Create & Cultivate 100: Art & Design: Julie Houts

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Julie Houts never expected a casual Instagram account documenting the illustrations she drew in her down time to blow up. But it did anyway, and she’s built a career from that success.

In 2017, Julie was still working as a designer at J.Crew. But as the drawings she posted off-hours (often inspired by the very industry she worked in) picked up traction, she realized there might be more to her Instagram than, well, just an Instagram. Her first book, Literally Me, debuted in 2017, and Julie decided it was time to make the leap to full-time self-employment.

She hasn’t looked back. With more than 200k followers and counting, we can’t wait to see what Julie draws up in 2019.

You worked as a womenswear designer at J. Crew for seven years before making the jump to full-time freelance. Was there a moment you knew you were ready? How did you make that decision?

I don’t think there was a moment where I felt totally ready. It was a gradual thing for me. Initially, I was getting a small amount of freelance illustration work on the side that I was able to easily manage outside of my regular work hours at J.Crew. After I got my book deal, I started to think more seriously about going freelance full-time. I just had a sense of, “if not now, when?”

Looking back, I had no idea what challenges were ahead, and I think that’s for the best. I am a pretty cautious person by nature and I might have never leaped if I had looked too closely...

How does your background in fashion influence your art? Is trend watching still a part of your process?

I think it influences it several ways. I maintain my interest in fashion and in the industry, so I think sometimes the subject matter itself has a bit of a fashion-centric bias.

Beyond that, I do miss designing at times, and sometimes I will have the urge to design a dress or a top or a pair of shoes, and I’ll incorporate them into a drawing.

Also, I’ll go on Moda Operandi or look at the shows from a current season and do a little edit for the looks in a project. It’s just fun for me and keeps me interested in the actual work of the drawing.

Your 2017 book of illustrations, Literally Me, was a hit because your drawings are so relatable. What was your inspiration behind that work?

Literally Me came about while I was still working full-time as a designer at J.Crew, and had not even really thought about illustrating or writing full-time. The turnaround time for the book was really quick, though, so there wasn’t much time to really sit and stress over what I would make or write. I worked on weekends and at night and pretty much whatever came out, came out.

I hadn’t thought I would be writing essays for the book, but learned soon after starting work that my editor was expecting them. That was scary- I had never really written in that way. It ended up being the most fun and rewarding part of the whole experience.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Still waiting on it!

I think one thing that has been helpful for me to remember is that nobody has anything totally *figured out*. I think most people feel like they’re imposters on some level.

What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?

All of it is still so crazy to me. It wasn’t that long ago that I was working a corporate desk job. Albeit one that I did really enjoy, but, I never anticipated any of the opportunities that I’ve had as a result of the dumb Instagram account I started one day, probably sitting on the toilet.

Where does your passion/drive come from?

I use my illustrations and writing to work through ideas. Sometimes just through making a drawing or writing something out, I’m able to figure out how I think or feel.

In terms of drive, I’m sure it’s just some empty vacuous hole in the core of my person that I’m trying to fill with professional achievement. Right?

If you weren’t pursuing art or fashion, what career path would you choose instead?

Maybe psychology? Maybe writing?

When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find new roads + switch gears to find success?

I blame the people around me for my failures and move on, learning nothing from the stumble.

Just kidding- actually, I think I internalize the stumble, and blame myself for awhile regardless of what the circumstance is. Eventually I just move on. I think the further away from the stumble I am, the more understanding I have or what happened, why, and what I can do better next time. It’s just time and experience that help me understand.

Whose career really inspires you?

Right now, I am inspired by Nora Ephron’s life and career.

What’s next for you in 2019?

My book was optioned to be an animated television show. I’m working right now with a co-writer to develop it. I’ll keep working on that and continue to take illustration work. Maybe another book? We’ll see...