Mike Johnston



Get Mike's art for 20% off this month with coupon code MIKEJAN and read our exclusive interview below!



K- How long have you been making art?

M- Ever since I was a kid. I remember second grade, specifically, doing a lot of GI Joe drawings.

K- When did you realize it wasn’t just something you were good at and you wanted to make it all that you did?

M- It has only been my career for a year; before that I was a teacher so I would teach and do my art on the side. I honestly didn’t think I was going to make a career of it until the ACL poster happened two years ago. Something about that just really validated what I was doing and I felt like “If these guys who impact a lot of people feel like I’m doing something good then maybe I am onto something, Maybe there is a chance.” I felt like I could really make a go of it and about a year after that I wanted to stop teaching. My wife said “Give it a little more time” and that was tough. But last year was one of the best years of my life. Going full-time artist, it felt right; it felt like what I should’ve been doing. 


K- It takes a while to launch being a self-sustaining artist.

M- Graham Franciose was someone that I always admired and I loved his work. My first art show I did in Austin was with him. I just reached out to Graham and I was like “Would you do this art show with me?” He didn’t even know who I was and he was like “Yeah.” I was really surprised that he did that. I was really surprised to see how artists did make a full-time living. Personally, I don’t think I could make it with just selling paintings but with murals, I found that’s a good fit. Sometimes it’s so nice to have this massive wall and to do a really large piece a lot of people can see. 


K- What percentage are commissions versus your own fine art?

M- I would say probably 90% commission. And that’s a part of it when you hear people say that they don’t want art to become their job because they’ll lose the passion or some of the excitement. I try to keep that in mind. When I’m doing a specific project for someone else, I always try to make sure that a part of my soul goes into that as well. It makes it more rewarding and also I don’t want to become a robot!


K- Where does inspiration come from for the 10% of your work that you do for yourself?

M-I have a lot of street art books and illustration books, typography books. Music is a huge inspiration. If I hear a song that connects with me somehow, I might put that song on repeat 30 times in a row and I’ll just play it to death. In that process, I get rejuvenated. What is that feeling of feeling alive? What is that like? It’s like you’re a kid again. I think back to my childhood and what I got excited about then.  I got excited about Jordan sneakers and Mr. T. And those things will play into my heart quite a bit.


K- What techniques and mediums do you use?img-8048.jpgimg-8036.jpg

M- Spray paint layer for the background and sometimes spray paint at the end for texture. I have been getting into wood cut-outs too which add an extra pop. The cut-outs take more time and there’s a little bit more risk involved because they break sometimes. But working with wood can be very therapeutic. I salvage wood from the side of the road and turn into something. For the posters I'm working on now I have a large roll of paper. I project an image onto the roll and paint it. Usually I use these paint markers which is quick. I’ve been doing street art for 4 years. For the first 3 years I was using wheat paste but to save time I started buying actual wall paper paste from Home Depot. Wheat paste will start to peel away after a while and this sticks for longer.


K-Are you showing anything right now?

M- I’m always showing at the Austin Art Garage and the random murals scattered about random businesses here in town. 51st Street from the Triangle down I usually have a handful of posters up but at any point those could be covered up. The longest running pieces I have are 12th St and West Lynn I have painted electric boxes there. There’s a large piece at the Triangle. To see my murals- there’s one on Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter, Lamar and 30th is a two-story furniture store called Renner Project where I did a raccoon mural. Then we have Airport and 49 ½ a mural for Tomlinson’s pet store, and a parking garage across from the W.

K-Have you done anything outside of Austin?

M- In October I went to Delhi, India and did 4 murals total. I was a visiting artist at a school and I worked with the kids on 3 of them. It was cool to see how excited they were about street art. They had a lot of questions.


K- Do you have any favorite spots in Austin for inspiration?

M- I really love Bartholomew Park where I walk my dogs. I like spending time in my backyard. I save wood from my art projects and have little fires in the back.


K- Who are some of your favorite artists right now?

M- I’m always a big fan of Shepherd Fairy. Tristan Eaton is phenomenal. He does a lot of collage work. There’s another artist that goes by the name of POSE. His stuff is also like a collage style and it’s been really inspirational for me.


K- What can we expect for the future?

M- Good question! This idea of not getting too comfortable- I want to push myself to do projects that are outside of my comfort zone. One of those is with a video game convention called PAX. I find out this week if I’ll be doing live painting and posters for the event. I’m looking forward to that a lot. And I’d like to do some more collaborations too.


Interview by Katie Dunkle