#FreshMeatFriday: Graphic Designer and Art Director, Tyler Johnson


By rizeabove / / Get ready, we’re about to share another one of the top young creatives in Minnesota in a feature we like to call: Fresh Meat Friday. If you, or a youngin’ you know, have roughly between 0-5 years of professional experience and a killer book, please—for the love of all that is holy—shoot us an email: [email protected] Now, without further ado, let’s meet Tyler Johnson of Duluth, MN. Tyler graduated from the College of St. Scholastica (CSS) in 2012 with degrees in advertising/public relations and graphic design. During the school year he interned at CSS and HTK Marketing. After college, he got a job as the in-house designer at the Duluth Art Institute and is recently a graphic designer and art director at Out There Advertising. He also co-owns Stack Prints and has a side project called Forge North. Alright, Minneapolis. Let’s get to it. Hey Tyler, nice to virtually meet you. We were very impressed by your book and your Dribbble. It’s apparent by your experience in art and design that you have passion in what you do, what would you say your career and creative aspirations are? Where do you see yourself in, say, five years? Right now my goal is to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can. Being fairly new to the advertising game, sometimes it feels like I’m playing catch-up. With that in mind I try to work on as many personal & freelance projects as I can to get as much knowledge and experience as possible. Sometimes it’s exhausting but it definitely has its benefits – I feel like my work gets a little better every day. Another goal of mine is to always make work that’s personally significant to me. It might sound selfish but I’ve found I get really burnt out if I’m not feeding myself creatively, and trust me, that’s not good for anybody. Sometimes that means taking on fun freelance clients, screenprinting a t-shirt, or even just doodling for a couple minutes. I always feel better after making something for myself. Additionally, I think when we create and share work that is relevant, meaningful and true to ourselves, that only enriches the society that we live in. Someday I want to take all my creative interests – drawing, illustration, design – and combine them into my own full-time business. The thought of being “on my own” at some point has been an aspiration of mine for a while. I feel like I’m well suited for being self-employed, and I like the idea of having the freedom and responsibility to make a business successful. I keep imagining a bright, unfinished, open studio where I can paint, draw and design – a creative person’s playground. I’m not exactly sure how or when I’m going to do it but I’m sure why – and that is because I need to. It would be a dream come true to make a living in an environment like that and I don’t know if I’ll feel complete until I know I fully pursued it. Finally, I want to share my knowledge with others. Right now that means going to speak to my college professors’ classes and advising students how they can prepare themselves to be successful. I’ve spoken a few times to classes at St. Scholastica and it’s been just as much a fun learning experience for me as (I hope) it is for the students. I’ve had some really excellent teachers throughout my lifetime so the thought of teaching has always been in the back of my mind. Someday it might be fun to try being a part-time professor while also working on my own creative projects. Okay, we love your honesty, and we don’t mind your “selfishness”. It’s even more apparent that you are genuinely looking for that creative edge and that’s refreshing. Kudos on wanting to give back too. So, what exactly led you to where you’re at now? Creativity has always been part of my life from an early age so you could say my path to where I am now started as a toddler at my drawing table. I would spend hours drawing every day – Power Rangers, Star Wars, you name it, I drew it! My interest in the arts continued through elementary and middle school, much thanks to several great teachers and my lifelong friend, Patrick Sharrow who is an awesomely talented visual artist. In middle school my friends and I had a skateboarding crew which was as much about making cool stuff as it was about skateboarding. We were probably actually better at making things than skateboarding. We stitched, painted and stenciled our logo and designs on everything from skate ramps to belt buckles. We didn’t know it at the time but we were creating a brand and visual identity & brand around our skate crew. In high school I quit skateboarding but continued taking lots of creative classes simply because I loved them and they came naturally to me. I was encouraged by a few great teachers to pursue the arts but at the time I was convinced that I wanted to pursue something in the medical field. As a result of that, I decided to attend the College of St. Scholastica which is known for its medical programs. After starting at CSS I decided to pursue dentistry. It took all but two months for me to quickly decide it wasn’t what I wanted to pursue! Luckily, I was encouraged by a special mentor to pursue something in the creative field whether it was as a working artist or designer. I worked my butt off and pretty much lived in the computer lab and art studio for the next few years. I took as many internships and freelance opportunities as I could hoping I’d be able to land on my feet after graduation. After college I got a job as the in-house designer at the Duluth Art Institute where I was able to take full control of redesigning all the marketing materials. I started small by redesigning postcards and fliers and slowly worked up to redesigning the quarterly magazine and other materials. The Executive Director, Anne Dugan was always very trusting in my abilities and artistic vision and she was instrumental in allowing me to develop as a designer. After working at the Duluth Art Institute for awhile I think people began to notice there was a shift happening with the visual identity. People began asking, “when is that magazine coming out again?”. Soon afterward the Creative Director from Out There Advertising, John Keuning called and asked to set up a meeting. I stopped by their offices one morning and I was unexpectedly offered the job on the spot. Now I’m about six months into working at Out There Advertising. From dentistry to design. We dig it. We’re sure you would have made a great dentist, but design sounds like more of your calling. Speaking of design, what are your top three favorite projects? My top three favorite projects would have to be: The Design Pop Up Shop collaboration with Cody Paulson. Duluth Art Institute’s Artistic Duluth identity. My newest (and still in progress) book design for A New Approach, a drawing book by a former professor. Great work. Are there any cool new projects coming up that you can talk about (ad related or not)? If so, what excites you about them? One project I’m really thrilled about is Stack Prints, which is a fairly new design and screenprinting project belonging to my friends, Cody Paulson, Taylor Bjork, Stephen Pestalozzi and myself. We offer design & screenprinting services as well as an online gallery and store. We also all design and print our personal passion projects under Stack Prints and so far it’s been a lot of fun. This summer we are curating an exhibition at Prøve Gallery in Duluth, MN which will feature designers from across Minnesota, the United States, and even a few from the U.K.! Stay tuned. The project has been a nice departure from the advertising work we do during the day. As creatives there are so many wild avenues that we’re sometimes unable to explore during our day jobs because a particular idea doesn’t fit a client’s brand, budget, etc. This project has been a breath of fresh air for all of us because we’re able to explore these fun, personal ideas that we just need to see executed and slapped on a t-shirt or poster. Also, every night we get together is like a screenprint pizza party, so there’s that. We’re just about ready to wrap up. Just curious, have you won any awards for your work? No major AdFed or AIGA awards (yet!) but I did have a fairly successful run of shirts on Cotton Bureau which got me on their wall of fame! https://cottonbureau.com/products/old-north-pennant Thanks, Tyler. Check out more of Tyler’s work on his website: http://tylerbjohnson.com. And be sure to check out our last feature, Nan Sinchai.