Monday, June 04, 2012

Michael Johnson: "An Ambition to Illustrate"

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.

I first met Michael Johnson in the late 1950s, when I was working as assistant art editor of Woman magazine in London. We both had an interest in fast cars, and each of us owned 3.8 litre Mark II Jaguars. Mike and I were the same age, cocky little buggers of 23 years of age, when we met. We had a similar sense of humour, and still do, and had a lot of fun working together on assignments.

Johnson08(Above: A full page from Woman's Realm magazine published in 1959.)

Mike was born in Thirsk, a horse-racing town, in the north of England. As a small boy, he liked painting and drawing, but especially liked modeling 3D subjects, which later developed into an interest in sculpture. In his early teens he started to build model gliders, and started to learn about aerodynamics. He was also a keen racing cyclist, and came third in the North Yorkshire/South Durham Junior Sprint Championships.

Johnson09(Above: Illustration for Woman magazine 1960.)

When he was sixteen, and a pupil at Thirsk Grammar School, he was awarded an Art Scholarship for three years, to study painting, sculpture, graphic design, and architecture. When he completed the course, his first job was with a design group operating from Leeds in west Yorkshire, where he produced designs and illustrations for a variety of advertising accounts.

Johnson10(Above: Illustration for Woman magazine. The model for this painting was our friend Nancy Egerton.)

Mike’s ambition was to break into the international illustration world....

Johnson12(Above: Full page illustration for Homes and Gardens.)

A year later, that ambition would be realized.

Continued 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, Walter Wyles, Brian Sanders, Eric Ernshaw and Gerry Fancett.


  1. Exciting illustrations that inspired me back then when I would cut out the spreads from my mum's Womans Own magazine. Also introduced me to american illustrators such as Bernie Fuchs and James hill as the stories were reprints from American women's magazines.

  2. Anonymous6:00 AM

    So lovely to see early pictures of Nancy Edgerton. I worked with her in the 1980's when she was a model booker at the Scot Baker Agency and I was a very young dancers agent. She was an amazing character and I have always wanted to see her early work. She died too soon but what a life!