on August 19th in Brisbane.


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