Inside the Mind of Marc Johns

Marc Johns is an illustrator from Victoria, Canada. He makes sweet, strange, often absurd and always heartwarming drawings. He has designed a First Aid for the Mind product range for Department Store for the Mind that includes A Hug, Simple Reminders and Space To Think.

Follow him @marcjohns

How would you describe your inner world?
I wish I could draw the answer! I think it would be a big scribble. Half the time I feel in turmoil - I’ve got this scribble that I’m trying to unravel. But there’s something I find beautiful about scribbles - and I think everybody has a unique one. At the same time, they often need a bit of cleaning up.

Tell us about your product range. How did the idea of making First Aid products evolve?
I get asked to make cheesy uplifting stuff all the time and that really doesn't work for me. This commission was different. I liked that it was about creating feel-good products that aren't mushy, fuzzy, smarmy.

What do you want it to do?
If my products make people smile then I'll feel they're a success. Everybody needs little pick-me-ups. Just a little jolt of acknowledgement, that life isn't always easy.

How did your illustrative style come about?
I didn’t intend to be a self-help artist or anything like that. I’m not a super outwardly cheery person. I can be quite grumpy. But I draw things that are on the encouraging side because I need them myself. They remind me to focus on the things that make me happy - not dwell on the person who cut me off in traffic, or something like that. So, it’s not that I’m out there trying to tell people how to cheer up – I’m really just trying to cheer myself up. And then I share it, hoping it will resonate with somebody else.

Where do you get your characters from - who is hanging out in your head?
I never seem to tire of drawing birds or fish – especially birds standing on skateboards. I always think it’s funny when you make an object do the same thing as a human being. When you make a chair do something a person would do, for example, it’s instantly hilarious. But it also creates a different way of looking at human life.

Where do you get your inspiration?
Children’s books are a big source for me. The egg on the plate I've made is running away - remember the old nursery rhymes like the dish ran away with the spoon? I love the absurdity of that. I don’t think we stop often enough to enjoy how truly insane some of that stuff is.

What did you enjoy about the process?
It was so good to design physical objects. In so many cultures and religions people have something physical, tangible that connects them to their spiritual world. I went to a Catholic school for a while and we were given rosaries, which I thought was kind of cool. In the secular world, many of those talismans are missing.

Can you tell us about an object that means something special to you?
There is a compass that always sits in my desk – that I had when I was a boy scout. I love picking it up and I barely remember how to use it properly but – it sort of connects me to my past. Like a touchstone. And it’s still very useful! It reminds me of growing up and learning to be resourceful.

Whose mind would you like to get inside?
Oooo, um, gosh, well, I’ve been reading a lot of Agatha Christie novels recently. I’d love to get inside her head. She was so prolific.

How do you get stuff done?
I've read lots of articles about artists who say you need to have a routine. I love the idea of that - but I can’t seem to stick to one for any length of time. I’m a total flake. I go through periods of crisis where I think I have no more ideas left, and I get totally stuck. But then at other times I can suddenly make ten drawings in an afternoon. It's completely maddening.

Which of your simple reminders do you need most?
Trust your gut. That’s something I’m really lousy at. My work probably looks like I shoot from the hip - but actually I overthink things a lot.