Following her time at the University, Class of 2022 alumna Makaela Johansen has made strides in her blossoming graphic design career, creating graphics and murals for various local businesses. Just over a year after her 2022 graduation, Johansen sat down to discuss her passions, goals, and artistic journey with The Cavalier Daily.
Now a full-time graphic designer for Charlottesville’s own Three Notch’d Brewing Company, Johansen designs media for product labels, promotional materials and more. Johansen said seeing her work featured on real products has been a “surreal” experience.
“People are actually buying these [cans] and drinking them and it's my artwork on it — they don't even know that,” Johansen said. “It's really special.”
Johansen has maintained an interest in the visual arts since she was younger, consistently receiving colored pencils or painting kits as gifts. Her family noticed her affinity for the discipline, but she said that it wasn’t until her time at the University that art became more than a hobby.
“Once I got into the School of Architecture , I actually started doing more art again,” Johansen said. “I loved my first year… I was having the best time in all my classes doing all the artsy stuff.”
In addition to reigniting her interest in art, Johansen’s time in the School of Architecture made her realize that her true passion did not lie in technical work, but rather the study of design. Pursuing a Design Thinking concentration, Johansen curated her classes to maintain a design-based, artistic focus within her degree.
In addition to academics, Johansen said her extracurricular involvement sparked her particular interest in graphic design. After taking on a publicity and social media position in her a cappella group, Johansen said she realized that she wanted to pursue a career in graphic design and took every step possible to develop her craft.
“I started getting into internships and doing basically anything I could,” Johansen said. “Anytime anyone needed a little graphic or something, I always just offered because that's the best way to build up experience and become better technically.”
One of Johansen’s recent projects involved designing labels for Mountain Culture Kombucha, a local Kombucha company. As a fan of their product, she decided to design a theoretical new label for the drink as a personal project. However, after deciding “on a whim” to send her design to the company, she unexpectedly ended up working with the brand to redesign all of their labels.
Johansen said these opportunities to work with local brands have been rewarding. In working with Three Notch’d and Mountain Culture Kombucha, Johansen said she was given the chance to build connections with the people behind these businesses.
“It's really fun,” Johansen said. “Graphic design is my little way to get in, meet new people and give something back to things that I care about.”
Johansen finds that the beauty of graphic design in part lies in its anonymity. To Johansen, graphic design is a chance to quietly share her art with the world.
“They don't need to know who I am,” Johansen said. “It's just a little piece of joy that I get to bring to people's lives.”
In addition to her professional triumphs in graphic design, Johansen is an equally skilled painter. Taking a special opportunity to share her talents with the University community, Johansen recently painted a mural at beloved Corner restaurant and bar, Crozet Pizza and Buddhist Biker Bar. Johansen said that the chance to share her art publicly was a unique and valuable experience.
“I got to make some really cool art,” Johansen said. “And now everybody goes there and they have no idea who I am. I love it.”
Outside of her full-time job, Johansen takes every opportunity to pursue independent projects, including the launch of her own apparel brand — Zhuzh Apparel. Just over a year post-graduation, Johansen said she is continuing to learn about the field of graphic design, enjoying what she describes as an “exploratory” stage of her career.
If not found on the shelves of local stores or in the hands of loyal customers, much of Johansen’s work, including prints, apparel and various samples, can be found on her website.