Get to Know Multidisciplinary Creator Ben Johnston

Photo by Jake Sherman
Photo by Jake Sherman

Take a stroll through Toronto’s trendy West Queen West neighbourhood and you’re bound to stumble upon Ben Johnston’s latest work. Painted across the east-facing façade of the newly-opened Drake General Store flagship, the mural is sure to become the city’s next most Instagrammed wall. And it’s certainly not the only Johnston instalment in Toronto—you can find his work stamped on Sorry Coffee Co.’s cups, and on the face of the Liberty Market Building, among other spots.

Photo by Jake Sherman

In between the finishing touches of the mural, we caught up with the Toronto-born, Cape Town-raised multidisciplinary creator to get the low-down on his creative process, along with some personal tidbits like his go-to Toronto restaurant, and more.

S/: Tell me about your creative process?

Ben Johnston: Generally, I try to figure out what the end application needs to be and see what fits in that space. Then, I work out what illustration style works for that particular client and sketch ideas from there. It’s a constantly evolving process; there’s never one method that works.x

What designers or artists have inspired you?

It’s not particularly people from my field, but it could be people in architecture or other fine arts that are doing cool things in their field. One artist in particular is Parra, and then locally, Trevor Wheatley, who works in a 3D space where he makes all of his artwork into physical objects. That’s a new take on things, so that’s really cool to see.

Dream destination?

Probably Japan. I’ve actually thought about going to live there.

If you could go for a beer with any artist or designer, dead or alive, who would it be?

Probably Stefan Sagmeister. He works a lot in the area of typographics and has made a lot of big landmark designs in the industry. He’s done it for so long. It’s interesting how he’s adapted typographic work for the mainstream and consistently does it over and over again with a new and fresh take every time. He does the kind of stuff I’d like to be doing eventually, in the long run.

Go-to restaurants or bars in Toronto?

I work next to 416 [Snack Bar], so that’s definitely one of the favourites.

Coffee or tea?

Coffee. Black.

What’s on your bucket list?

To travel and paint. You create a connection when you paint a design with people, so it’s that collaborative effort with different cultures, that is my goal.