Creative Lives — Johanna Jaskowska on her viral Instagram filters and becoming a “weird hybrid creative”
Coveted by the likes of Teddy Quinlivan, Kendall Jenner, Ashley Graham and Brie Larsson, Johanna Jaskowska’s hyper-shiny, highlight-perfect Instagram face filters have experienced viral success since the beginning of this year. As well as attracting press from platforms including Dazed, i-D and Vogue, 2019 has also seen her make history by creating and auctioning the world’s first blockchain digital haute couture, made in collaboration with Dapper Lab (The team behind Cryptokitties) and The Fabricant. Originally from Paris, she moved to Berlin three years ago, bringing with her a background in design and a love for storytelling. Having just left agency antoni, after her personal work reached new levels of Insta-fame, she talks about how her face filter work started out, her decision to go freelance and refusing to conform to a traditional job title.
Head image: Johanna captured by Alex de Brabant for Badland magazine
Freelance Digital Creative and Artist
Digital Creative, antoni, Berlin (2017–2019)
Ecole Supérieure Estienne des Arts et des Industries Graphiques (ESAIG), 2011–2013
Johanna with her Badland filter, captured by Alex de Brabant for Badland magazine
How do you describe what you do?
I’m a weird hybrid creative, but ‘digital creative’ is the umbrella that captures all the skills I use. I have a design and art direction background so I can do a bit of everything, including some developing, focusing on new media and technologies and innovations. My main focus, though, is concept: if there’s no story, none of the work makes sense. I find a lot of brands get into using AR, VR and so on, but they don't always understand the purpose of these technologies.
I use new tech in different ways, for example with my personal website which is a hybrid portfolio; half video game, half a website. It’s very bad UX, it doesn’t work on mobile but still it’s unconventional so it makes people talk. This is what I like.
How does the AR and face-filter work feed into your job?
Until recently I was working at an advertising company (antoni), for Mercedes Benz, as the digital creative. The first AR effect I made was actually experimenting with the technology after having a concept for Mercedes Benz – in order to sell the idea, I had to put my hand on the technology, experiment with the different possibilities that offer this tool. I approached it in a very personal way, then I published it on my channels and people liked it so I published more.
What made you want to go freelance?
After that project went viral, it resulted in so many opportunities that were far more in line with my personal work. I loved my team, and I grew up so much at antoni, but some bigger brands can be conservative. It wasn’t right for me; I like to do more disruptive, provocative work.
Do you expect working life to be very different now that you’re self-employed?
It’s going to be harder as I’m by myself more, which makes me a bit more anxious – I’m a good team player, I like working with people, it’s stimulating and calms me too. Work will change because I won’t have to report to [client side] ECDs, so it will give me space to be more disruptive – I’ll be giving more space to the art now.
In ad agencies there is still a gap between those who have worked in traditional advertising and the younger generation who grow up online. There are so many things that make sense for us and come naturally, but there are still a lot of rules and change is painful for that traditional world.
“I’m very curious and I knew the field would continue to fascinate me and that there would always be something new. I knew I’d be captivated and have food for my brain.”
How did you go about creating your first filters?
I love new technologies and I have knowledge of creating across a few different mediums. The initial aim was to play with light and create the perfect shot; finding the perfect positions to highlight the face with a plastic effect. With AR, I played with light in the space like a virtual studio where the model is you, me or the users. It was as simple as that.
When I published my first filter, I had to shape the face of the users in a plastic material in order to cast light on the face. From the users feedback I realised that the thing that folks were talking about was the plastic effect. It says a lot about society (smooth skin, perfect, the idea that everything has to be sleek without imperfection). It also really attracts the eye, like looking at the reflection of water.
I thought ‘OK I’ll make the 100% plastic face filter.’ That’s how I got the idea to make Beauty 3000, I just exaggerated it. And when I did it, I was really surprised with the result, even on my own face. It’s important to understand social media and how people use it, so if you hide the face people don’t have the space to tell the story of themselves, and people like to talk about themselves.
Johanna’s filter created with Blast magazine
What tools do you use for your work?
