If you've ever stepped foot in your Instagram Explore feed, chances are you've seen a photo or two from Christian Watson. His mix of outdoor adventure photography, hand lettering, internal monologues, and a love for early 20th century antiques all fit neatly together into a brand that's equally studio and lifestyle: 1924us. Christian's handmade brand is unique among the sea of young upstarts in that he is truly living his passions in seemingly every detail of the brand, and he's been able to achieve a consistent aesthetic that much larger brands would only dream of. My wife and I are nuts for all things old, and you can often find us estate sale'n on the weekends digging through photographs and postcards, so it's easy for me to like what Christian and his wife Elle are doing. His hand lettering and logo work fit right along with the brand's general art direction, and the prominence of his work I think really helped to foment the current fascination in early 20th century typography that is taking hold with a lot of young Instagram hand letterers and designers. Lots more have taken notice of Christian - he had great success early on building his brand through Instagram, at one point cancelling his account because it was getting too large (over 600,000 followers), as he wanted to have a closer-knit relationship with his audience. A feature in GQ gave another big boost to the brand. This week we catch up with Christian after a big move from the US to Australia and chat about the state of the brand and what's currently got his attention.
Harold: Hey man, thanks so much for doing this, really appreciate it. So, I hear you live in Australia now. How are you liking the flip side? I’m jealous of your coffee options.
Christian: Australia is definitely an incredible place and not somewhere I ever imagined myself ending up. I grew up in a small town in southern Oregon, so the move to Australia is quite an unexpected shock in the best possible way. I’m living here now with my wife Elle in the midst of the visa process, and only allowed to be here for some 3 months at a time, so it definitely keeps my work, family and friends time limited to 12 weeks of high-energy and packed time slots. Haha, the coffee is definitely incredible, and it’s much warmer here than what I'm used to, but it is truly stunning and the people here are kinder than ever, probably because we have to spend so much time outside of the house. People actually get used to being warm to one another, haha. All up, it’s been an incredible, though challenging, transition.
H: I think I’ve come to know you as (and I think I’m going to coin this right here) the ‘hardest working man in hand lettering’. You just don’t (seemingly) stop, man. And from what I can tell, you’ve been hitting it really hard for more than a couple years now. I’m curious to know if you feel like you have a pretty good discipline when it comes to the business/design/photography and if there was someone in your life who instilled that in you, or a moment that motivated you to step up your game.
C: Hahaha, I’m sure, though kind as that may be, I am not the hardest working. Especially in regard to the people like Contino, and others. Loud about my work, might be a better way to put it. I was actually talking this question over with Elle last night and we kind of laughed because when I do work, I’m typically always confident about it and eager to share. And I think because of that we 9/10 always have clients who are okay with us sharing the creative process, including WIP or finished pieces, before they ever go into production. I do have a lot of work (typically around 40-60 ongoing branding projects at any given time) but it’s fun to manage. I’d say if I have to spend more time writing emails than I do on the actual drawing of the project, I get kind of dragged down. So, I try to stay organized (not always my strong suit). When it comes to discipline, it’s more just knowing I have to sacrifice time doing something I might want to for fun, and do something I want to for work, ha! My mother’s cousin, Todd Theiss, is a great man whom I looked up to as a kid. When it came to work ethic, he was always busting his a** when he had a job to do and did not mess around. I loved that and was intimidated by it, so I definitely wanted to push myself to be working harder and doing things better. I’d say I’m getting there everyday.
H: What’s your best-case scenario for the brand? Do you like it manageable and small, or do you hope to grow, hire, etc?
C: We have had a few employees over the years. I love it manageable, but I would love it to grow, as well. I’m still learning to let go and take on projects with my close friends whose work and ethics I respect well, like Joshua Minnich, an incredible designer who I’ve had the pleasure of living with for short periods as well as working on several projects together now. I think if anything can be an example of a model for us to follow, it would be my working relationship with him.
H: I think the best lifestyle brands are run by people who truly immerse themselves in the lifestyle they’re passionate about/a part of. It’s something you can’t fake. I think it’s obvious you live out your interests in everything you do and it’s a super charming part of your story and I think maybe a big reason why so many people are really fascinated with your content. Not to go too far back, but what was the moment when you dove deep into early century aesthetics and antiques, and what made it stick with you? What makes it stay fascinating for you?
C: I probably would have been right at 18 when I realized that aesthetic was more important to me than just visual. If something inspired me, I wanted, needed to live it out and live by it, not just sit around hoping, wishing, or doing nothing. I began buying antiques around 17 and had an Etsy shop long before I was ever a designer. And it's been an obsession that hasn’t gone away since. It’ll be 10 years now this May that 1924 was officially started, which is an amazing thing to say in my mid-twenties, that I’ve owned a business for a tenth of a century. It’s an honor, really. Everything is as genuine as it possibly can be with us. If you walk into our house, our speakers and kitchenware can come across as really strange, because in the rest of the home you’ll see almost no cords, just antiques everywhere, from the clothes we wear to the tools we use. It’s really fun, environmentally friendly, and all around a great visual pleasure for Elle and myself.
