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Conversations with the Inspiring Julie Kitzes

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julie Kitzes.

Julie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’m an illustrator, fine artist, graphic designer, and tattoo artist. Art was always a hobby of mine since childhood, but one I was too afraid to pursue academically or professionally because of people telling me it would be such a ruthless and competitive industry.

In 2011, while in school for my reasonable career choice in veterinary medicine, I became disabled with compounding neurological disorders and had my first of what would turn out to be six brain surgeries. In 2013 after brain surgery number 4 and after spending the better part of a year in the hospital, I felt lost and useless. My only outlet for the pain and misery was my sketchbook and I sort of decided “f–k it, I’m going to be an artist after all”. I didn’t know where to start on my own and this drove me to make the terrifying decision to put myself in debt to go to art school.

I studied illustration, received help from the student disability department, learned so much, made great connections and friends, and discovered that I really enjoy a lot of different subjects in the art field. I couldn’t lock myself into just illustration (not to mention any sort of subspecialty like just children’s book or technical illustration) and found my work wandering into the areas of fine art and graphic design. I even had a chance to experiment a bit with animation, sculpture, and 3D digital modeling – all of which I’d like to do more of. Now I do everything from pet portraits, logo design, hand painted needlepoint canvases, public art installations for street beautification, to handmade jewelry, and more.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It hasn’t been a smooth road. I still live in chronic pain and have major side effects from all of my surgeries. I wouldn’t have graduated from college without the support of my family and friends and the understanding of my instructors. Being a freelance artist has been a way to set my own terms and schedules, but it’s still challenging to find the hustle required while being in constant pain or trying not to vomit. The biggest piece of advice I could offer to someone, whether disabled or not, is to know yourself and your limitations and figure out strategies and contingency plans for when all the other stuff gets in the way of your goals.

I’m in a situation where I have to work ahead and plan for “what if” but honestly, this is probably a smart move for anyone even if you don’t deal with a major illness. The other important thing I’ve learned is the power of perseverance. I’ve taken to keeping track of all of my efforts whether successful or not. At the end of a period of time, I can look back and figure out what’s been working and what hasn’t, and most importantly, remind myself that 90% of my achievements account for only 5% of my attempts and that not giving up is the only thing that leads to success. Something told to me recently that has really resonated with me is “not every day is good, but there is good in every day.”

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’m sort of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to art and wouldn’t say I’m known for any one thing. I do illustrations for magazines and publications, help with brand development, create designs for apparel and accessories, take on private commissions, tattoo, and more. I particularly enjoy creating anything based around animals, nature, or science. Being skilled in a variety of artistic endeavors makes me a more well-rounded artist capable of creativity and problem-solving. Whether capturing a pet portrait in my home studio (aka desk) or tattooing a client, I focus on clear communication and always want people to feel comfortable with my process and be 110% satisfied with the project outcome. Something I’m particularly proud of is my ability to adapt and learn new skills. In 2019 I participated in the Denver Chalk Art Festival knowing nothing about working in chalk and completely underestimating how physically grueling it would be. Despite this my design proposal snagged the interest of one of the major event sponsors and the experience was a success. I plan to apply again in 2020 with a fellow artist friend and try again, learning from my mistakes and splitting the workload.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
The biggest barrier in the art industry today is that women are still not treated as equals. On average, we’re paid less, exhibited less, and discussed less. Additionally, you want to express yourself as an artist without necessarily the label of being a “female artist”. It’s nice to be recognized for your talents rather than for how your talents compare to your male counterparts. In an ideal world you should be drawn to an artist’s work regardless of their gender, age, race, or orientation, but these things are often highlighted and used to differentiate an artist from their peers. Society expects female artists to embrace their femininity full force and create works like those of Georgia O’Keefe and Judy Chicago, which in reality can be detrimental to true equality. I’d much rather be embraced and remembered for making people feel a reaction to my art than have people not necessarily enjoy it, but say “I don’t know what this is, but I know it’s important for women”.

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Julie Kitzes

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