We had the good fortune of connecting with Allison Johnston and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Allison, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Starting my design and illustration business was a very organic process. I don’t think I ever really sat down and said, “I’m going to quit my job and start a business!” After graduating with a degree in graphic design, I kind of assumed I would work at a design firm and that would be that. Instead I was a graphic design intern for a while, worked in-house for a real estate company, interned again for a software and tech firm, and worked in-house again for a home decor company before realizing how much I hated the typical work-in-an-office nine to five grind. I started freelancing in my spare time and eventually made the switch to freelancing full-time, but I still didn’t feel particularly passionate about the work I was doing. It honestly wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized I wasn’t a designer — I was an artist and illustrator masquerading as a designer because I had the misconception that it was more employable and I had the fear that I would never be able to make a living making art.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I tend to think I don’t have a consistent enough style (artists are often overly self-critical), but when I look at everything I’ve ever created I absolutely start to see themes and patterns emerging. Most of my current work is painted and drawn digitally (I use a drawing tablet and creative software), but I love the look and feel of handmade elements so I incorporate a lot of color and texture you’d find in drawings and paintings made by hand. I also love realism, so I tend to be drawn towards accurate depictions of people and objects — Lately I’ve been excited to paint a lot of portraits of people and animals. When I’ve successfully captured someone’s likeness it seriously makes my day. And when I’m not drawing portraits I love a good joke or witty story so if I can use that visual storytelling to create something to make people laugh I’ve done my job. There’s a lot I’ve learned throughout this process and a lot I continue to learn. That’s maybe the biggest lesson: you’re never done learning. For that reason, I think practice is sooo important. Periodically forcing yourself to go back to those art basics like charcoal still life studies and figure drawing is hugely beneficial. You’re never going to get to a point and say, “hey, I’ve made it,” because success is a moving target so there’s always something new to explore and learn.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love Houston and we’re getting into the best time of year to be here! As a bicycle commuter I spend a lot of time inside the loop where it’s more cycling-friendly and where there are plentiful coffee shops to work from (this is certainly easier when there isn’t a pandemic going on). Walks/runs/bike rides along Buffalo Bayou are beautiful this time of year and for coffee I love Fix, Blacksmith, and Tenfold… but there’s really no shortage of amazing local coffee spots. Houston is also lucky to have an incredible food scene. Some of my favorites: Uchi, Pondicheri, Surya, Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Velvet Taco, El Rey, Torchy’s, Local Foods, Barnaby’s… there’s also no shortage of amazing local food spots. When I’m not biking, eating, caffeinating, or making art, I love visiting museums like the MFAH, Houston Museum of Natural Science, attending local events like Grown Up Story Time at Rudyard’s Pub, working out and working part-time at The Bar Method in Montrose, or just hanging out with some of the amazing people I’ve met here. Houstonians are friendly, kind-hearted, and full of stories!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help and encouragement of so many people. I’m lucky that my parents were always encouraging me to pursue my passions, as well as two older sisters who also pursued the arts and paved the way for me. I am also endlessly grateful for clients and customers who liked my work and convinced me that I was good at it. Again, being self-critical means you can get in your own head and get in your own way, so it’s always rewarding and reassuring to hear how much someone loves something you poured your heart into.