Rebecca Wolkenstein (Design Files sponsor and loyal reader!) recently introduced me to the work of incredible creative all-rounder Jonathan Zawada. Jonathan is a Sydney based artist / creative director and designer for music, art and fashion clients. His extremely impressive list of clients include Modular Records, The Presets, Tina Kalivas, Coca Cola US and China, Fanta, 18th Amendment, Myspace Fashion, BMW, V, Ksubi, and General Pants. Commissions have included website design, illustration, fabric prints, animation, art direction of photo shoots, and book and magazine art direction.
Seriously. Have you ever heard of a more multi-talented creative person? It seems this guy can do pretty much anything.
BUT it’s not just the scope of his work that is impressive, it’s the fact that for Jonathan, no two jobs are ever alike – his style is almost completely indistinguishable from one job to the next… which is actually quite rare I think for an independent designer. Jonathan’s work is constantly evolving and pushing in new directions – it always seems new and fresh and original.
Jonathan recently co-founded Tru$t Fun! – a new project which is basically a collaboration allowing Jonathan and his creative parters to make stuff without the usual constraints of a commercial client. Tru$t Fun produces limited edition accessories and has worked on commissions including a viral clip for the Presets and BMW.
In addition to checking out Jonathan’s website, you can also look at his folio on Rebecca Wolkenstein’s site. AND make sure you watch that animation he worked on with Kris Moyes (below). It is my favourite thing.
Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?
I’ve always enjoyed drawing since I was a little kid and through my teenage years I got interested more in the digital side of illustration, things like 3d modeling, photoshop and interactive design. Throughout my later years of high school I was doing the odd freelance job building websites, working for a small traditional animation studio and selling the occasional tshirt that I would screen print in my bathroom. As a result of getting started working quite early on I only lasted about 6 months into my design degree before I was offered a job at a very low end web development company which I took even though it wasn’t even really design but rather straight programming for online. As luck would have it a couple of guys ran a little design company out of a tiny office out the back of the place I worked and I ended up quitting my job to work with them. One of them was George Gorrow who soon started up Ksubi with some other guys and as a result a whole assortment of doors into fashion, illustration and design opened up for me. It still took a number of years for me to really get away from working with designers on building websites to getting design work on my own though.
You seem to have so many strings to your bow – artist, designer, illustrator, creative director, art director, animator and music-video director… etc How do these various roles complement each other, and what is your response when asked “So Jonathan, what do you do?”
Generally I just say “graphic designer and illustrator” because most people get what that is. It can get tricky trying to explain to people, particularly people involved in design and advertising, what sort of stuff I do as I always end up sounding like a jack of all trades – like a crappy fake swiss army knife that promises a lot but snaps when you try to use the bottle opener. I think in the past I might have just ended up an art director, but I think in the world of computers which don’t require you to have such a high degree of technical skill in a single field like say – typesetting – you really can explore all of the aspects of visual communication quite freely. For me its really always just been about picking the right medium and method for the brief and the budget!
Tell us about Modular…
Modular have been really great to me over the years and although the budgets and the scale of the jobs aren’t always the best, working in that environment and with those sorts of people whose goals really are the definition of design – a swaying mix of the creative and the commercial – has been a great and constant challenge. There’s a certain lightness to working with a client like Modular that you don’t get working with say a big architecture firm – there’s no big boardroom meetings, long discussions or painfully anal fine tuning made by committee, its always a simple “yes we like it” or “no, its not right”. Slightly removed from the label itself, working with musicians and their egos can be difficult, but I really think that being forced to mix your creative ideas with somebody else’s consistently results in a better product at the end.
Tell us about Tru$t Fun!
Tru$t Fun! started off as a little side project with my friend Shane Sakkeus and my wife Annie Wright. It really came out of having ideas for things that clients just didn’t want to explore. In the beginning that meant wanting to hand dye tshirts rather than simply print them with designs. Next was creating our backstage fashion comic – Petit Mal! which was, I guess, simply something that we saw as being a more fun, interesting, creative and relevant way of looking at fashion journalism. Recently those little side projects have been growing larger and getting some positive feedback from people we really respect so the challenge now is to make sure we can grow it while keeping it fundamentally where we started which was just making sure everything we do remains simply fun for us. There’s a single tangent through all of the Tru$t Fun! stuff which I think is really its about making things ourselves, everything we do has a lot of work in it bar a few things that we don’t have the machines for, we do it all ourselves – which I think is key.
