Thursday, June 07, 2012

Michael Johnson: The 1970s, a challenging decade

Guest author Bryn Havord introduces the early work of English illustrator Michael Johnson, covering the decade of his work, from the end of 1959 to 1970.

The 1970s proved to be a challenging decade for every illustrator in Britain trying to pursue a career in magazine illustration. Work became harder to find on both sides of the Atlantic, but the market for paperback book cover illustration remained buoyant in the UK, although more and more photographic cover illustrations were being used.

Johnson28(Cover for Corgi Books. The model was Sue Longhurst.)

My wife and I visited Mike and his then girlfriend Rosie for dinner, and they came to us in our cottage on the edge of Putney Heath in south-west London. We also went out to lunch together fairly regularly.

Johnson30(Double page spread for Woman’s Own.)

We were friendly with Renato Fratini who worked in an old purpose built studio in London's Kensington district. Renato worked with a group of other illustrators, mainly Italians, and we all had a lot of fun. We all modelled for each other if the clients were too mean to pay for professional models.

Johnson31(Double page spread for Homes and Gardens magazine. The models for this painting were fellow illustrators Enzo Ragazzini and Renato Fratini, and Mike’s girlfriend Rosie in the chair.)

In the late sixties and early seventies Mike continued to work for magazines and book publishers including Penguin, Pan, Granada, Collins, Fontana, Panther, and Readers Digest (London and New York).

Johnson29(Another 2 and 3D combination painted for a Penguin book cover.)

I thought Mike had an enormous talent, and was particularly privileged one day when I went to his apartment to collect him for a lunch date, and watched him paint an illustration for Readers' Digest: it took him an hour!

Johnson32(Double page illustration for Woman’s Own magazine.)

He also won a contract with German advertising agency H.B.U. Dusseldorf, as consultant art director and illustrator, working on experimental three-dimensional painting and sculpture artworks used in market research.


(The painting above was produced as a print entitled Carolyn by Frost and Reed. It was another 2 and 3D combination, with the top panels extending forward from the main 2D image, and the centre-piece next to Carolyn’s head rotated to show separate images, as depicted in the two details below.)


Mike continued to have his work published as posters by Frost and Reed, Paul Hamlyn and Scandecor in Sweden.

(In the mid-sixties posters reproduced from illustrations were very popular. The illustration above, a portrait of the model Jane Lumb was made for Frost & Reed, one of the leading poster publishers. The illustration below was published by an offshoot of Prints for Pleasure. The brief was “James Bond girl with gun”.)


Concluded tomorrow

* Bryn Havord was assistant art director of Woman magazine in the late '50s and early '60s. From 1963 to 1965 he was associate editor and art director of Woman's Mirror; both of which were published in the UK. During that time he commissioned work from all the leading British Illustrators including Michael Johnson, Brian Sanders, Walter Wyles, Eric Ernshaw and Gerry Fancett.


  1. Beautiful work, a pleasure to see these great paintings.

  2. really good work! i like this painting, very very beautiful

  3. i like those 3d/ 2d art pieces. thanks for the post!

  4. Great stuff!
    Abstract elements fused into all those earthy realistic things & people.

  5. Great piece, i have one of the original framed 1969 Frost & Reed 'Carolyn' prints and have been searching the internet for ages trying to find some information about it .... i love it even more now

    1. Do you know if the Carolyn prints are of any value

  6. claire williamson10:49 AM

    I bought an acrylic Frost & Reed 'Carolyn' on spec (late 70s early 80s)from the local galley and still have it on show in the lounge!

  7. I have a 1968 painting Carolyn by frost and Reed. Is it worth anything?