The Johnstone Twins: A Tale of Festive Illustrations 

As December brings a time for festive reflection, we delve into the timeless designs of illustrators Anne and Janet Johnstone. The Johnstone Memorial Collection is held by the Seven Stories archive, the National Centre for Children’s Books, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Their full collection features the work of over 250 authors and illustrators from 1930 to the present day, including many of the original paintings and illustrations of the Johnstone twins.

Early life and inspirations

The twins Anne and Janet Johnstone were born in London in 1928; they grew up in an artistic environment. Their mother Doris Zinkeisen was a famous portrait artist, designer and society figure; their aunty Anna Zinkeisen was also an artist. Their father, on the other hand, was a captain in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, a WWI fighter ace and a director at Johnnie Walker whisky.

The twins attended Saint Martin’s School of Art where their main focus seemed to be on period costumes. This appears to be reflected in their later work, especially around period military costume design which their father perhaps inspired.

Santa Claus‘, undated (copyright unknown, image courtesy of Seven Stories)

Popularity evolves

The twins became popular illustrators in the 1950s and there was more and more demand for their work. They always worked together, passing pictures back and forth between themselves until they were both satisfied. In fact, they were so inseparable that their brother jokingly referred to them as one and a half people. Although they shared the work Anne’s specialism was portraits and human figures, while Janet’s particular skill was for animals.

One of their early successes was the illustrations for Dodie Smith’s classic 101 Dalmations, as well as its sequels. They also worked extensively in the fledgling field of children’s television working on such programmes as Tai Lu, Andy Pandy and The Flower Pot Men.

Christmas Gooding (December)‘, undated (copyright Royle Publications Ltd., image courtesy of Seven Stories)

From greeting cards to biscuit tins

The twins designed a large number of greeting cards for various publishers, including Royle Publications Ltd. of London and Valentines of Dundee Ltd. In their lifetimes they produced just over 200 of these, including about 80 colour postcards. Some of the cards they designed featured the work of their mother. None are dated, but they appear over a 30-year period, roughly 1968-1998. Other projects included designs for limited edition Christmas jigsaw puzzles for Waddingtons, biscuit tins and inn signs. Anne also often worked as a heraldic artist through the College of Arms.

Children Outside Toyshop‘, undated (copyright unknown, image courtesy of Seven Stories)

A lasting legacy

Janet sadly died as a result of smoke inhalation from a kitchen fire in 1979, leaving Anne on her own for the first time, to carry on working alone. This she managed to do with great success until her death in 1998.

Written by Michael Geary, Archivist and Rosalind Bos, Conservator at Seven Stories

Edited by Anya Hopkins, Blog Coordinator at the Explore Your Archive campaign

The Johnstone twins’ designs spanned across media forms, leaving a legacy of illustrations to which many bring festive joy. If you would like to learn more about the lives and work of the Johnstone twins and the Seven Stories Collection then do so as follows:

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