Skin Deep

ABOUT FACE: Julie Houts

by Julia Gibson

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Skin Deep

ABOUT FACE: Julie Houts

Meet the illustrator behind your fave satirical insta.

Instagram: @jooleeloren
Astrological Sign: Capricorn
Book that changed your life: Hilary Knight’s Cinderella inspired me to want to draw as a kid.
Podcast you can’t stop listening to: The Daily from the New York Times
Instagram account you love to follow: @imisaacmizrahi, naturally. I follow some gardening accounts, too. I do not garden.
Beauty product (or treatment) that changed your skin: N/A. We’re in near-constant dialogue.

It’s no wonder followers flock to Brooklyn-based illustrator Julie Houts’ ultra-relatable Instagram page: her irreverent drawings skewer everything from over-the-top skincare routines to #girlboss culture to impractical fashion trends. Anyone who has ever felt inadequate after reading a women’s magazine or who has canceled all their plans to stay in and eat pasta knows — Julie just gets it.

JG

How did you get your start as an illustrator?

JH

I started my career as a fashion designer. I worked for J.Crew for most of it, designing womenswear. On the side, just for fun, I would doodle and sketch at my desk. Designing can be really fun and creative, but it can also be very monotonous, so it was just a way to keep me feeling creatively engaged and autonomous (gross, I know, sorry).  I began posting some of these drawings to Instagram. At the time, the platform was relatively new, and I think I had about fifteen followers- all my close friends. The stakes were very low. I was just posting whatever I had drawn that day. Slowly, as the platform grew, I gained more followers, and got some illustration work. Eventually I gained a much larger following on Instagram, got some publicity, began getting a lot more jobs, got a book deal. Around that time, I decided I would try to quit my job at J.Crew and pursue illustration full-time.

JG

You’ve been called “Instagram’s favorite illustrator” and have a large following on the platform. How has being so active on Instagram affected your career and informed your work?

JH

Instagram is the reason I was able to make a career pivot to become a full-time illustrator, and continues to be how I get most of my work — I can’t really overstate how crucial it’s been. I feel a bit conflicted about how intertwined my work is with the platform. But I’m mostly just grateful people are interested in the work I’m making, and have a way to find and share it. Since I do have a larger following, I feel accountable to produce work, and to produce work that I stand behind. If I wasn’t sharing what I was making with so many people, I might be a bit less rigorous with myself. This obviously can be a good and bad thing. It’s easy to feel a bit creatively stuck with that in mind. 

JG

How did you come up with the concept for your book, “Literally Me,” and what was the process of writing and illustrating it like?

JH

I was working on “Literally Me” while I was still working at J.Crew. I would work a full day, come home, sit down, pour a drink and try to crank out a few drawings. I would work on the weekends too. So, it was kind of like, whatever I could get out during those windows. Looking back, I’m glad it was so rushed, otherwise I think I might have really gotten in my head about things. When I first met with my editor, Lauren Spiegel, she informed me there would need to be some writing in the book in addition to the essays. That freaked me out. I had never really written essays before. But happily, when I sat down to do them, I found that I really enjoyed writing them, and most of them took shape relatively easily. Again, I’m grateful I was under such tight time constraints. There wasn’t time to hem and haw about things very much. I had never made a whole book before, so the entire process was new to me. I was actually surprised, though, how similar the production schedule was to a production schedule for making garments.

JG

Your characters are painfully relatable: where do you get your inspiration for them?

JH

I’m either trying to communicate feelings and impulses I have and notice in myself, or I’m making fun of something, or I’m making fun of myself. So I relate to all the characters on some level. Some are (ugh) Literally Me. Some are very much not. I don’t like a lot of them. A lot of them are pretty horrific. I like the rats the most. They’re the only truly good ones. Since I am so often coming from a place of dissecting behavior I notice in myself, I’ve just found that if I’m feeling something or noticing something, chances are, other folks are, too.

JG

How did you become drawn to satire as a form?

JH

Being satirical is just natural for me. That’s just my humor. I wouldn’t know how to do it another way. This is how I work through ideas or get to the root of a problem — I have to draw around ideas or feelings I have until I can distill them into words or a drawing. It’s not like I conquer the feeling once the drawing is done, but it helps me wrap my head around it. 

“Being satirical is just natural for me. I wouldn’t know how to do it another way.”

JG

You satirize both excessive multi-step beauty routines as well as deceptively minimalist ones. What are your thoughts on beauty routines?

JH

The amount of time, money, energy, thought that we all, myself included, pour into these routines is truly wild. My routine is predictably insane. Thousands of steps. It’s just a control thing, I think. The world will implode and I will pat snail mucin into my face. Wildly depressing. My mother washes her face with Dial hand soap and then goes to bed. That’s it. That’s the beauty routine. With that in mind, virtually everything I do is outrageous and egregiously expensive.

JG

If you had to pick one beauty essential, what would you choose?

JH

I can’t answer because I’m too focused on imagining a situation in which someone would be demanding that I choose one beauty essential, like if I’m a prisoner of war and I am allowed specifically one beauty product each year. If that is the case, I guess like a nail file or something: I could sharpen it into a shank to kill my captors and attempt an escape.

JG

What about the beauty industry do you think is bullshit?

JH

To paraphrase the iconic words of Fiona Apple at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1997: “This world is bullshit. […..] And it’s just stupid that I’m in this world. But you’ve all been very cool to me, so thank you very much.” 

That sums it up for me. It’s all bullshit, and I feel eyeballs-deep in this generally pretty gross industry. But, you know, shoutout to that absurd snail mucin or wildly unnecessary toner. They’ve been very cool to me, so thank you very much to them.

We’ve teamed up with Julie to create an exclusive illustration for theSKIN’s signature candle. Make sure to grab one of your very own in our shop here.

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