H: You have a favorite project of the year so far that people should check out?
C: As a designer yourself, you know how hard that can be. Currently I'm on a big Anti-Pornography campaign that’s more built around my lifestyle than anything else, and we’re trying to create great and enticing merchandise for it that shares the story. However, projects for brands like Anatomico, O’douds, Chris Burkard’s new branding, and many others are always fun for us to share. We’re excited by all of the people who come on board with us when it comes to design projects because, whilst we may not have the same backgrounds, heritages or cultures, we tend to have the same belief: Life is meant to be lived well, lived with intention, and be made beautiful.
H: You run 1924us along with your wife, Elle, and you seem to have a great working relationship. I’m always inspired when I see a couple that can make a creative partnership work, as I think that personal taste and preferences can sometimes get in the way of love and business. I’m curious as to how you two are making it work so well, how you split the work in your business and if you have any tips for other romantically entangled business partners out there.
C: A lot of people consider our life one of work, but actually in line with the fact we live our lifestyle. Our work is more of how we live than of what we do for a few hours each day. We talk, eat, breathe and sleep our passions and talents 24/7. We get excited about the same ambitions and therefore they never really get in the way. We always make time for ourselves when we feel it necessary, but we’ve lived together nearly 24/7 for the last two years, so it’s been a fun and challenging process. But now it’s hard for us NOT to be together during the day, haha. There is really no split between how we live or work. And we suggest that the underlying foundation for any couple trying to follow suit be the exact same – find common ground and work from it.
H: You and Elle are both excellent photographers, and it’s a huge part of your brand. Would you rather be shooting or drawing?
C: Writing, haha! I love writing more than any other art form. It's probably the most special to me. However, I do love drawing and photography similarly, drawing just a bit more. Elle, however, is an impeccable photographer and is always working harder to create something that inspires her, as well. That’s kind of our whole operation: are we inspired by what we create? If not, what are we doing? But yes, flatlays, design and styling and then photographing it all is intensely therapeutic for me.
H: What’s your ideal camera set up?
C: Hahaha, well for those who know 1924us, we have a ton of cameras, so ‘ideal’ is a pretty funny term. But we shoot mostly with the Canon Mark IV 5D, Nikon D850, 24, 35, 100, 400 lenses, as well as the Leica M3, M4, Rolleiflex F2.8P, Nikkormat, Nikon EM, and Hassie 500CL.
H: Lately you’ve been getting pretty personal about your life and faith in a lot of your social posts, which is 100% refreshing and appreciated, given that most of the content we’re getting bombarded with on social is either stale, recycled, vapid or just plain self-serving these days. I’m curious to know if you’re getting positive response from folks that follow you, and if anything prompted you to try to be a little more of an open book.
C: ‘Lately’ is quite subjective and I say that because, for our previous Instagram, it’s all I did. I just wasn’t in the best or healthiest place to be sharing, so when you take passion and add in lessons that aren’t lived out, or healthy, you get someone who teaches who shouldn’t. So I’ve been trying to fix that, by re-establishing (for myself) the life I live when no one is watching and sharing it honestly and openly. It’s definitely been incredibly positive from people, and a lot who are wishing to be giving the same of themselves. Something we are strongly encouraging through our work is for others to be open and honest outwardly without fear. But thank you. I do not think genuineness, honesty, openness, or authenticity are mainstream enough in social lives, but I do think they are terms that become commandeered and twisted into trendy hashtags or surface-level beliefs. I’m in no position to compare myself to that of the rest of the world or to think I’m the only one doing this. I think that anyone in any position at any time needs only to be open and vulnerable for good things to come from it.
H: Where would you like to see the brand go in the next 2 years?
C: We are hoping and working towards a physical space… so I’m hoping soon, very soon.
H: What would you tell aspiring young creatives feeling entrepreneurial and trying to go out on their own like you have?
C: In order to get out and do what you’re after, you have to have a conviction. Conviction pushes you beyond wishing or hope, it actually makes you deeply motivated. So every day I wake up with the conviction of what’s next for me, and that very personal, very powerful deep realization is something only you can find for yourself. I think a lot of people want to get into this work for money, they want to start a business for money which is all in good fun – go study it. But nothing bred for money will be passionate, and passion doesn’t always breed financial stability, so you have to really, deeply, truly love your conviction through all obstacles in order to achieve “on your own.” If you rely more on income than ingenuity, more on comfort than hustle, more on routine than long hours – this isn’t the line of work for you.
H: What artists are you into right now?
C: I’m always finding new artists and photographers, so here’s a list:
Stay Gray Pony Boy
LandLand – Dan Black
Morgan Harper Nichols
Chad Michael Studio
My wife Elle-May Watson, of course
H: What album is on heavy rotation right now?
C: From Scotland with love - King Creosote.
H: Thanks for your time man, it's appreciated. Good luck on your three month stints in Oz, I'll definitely be keeping an eye on what the brand does next. Cheers!