Johnson ‘excited for year to come’
Although lacking experience with design when he started out, Johnson has developed a unique style of his own.
Sometimes life pans out differently than planned. Just ask Jon “Bearface” Johnson.
Coming hot off the heels of an English and film studies degree from Wilfrid Laurier University, Johnson sought a secure life as an English teacher. After rejections from nearby teacher’s colleges, he found himself working as a projectionist at the Princess Cinemas with a bleak outlook into his future.
A chance encounter in an alleyway outside Jane Bond paved way for his current career as a freelance designer and screen printer.
There he met Marc Lecompte, the owner of Princess Café. Lecompte, looking for help to create his zine ctrpllr, enlisted Johnson to help with layout and design of the project. With very little experience in design, Johnson had to adapt quickly.
He and Lecompte scoured local second-hand shops looking for old books with vintage typefaces and images to be pasted into the zine.
As Johnson continued to contribute to ctrpllr he began to embrace the lifestyle of a small business owner; it was at this point Johnson realized his true career path. The flat and vintage-inspired design of the zine paved way for Johnson’s style as a freelancer.
“I was always into maps, signs, old advertisements. It just never really clicked until 2006 when I started working for ctrpllr.”
Soon Johnson began designing the weekly pamphlet for Princess Cinemas. More opportunities began to present themselves while he worked as a cleaner for Starlight Social Club and Jane Bond. The venue and restaurant were pursuing a new graphic designer. Despite the experience, Johnson jumped at the opportunity.
“The doors opened, I talked my way into them and then I just had to learn how to do it,” he said.
With an outpouring of design requests, Johnson found it fitting to create his brand, and Bearface was born. With a thick beard, the design moniker seemed fitting. Under his new brand, it was all uphill from there.
Through word of mouth, Johnson was pursued by many local businesses, looking for the flat and minimalistic look that he excelled at. He landed gigs designing for the likes of Taco Farm and the University of Waterloo.
Johnson’s unique style has given him a lot of freedom in the industry and allowed him to remain calm and collected in his design process.
“When somebody comes and says, ‘Here’s my logo, design something for us,’ that’s amazing,” he said. “I’ll get a project and just sit on it — let it be in the back of my head, think about as I walk the dog, in the shower and I’ll just start sketching.”
As a lover of craft beer, Johnson had the privilege to design for Descendants Beer & Beverage Co. and Wellington Brewery. He melded his love for artisanal craftsmanship with his eye for design with the creation of his second brand, BRFC.
Under BRFC, Johnson designs and screen-prints custom coasters, handkerchiefs and t-shirts — all done out of his basement. The brand got its start at local craft shows, but has healthily grown since its inception and is stocked in a handful of retailers across Canada.
Although he wants the brand to grow, he is afraid of BRFC growing beyond its means and losing the hands-on aspect of his profession.
“You get so busy making sure someone else is doing it right that you miss out on the best part of [screen-printing].”
Despite his fears, Johnson saw exciting growth last year with his Ontario craft beer inspired t-shirt “Drink Beer From Here,” which has received requests from stockists in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Michigan.
Given this growth, Johnson is excited for the year to come.
“Next year could be the year that everything changes.”