Your style varies so greatly from on job to the next. It’s great because each new project seems completely fresh and unpredictable! How would you describe the style of your work?
I don’t know how it ends up but I know the one thing I always like my work to be is succinct. I’m not sure if that’s particularly stylistic though…?
You’ve worked for some fantastic companies both here and overseas. Who have been some of your favourite clients and/or collaborators?
I think design is always about good communication so my favourite clients tend to be those I’ve known the longest. People like Modular and in particular The Presets have been fantastic to work with for that reason and I think liking the product really helps make the experience a good one. I’m always excited about working with fashion designer Tina Kalivas too – her skill as a designer is absolutely incredible and I always feel privileged to work with somebody of that calibre. There are photographers like Ben Sullivan and Lyn Balzer and Anthony Perkins who I love getting to work with too – they’re all good friends and you don’t need to do so much talking to communicate your thoughts.
Art Direction for Tina Kalivas
Where do you turn for inspiration – books, magazines or the web? Do you pay attention to trends in the broader design world like fashion, film, etc?
My friend Shane showed me this great thing which is the changing desktop wallpaper. His frequency is every 10 seconds or something but that’s a bit much for me so mine changes once every minute. It picks images from a folder on my desktop that I just drag absolutely anything I find that I like into – from type to illustration, photography to fashion. At the moment I have something like 600 images in there and I think having them constantly shuffling around in the background is a good way of feeding the subconscious. Job by job though, the inspiration generally comes from within the brief, sometimes more specifically prescribed than you’d like but it’s inspiration nonetheless.
*Note from Lucy – AWESOME I really need to figure out how to do that to free up all the reference shots buried in my hard drive too!
Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?
There’s way too many to mention so I’ll just mention a few of the recent ones off the top of my head; The illustrated type work of Alex Trochut is amazing, I love everything about Cory Archangel, the photography of Guido Mocafico and the art of Koji Ryui.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I work from home with my wife Annie so my time, weekdays and weekends is generally pretty structureless. I tend to chop and change between several different projects in a day, mostly dictated by impending deadlines, so often I’ll spend a morning working on an illustration for something like a tshirt print and then the afternoon maybe designing something like a website or a cd cover. Hopefully I manage to get out of the house at some point for a coffee or to have lunch in the park but that doesn’t always happen and on occasion I’ve spent 3 or 4 days in the house without stepping outside once.
What are you most proud of professionally?
That’s a really tough one and would probably depend entirely on my mood, right now I’d say maybe the Magazine I put together for Modular a couple of years ago. Essentially my role was creative director/ co-editor as well as art director so it was a rare opportunity to have more control over the content, as a result I think I ended up with a more mature degree of design where the content and its presentation were intrinsically tied together, rather than simply being just a superficial sheen. It was also a great opportunity to play with a wide variety of visual approaches including photographic art direction, illustration, typography and book design.
What would be your dream project?
An album cover for Björk!
What are you looking forward to??
The possibility of designing a Trust Fun! shop in the near future.
Sydney Questions –
Best gallery to discover interesting new artwork/illustration in Sydney?
My friend Joe Allen runs the Monster Children Gallery, which I currently have a TRU$T FUN! exhibition called Glory Holes at, which I have to mention. But my favourite gallery for exposing me to new art would have to be Sarah Cottier Gallery on Neild Avenue in Paddington, its an absolutely beautiful space and the artists exhibited are quite broad but all share a certain sensibility which really appeals to me.
Your favourite bookshop in Sydney?
The Cross Art + Books on Roslyn Street in Kings Cross is excellent. It’s all second hand books on fashion, art, design and architecture. I always manage to find something amazing that I’ve never heard of before and the store itself is really peaceful and manages to take hours away from me without noticing.
What/where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?
Fratelli Paradiso in Potts Point. Lamb Ragu!!!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Really early I’m sitting quietly in Beare Park watching the sun rise. It helps act as a bit of a punctuation point to the working week but after that I like a bacon and egg roll from Kings Cross markets which is where we also do all our food shopping. Everything there is excellent and its also fast become a place to run into friends of ours who have the same idea.
Sydney’s best kept secret?
McKenzies Bay jump rock and sucky shoot.