Creatives who inspire me: Julie Solvstrom

Taking things slow and building a business people love

As a creative, I know that I need to stay curious and continue being inspired. Or, in short, my work gets stale, I lose motivation and I start to question why I’m even in this industry at all. This series will be looking at the stories and work of artists, musicians, designers, fellow writers and other creatives who inspire me to keep going. Here’s the first edition.

I recently had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Julie Solvstrom. She’s a Danish illustrator based in Vancouver and her work is… absolutely incredible.

If you feel like you’ve seen it around the place, that’s because, well, you probably have. She was listed in Jukebox’s 2024 roundup of Illustrators to Follow, she’s had a profile in Canvas Rebel, and her work’s been featured in Visual Cache. Oh, and she’s speaking at The Design Conference this year (I can’t wait to hear her Talk!). Her work is beautiful and emotive and absolutely overflowing with colour and energy.

Julie’s story is the classic case of becoming an overnight success after a decade of work. I loved hearing about how she built her studio and developed her style. But, even more than that, I loved hearing about her philosophy of the slow approach.

Becoming comfortable with the slow burn

If there’s one thing that’s sure to pique my anxiety as a business owner, it’s listening to business podcasts. You know the ones. The ones that tell you that if you grind hard, take big risks and focus on 10xing your growth, your business will thrive. And if not? It’ll die.

And the creative industry isn’t immune. It’s hard to know whether you’re on the right path and doing ‘well’ when the people around you are taking on huge projects, winning impressive awards and building their teams. Is just doing good work for good clients… enough?

“When it comes to risk, I’m not an all-in kinda gal,” Julie told me. “You won’t see me flipping my desk upside down and quitting my job on a whim.”

Preach. I started freelance writing ten years ago alongside a full-time uni and an almost full-time job. I was working for music publications that paid in concert tickets and good vibes. My first paid client gave me $200 under the table to write all their website copy. I was stoked. And I did this for years. I mostly wrote for free, with the occasional paid gig thrown in. So it was refreshing to hear that others have found success doing the same thing.

“I slowly started leaning more and more into the stuff I got excited about. I drew letters before work. After work. On weekends. I quietly entered competitions and did online workshops. And finally, I started sharing my work online. Needless to say, it was pretty bad to begin with. But I just kept trucking along, showing up, practicing, sharing,” Julie shared.

“Fear was a constant companion. Will people judge my work, will they think it’s lame? But it was as if I’d opened this box inside me that I couldn’t shut again, work was just pouring out of me.”

Just pouring out of her. I think that’s the dream as creatives, right? That the work is there — just bubbling under the surface, and if we just keep creating, we’ll get to a point where it not only flows — it pours.

Making the leap

Once Julie started seeing her work reach more people, she started being approached for commissions. Think: condom wrappers to hoodies to woven tapestries, all created in Julie’s unique style. Then, she was laid off from her design job.

“I had to decide if I wanted to go out and get another graphic design job, or if I wanted to do the much scarier thing and go after the career in lettering that I really wanted. I chose the latter and haven’t looked back.”

I asked Julie to share the number one thing she’d like people to take away from her story.

“I want to show that you can change your course at any time. I bet there are a lot of 20-year-olds who think they need to have it all figured out. I was 34 before I felt like I had it somewhat figured out (also, I haven’t). I dedicated ten years of my life to graphic design and it felt scary to leave it. But I’m so glad I did.

And success looks different to all of us. Maybe success is making your passion into your livelihood. And maybe success is carving out enough time on a Sunday to work on that poem you’ve been holding inside. Success is nurturing your passion, whatever that looks like.”

I loved this chat with Julie. And I really love her work. I hope you do too.

You can view Julie’s work on her website and Instagram. Check it out!