I use software called Spark AR studio and I use basic editing tools like Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects. I use Cinema 4D for modelling but I’m not an expert. If I have to do something very complex I collaborate with someone specialised.
Have you had any surprising moments since the filters went viral?
It was very intense – I didn’t expect any of it and I had to learn a lot. The social media pressure was overwhelming, so many people contacted me for interviews, work or features, it was too much and it was very difficult to handle everything. I was trying to respond to everyone but I realised I needed to think about myself, so I slowed down and I’m learning to say no.
“What I find so fascinating with AR is when it’s actually impossible in real life – you can play with physics, textures, you can wear imagery or a dress that is like wood or water.”
Johanna’s AR artwork, Iridescence – the first digital haute couture
Earlier this year you created Iridescence, the world’s first blockchain haute couture; how did the project come about?
Benny from Dapper Lab (CryptoCities) contacted me very casually to know more about me. I like their approach because it’s about breaking the rules. We started to discuss and ideate together to put the first digital haute couture on a blockchain and to auction it. All the money raised was for charity to go to The Foundation of Art and Blockchain – it was just something to make people think.
When you sell an art piece in real life you get something signed that certifies that it’s an original and authentic. When you sell digital art it’s all numbers and data, names and dates. Then this is one part of the project, phrasing the question ‘why blockchain?’ The second part is AR filters: it’s like a new genre of digital accessories, it’s very fashionable and people wear it.
There is a digital fashion house – we see today's digital influencers doing things as if it's real, and it's all storytelling but we're still really interested in the story even though it's just digital. We do the same when we wear an outfit, we post images of it online. When you wear haute couture, you profanely only wear it once. Take a picture and then you store it away and that's it, so why not make it a digital outfit, as it's the same – you wear it and then it's stored.
What I find so fascinating with AR is when it’s actually impossible in real life – you can play with physics, textures, you can wear imagery or a dress that is like wood or water.
How I Got Here
What inspired your move from Paris to Berlin?
I was raised in the suburbs of Paris but moved to central Paris for my studies, which is a tough city if you’re not rich. You have to work really hard to afford it while you’re studying; I was working in a bar and as a VJ at parties, working with electronic music artists on their live shows. I also created big video projections for theatre; but the quality of life wasn’t great.
I took my first holiday to Berlin for one week, and I thought, “Why do I lose all my time there, when I can live better here?” It’s cheaper, the creative scene is amazing, it feels more free and it’s a more open culture. Paris feels like you’re stuck in a cycle and can’t escape. I also wanted to get a ‘real job’ to make my mother happy, so for all of those reasons I decided to move here three years ago.
“Industry (makes) you feel like you have to conform to an ‘Interaction designer and only do Interaction design’; that was terrible for me.”
How useful were your studies to the work you do now?
I had a hard time after my studies when I was looking for a ‘real job’ to define myself as either a designer or art director or developer. I didn’t want to be categorised. I chose the digital field because I'm very curious and I knew the field would continue to fascinate me and that there would always be something new. I knew I’d be captivated and have food for my brain.
At the beginning of my studies I wanted to make illustration and animation, then I got bored, then I got fascinated with immersive art, so I did a lot of video mapping and 360 experiments. I’m really nerdy so I was obsessed with how things worked. Working in advertising made me realise that what I love is working on the concepts. My creative director helped me feel more confident with all of these crazy ideas, because when you want to go into industry you feel like you have to conform to a ‘Interaction designer and only do Interaction design’, and that was terrible for me.
Johanna’s website: “It’s hybrid portfolio; half video game, half a website”
How much has self-learning played a part in your career?
When I was studying (from 2011 to 2013), it was a visual communication and multimedia course; so very concept based and a lot of applied art. However, in the multimedia part, the teachers were teaching us Flash when it was dying, for example. So you don’t get anything from school that’s technical, you just get to be aware of it, and the rest you learn on the internet from other people. I’m very much into the idea of doing it yourself: design and art studies is often open to the way you want to do it and teachers can’t teach you everything. You have to teach yourself if you want to make that project happen.
What would your advice be to anyone wanting to work in a similar field?
Be curious and have fun. The main thing is to enjoy what you’re doing!