Born in Glasgow in 1956 Johnston grew up in Dumfries and studied at the art college there. Initally he trained as an apprentice for an electrician as he was uncertain of where his artistic path led.
In 1973, Carlisle College offered him a placement, where, during the second year, he opted for a change in medium, preferring photography to painting. He found black & white formats extremely inspiring and exciting to work with, seeing himself in fact as an artist but utilising a camera rather than paint.
When he left college he moved to London where he did freelance work for teen magazines, which led to work for Vogue in 1977. Work for during this period was later included in the 'Pink Punk Book' published in 1978. This style of photo launched the first issue of i-D magazine in 1980, where he worked for the following few years. In 1991, when photography no longer became inspirational for him, he started painting seriously again concentrating once again on the medium that he had originally embraced.
"It was then that something clicked and I have not looked back since……painting is my life."