Jonathan Zawada is an Australian illustrator who has recently relocated to Los Angeles. His art has been featured in a number of exhibitions and he has produced worked for many high profile clients including The New York Times and The Sydney Theatre Company. His side project Fashematics is well known and loved for poking gentle fun at contemporary haute couture. Jonathan is one of the ten contemporary artists commissioned for our upcoming Then x Ten exhibition and will be revealing a poster he designed for George Nelson's iconic Coconut Chair.
What led you to pursue a career as an illustrator?
Pursue is probably a more proactive word than I would choose. I’ve always loved drawing, for as long back as I can remember it's about all I would do. For a while I thought I would be an animator, then a computer programmer, then a graphic designer but in the end I feel like all of those things were always just skirting around the inevitable happy home of illustration and art.
Describe a typical day at the office.
About 9 months ago I largely put my commercial practice on hold and moved to Los Angeles to focus more on art, so now my typical day at the office involves me heading into my windowless basement studio and painting for about 10 hours with talk radio on and coming out to briefly catch a glimpse of the sun before it goes down.
(above) Illustration for The New York Times
Can you reveal to us some of your tools of the trade and preferred artmaking materials?
I probably feel most comfortable with pencil and paper for a lot of things but I like to use as wide a spread of materials as possible. Sometimes that just means the airbrush tool in Photoshop, other times it will be a combination of scripting in Illustrator, building in 3d programs like Blender or Terragen and with extra Photoshoppery around the sides. For the past few years I’ve been doing a fair amount of oil painting and that has completely opened my eyes (excuse the pun) to a breadth and subtlety of colour I had never encountered before in other mediums.
How has your approach evolved over the years, do you have any rituals or routines you follow before embarking on an illustration?
The execution of an illustration always feels effortless and a bit like a compulsion which I find it hard to tear myself away from, the initial idea is the hardest part for me. I discovered that the best way to come up with a solution is to think really hard on the problem for the first day or two and then to completely put it out of my mind and usually within 1 or 2 weeks an idea will pop into my head almost fully formed.
(above) Album artwork for Chester French
What element of design could you not live without?
How has technology changed your art form if at all?
After saving up my money I had the choice when I was about 14 to buy an airbrush set or a second-hand computer. I laboured over the decision for a long while and ended up going with the computer. I’ve worked with one ever since and I’ve always enjoyed working with as many different pieces of software as I can in combination with my traditional illustration techniques. It has allowed me to to achieve a much broader range of work and to be pretty much unrestrained in my thinking with what I can achieve.
What advice would you give to aspiring art makers?
What worked for me was having a thorough understanding of the practical basics. Being able to complete simple tasks well, was what led to every one of the bigger opportunities I’ve ever received and that foundation continues to underpin my approach to every piece of work I undertake.
(above) Three of the hysterical equations from Fashematics
How much of your work is influenced by the past?
Nowadays the influence of the past is much more indirect than it once was. The lessons I consciously learned from past design are now fairly deeply ingrained in my subconscious, so although I have stopped looking to the past for clues and hints, the instincts I now have are undoubtedly the result as much of past design as my own technical development.
What influenced your style … How did it come about? How did you know when it was right?
I still feel like I’m struggling to find my personal style. I tend to get bored quite easily so I like to mix things up quite often. There’s not really any one style that I would say is right but rather an analogue range of approaches that I employ in each unique circumstance. I think I only really realised I had any sort of style at all when people began to approach me for it, even then I’m still unsure what that style is.
(above) Illustration work for the the Sydney Theatre Company's recent production of Undermilkwood
What have been your most rewarding achievements?
I’ve been very fortunate to get to travel a fair bit with my work, to visit places like Japan, Spain, America, France and England through doing a job I love, which is definitely the most rewarding part of it. Being able to work with interesting people doing exciting things like The Presets, Modular Records, Tina Kalivas, Prism Gallery etc etc and developing lasting friendships out of that is also really important to me.
Do you feel like a citizen of the world in terms of your trade, or are there geographic anchors to your work as an illustrator?
I recently relocated to Los Angeles so at the moment I definitely feel less geographically tied down than ever. A lot of my work for a number of years has been primarily for international clients, but it has only been since I’ve actually been away from Australia that I’ve realised how being from there seems to have largely informed this international, almost universal approach.
(above) A product from Zawada's collaborative commercial venture tru$t fun!
We’re delighted you'll be participating in the Then x Ten Herman Miller exhibition. How do you feel about being chosen?
Very flattered and very thrilled! Herman Miller’s design (and in particular the posters by the likes of Steve Frykholm and Armin Hoffman) have always been enormous influences on me, not to mention the incredible Fabio Ongarato. To be even the tiniest part of this amazing design history is something I really never would have thought possible.
Can you share with us some early ideas of what you will be working on to create your poster for Herman Miller?
I’m hoping to capture the jubilance, lightness and simplicity of both concept and execution that I feel like is often manifest in Herman Miller, in particular in the chair I am working with, George Nelson’s Coconut Chair. There is a simultaneous humour and beauty there that is really at the core of everything I enjoy about design and I hope I can do that justice.
Posted by Lauren Evans