Sassy, creative and fabulous, Tara Johnston is the queen of Austin’s hand lettering art scene (yeah, it’s a thing!). We have ALL the heart eyes for her uber talented, often profanity laced pieces. Her words ooze emotion, making you feel so much more than a simple sans-serif font ever could. It’s seriously so rad.
She has created some of the most iconic murals in the city like the Still Austin Whiskey mural, and just recently designed Chelsea Francis’ Pass/Fail logo, but it wasn’t until I discovered Tara through Instagram (#storyofmylife) that I was able to connect the face behind the magic. True to Esperos form, sharing her inspirational story with y’all was top of mind.
How did you get your start as a creative entrepreneur?
I graduated from design school at the University of North Texas in 2010 and have been freelancing to some degree ever since. I taught myself how to build websites and started offering web & graphic services to friends and family. With that came a frustration of never being able to find fonts that I liked or could afford, so I started hand drawing type for most of my projects. This led me to my current obsession with hand lettering and my official title as a lettering artist. I’m happy to have found my niche within the design world and I’m excited to now bring my designs to a larger scale in the form of murals.
Tara Johnston in action painting the HOPE Farmers Market mural; Tara meticulously lettering a barrel for Still Austin Whiskey Co.
What is the importance of murals in a town like Austin?
Murals are important because they build a sense of community. They provide a new way for people to experience the city and they spark conversation. In a town like Austin, murals shape our cultural landscape and add to the unique energy that attracts tourists to our city. They have the ability to dramatically impact all those that pass it by. They humanize the built environment and they add life to public spaces. Plus, they help artists be able to follow their passion and share their talents with a wider audience.
Tara searching for her perfect bag at the Esperos store
Tara, if you could give women 3 tips for growing their freelancing career what would they be and why?
1. Know your value and charge accordingly. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth. You can always negotiate down but it’s hard to negotiate up. Remember that you are trying to make a living, not just scrape by.
2. Don’t be afraid to say no. Not every project that comes your way will benefit you in a way that’s worth your time. Learn to see the red flags early on, and turn down projects that aren’t the right fit. Don’t tie yourself up in stressful situations that you end up missing your dream opportunities. You can’t say yes to your ideal client if you never say no to the wrong ones.
3. Utilize social media for marketing. Inject your personality into your brand and be transparent with your audience. People want to hire the person behind all that great work and they want to feel like they know you. Start sharing more!
If you were an Esperos bag, which one would you be? Why?
The roll top backpack because it looks like it can handle all that life throws at it.
What items do you always carry with you?
Sketchbook (1), sunglasses (2) iPad (3), lipgloss (4).
Tara's ideal bag and the contents she carries with her everyday
Before we go, what are 3 things you wish people knew about you?
I guess I’d like your readers to know that I’m a full time lettering artist with a focus on murals and that my mission is to squash the stereotype of “starving artist”. Art has value, and it is important to me that it always have a place in public spaces and that other artists feel confident pursuing a creative career.