Mélanie Johnsson


Stories from behind the scenes...

New work: Papergang x MJ


First thing first…Do you know about Papergang? It was created by the lovely folks at Ohh Deer for all stationery fans out there. If you are subscribed to Papergang, you’re probably already receiving an amazing box each month, with lots of stationery bits in there. Papergang collaborates with a different artist each month and their boxes always have a very cool theme! They also sometimes team up with a charity to donate a portion of their sales to them…

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I had worked with Ohh Deer on a few bits in the past and knew the team a little bit that way, so when they got in touch to ask if I would design their October Papergang box, I was over the moon! I was also very excited when they told we would be partnering with a mental health foundation called The Blurt Foundation to raise awareness and understanding about depression (amongst other things). The Papergang team gave me free creative rein to make this box as good as possible. I decided to make it a burst of colour and joy!

When I first started thinking about the box, I wanted to represent what’s going on a in human’s brain but in a fun, abstract way. That’s how I came up with all these shapes. I chose the colour palette to represent a state of joy, happiness and eternal sunshine. I wanted this box to make people happy!


Inside the box, you’ll find a happiness planner, a little monthly planner, some pens, and a few scratch cards with mantras/quotes in them. I wrote all of these mantras…I wrote them for myself but also, obviously, for everyone else that might be going through similar things and needing a little pep talk. I think we all experience a lot of the same emotions and the more we talk about them, the better we will all feel. Sharing is caring, especially when it comes to feelings!

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You can dowload some wallpapers created by the team here.

For this box, I chatted to Luke from Papergang about my life, work and everything else in between! Check out the interview below.


Hey Mel! It’s clear mental health is very important to you; self-care and inspirational messages are recurring themes in your work. What else inspires your illustrations?

It might sound cliché, but I think it is pretty universal: my biggest inspiration for my illustrations is the natural world. Everything about our planet is inspiring and that’s why I love travelling and experiencing new places and cultures, getting inspired by what I see and who (or what!) I meet. 

What’s the nicest reaction you’ve ever had to any of your designs? 

I don’t really remember one specific amazingly nice reaction to my designs, but I do love it when people reach out to me to say that my art makes them happy and brightens their day. That is exactly what I’m trying to do, so that is the biggest compliment ever. 

I assume there’s quite a lot of overlap in your work as a graphic designer, illustrator and letterer. But of those three, is there one that you prefer working as? 

It’s so tricky to pick one! As you mentioned, they overlap all the time in my work, that’s one of the things I love most about my career so far. But if you said I could only do one for the rest of my life, I would pick illustration. I love how fulfilling and therapeutic creating images is. It’s the most rewarding physical and mental activity I’ll ever do! 

What’s your creative process like in terms of going from concept to finished piece? 

I always start by sketching ideas in a notebook or a loose piece of paper. I let my mind wander a little bit and my hand do what it wants to do on the paper. I like to make it a very organic and special time of creation. Then I start painting the ideas I’ve come up with, with some black ink on paper, playing with a lot of different brushes to find the perfect stroke. After this phase, I usually transfer everything to my computer to order, refine and make sense of everything. I mainly use Photoshop to edit and colour my illustrations. I love being able to play with colour palettes and details once the drawings are digitised. 

We saw on your Insta that you’ve got a new studio fairly recently – that’s got to be exciting! Have you made a start on making it into your own unique place, or if not, what have you got planned for it? 

Yes, I have! I moved into this amazing industrial 430 sq ft space in Margate and I’ve started filling it with a lot of plants and colourful stuff. I’ve bought some cute second-hand furniture and painted it all up. I’m partnering with an Eco-friendly paint brand to create these pieces, I’m also going to do a mural on the toilet door! It’s all very exciting. I can’t wait to turn the space into a joyful, eclectic, colourful design studio/surf shack/plant haven. It’s going to be very me! 

What’s the one piece of stationery you couldn’t live without and one thing in general that you couldn’t live without? 

The piece of stationery I couldn’t live without is a notebook. Essential to jot down ideas as they come! (Often at the most inappropriate times). The one thing I couldn’t live without in life is the sea. It makes everything better. That’s why we ought to protect and preserve it. 

And finally, could you give us three quick pieces of advice you might give to your younger self? 

Keep following your gut, try not to overthink too much, and love yourself more! 


I thought I’d share some of the mockups I created when working on the project! This shows you a little bit of my process…

The sleeve was going to be black and white originally for you to colour it in! But in the end, we thought we’d make it colourful and have a poster to colour in inside the box instead. I also thought a few different colours for the Happiness Planner. I also designed a lot of scratch cards!

If you click here, you’ll be able to see the first presentation PDF I sent out to the team. Hope it’s interesting to look at!


I really hope you like the box as much as I liked creating it! And I also hope you enjoyed seeing a little behind the scenes for the process too…

As always, let me know in the comments if you have any question!

Lots of love, Mel x