From Scratch: Julie Houts
1. A little bit about your childhood? Do you have family members who worked in the creative field?
I don’t! My sister is a great artist and my mom is creative in her way, but neither of them worked in creative fields.
2. How did you get into fashion and illustration?
I started really studying fashion when I was about fourteen or fifteen. I learned all the histories of the big houses and would buy fashion magazines and go on Style.com to look at all the shows. I’d assemble little lookbooks and make moodboards. I still have big binders of tear sheets that I can’t bring myself to throw away.
I decided to go to art school at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for painting, and after about a semester, realized that I wanted to pursue Fashion Design instead. I switched programs at SAIC and eventually transferred to Parsons the New School for Design. Fashion illustration is a part of any fashion school’s curriculum, so I started studying that as a part of my regular course load.
I’ve always loved drawing, so fashion illustration was really fun for me. I thought it would be an amazing job, but the impression I got from a lot of my teachers was that it was a sort of dying profession. I graduated from Parsons with a BFA and started working in the industry as a designer, but I always kept illustration as a hobby.
3. You worked as a womenswear designer at J.Crew. Are your illustrations and concepts an inspiration of the mood that was set in the day-to-day there?
I worked at J.Crew for seven years as a womenswear designer. Most companies that are more mass-market do not have their designers sketch garments on-figure by hand anymore. Most have their designers work digitally on Adobe Illustrator. When I was at J.Crew, everyone sketched by hand and on-figure, which was amazing, because it meant I got to keep working on my illustration skills.
It is a misconception that as a designer, one’s time is spent just sketching garments all day long. In actuality, it’s a very small part of the job. Most of the job is meetings, fittings, emails, phone calls….more meetings. So, I started sketching in my spare time at J.Crew. During my lunch break or while on a call, I’d just make little drawings. They were inspired mostly by something I had seen or read or a conversation I had with a co-worker. In the beginning they rarely included text and weren’t particularly satirical.
4. What was your thought process when you first started posting illustrations on Instagram?
When I started posting the illustrations on Instagram, the landscape was very different from what it is today. It was a semi-new platform, and not everyone was really using it. People definitely weren’t using it as tool to sculpt their personal brands. Not much of an aesthetic focus... it was just a lot less self-aware. I think I had about fifteen or twenty followers at the time- all my friends- and we just used it like a sort of group chat. So when I started posting drawings, it was just for a very small group of my close friends who knew me and knew my work. A just-for-fun thing that I didn’t think twice about. As the platform grew, so did my following
5. Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do you think you can categorise your personality type? Does that reflect in your work?
I think I’m an introvert that poses as an extrovert. I need a lot of alone time, and I like to be surrounded by one or two very close friends as opposed to a whole group. I do enjoy being social though. I have to have a balance. I think my social anxiety is something that finds its way into my work, yes.
6. You get the millennial mood so well and its so cleverly put together. Is your process impulsive or do you start thinking of an idea and then illustrate around it?
It depends. Sometimes I’ll have a conversation or read something and its very fast. I’ll just sit down and make a drawing very quickly and post it. Other times an illustration will come from a broader sort of feeling. I’ll kind of sense a trend or something in the ether, and it takes a bit for it to percolate into an idea for a drawing.
7. I read somewhere that you named your book, 'Literally me' cos women would leave comments under your illustrations on Instagram saying 'Literally, me'. Is the book an extension of your Instagram account and what's in there that's a wee bit different from your Instagram account.
That’s true! My editor Lauren Spiegel and I were struggling to think of a title, and I think she might have suggested Literally Me. The book comes from my Instagram- there are some drawings in there that are from my Instagram. But I also wrote and illustrated several satirical essays and made new drawings as well.
8. It's amazing how women from all over the world can relate to your illustrations? What do you think is connecting all these women from around the globe to what your saying? Does it surprise you?
It does surprise me a bit! But I think its great and I’m really grateful that the illustrations do manage to connect with so many people.
9. I have to ask you about the cute mouse, what does it signify? Are you tired of this question? hehe
People always ask about the mouse! I don’t have a great answer! I started drawing it a long time ago as a sort of pal or sidekick, and he/she has just sort of stuck around.
10. I feel your illustrations are a great way of documenting the current millennial mood. Just like avocado toast, crystals and soul cycle was very last year. What can you predict is going to trend this year in the food, wellness, fashion space. You can answer in one word each.
HA! That’s a really good question. Clementines are aesthetics right now. Incense over candles. Interiors that look like an early 90’s orthodontist’s office…. (Seriously!) I’ve noticed a “hot 90’s babysitter” fashion trend.
11. Any plans of coming to India? You have quite a bit of a following here.
I would LOVE to go to India! It’s been at the top of my list for a while. Sadly no plans to do so...
12. As you can see we love jewellery, are you liking any jewellery trends right now? and do you have any favourite pieces in your jewel box, that you've collected through the years?
I am a bit late to the party, but right now I like really cheap rhinestone jewellery worn in sets. Earrings and necklaces worn together and layered with other jewellery. I like mismatched earrings.
I have a big gold pinkie signet ring my boyfriend had made for me. I wear that every day with a gold ring from Nikolai Rose, my friend Jacob’s company, and a vintage gold Georg Jensen wave ring. I never take those off. I have some Rebecca de Ravenel black faille hoops that have proven to be very useful.
13. Did you ever think you'd write a book and be an Insta famous illustrator? Before Instagram, where did you see yourself career-wise?
No of course not! I thought I’d be a designer forever. I can’t believe what my life is now. I couldn’t have predicted it two years ago.
14. I'm curious about your new projects? I saw the one on the Fiat, I love it.
Thanks! I’m just working on client work for the most part- either editorial or for brands.
Literally Me was optioned to be turned into an animated television show! We are still working on the deal, but hopefully, I’ll get to begin working on writing that in the next few months.
15. What advice can you give to people on work ethic as an illustrator, person in fashion and to a creative on Instagram?
While I was working at J.Crew, I made a rule for myself that I had to draw something every day for myself. Even if it was silly and small and I just threw it away, it was important to me to have that accountability to myself and to my personal work that made me feel energized. I began posting the drawings daily as another accountability measure.
Now that I am working as an illustrator, its slightly different. Some days I don’t feel that interested in working. On days like that, I try something new. I recently was feeling bored of the work I was making, so I decided to experiment with oil pastels for a week. I ended up loving them, and now have a whole new medium I’m excited to keep learning more about. For me, at least, I have found that It is important to stay consistent in my work schedule and engaged in the work that I’m making.
Shop her book here