Meet Your Favorite Instagram Illustrator and First Time Author: Julie Houts

 She’s killin’ it with her depictions of life in the social media age—and her new book is funny AF.

One Monday morning in the office, I was aimlessly scrolling through my Instagram—coffee in hand —when I came across Julie Hout’s account, @jooleloren. Packed with hilarious illustrations of situations most twenty-something women could relate to in this age —y’know, like choosing to spend your Saturday night gorging on pasta, socially awkward scenarios, the struggle behind a group selfie—and it wasn’t long before I was giggling into my coffee and consequently spilling it all over my desk.  I showed my colleague, who screeched, “That is LITERALLY ME!” at one. And this is where the inspiration for the title of Julie’s recent book, Literally Me, birthed—when all of her Instagram posts began receiving this same comment over and over from different women all over the world.

Julie’s witty satirical illustrations mock the world of fashion, discuss current events, and reveal what it means to be a woman today. She holds up a mirror at the social media age and exposes its absurdities and dissects the way we behave with dark absurdist humor. And her recently published book is just as hysterical, (like—cackle in public funny). I caught up with the former J. Crew designer (she left the company to finish her book) to chat about the process, the struggles, and writing to Tibetan flute music.

Was art and drawing always a part of your life right from the beginning, or did this progress later? 

I was always involved in the arts. My sister Jenna was considered the artist in our family. I think when we were both young, my mom always included me in all the art camps and classes Jenna was taking as a way to just make things easier for her in terms of scheduling.  I really enjoyed it though, and had a talent for it.  It was always just a hobby for me, though.  I never intended to become an artist.  It wasn’t until my senior year that I sort of pulled a hard left and decided to go to art school instead of pursuing psychology, as I originally intended.  I was really lucky that my parents were as understanding and supportive as they were.

How did you get to where you are today?

I decided to go to art school at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for painting.  I got there and soon realized that I wasn’t as good of a painter as I thought I was, and also had no interest in being a painter for the rest of my life.  I always had a huge interest in fashion, I just never really considered that I could become a designer myself.  At SAIC they had a great fashion design program and I transferred into it my second year at school.  After about a semester I realized that it was maybe not the best program for me.  At the time, it was focused on very conceptual, avant-garde fashion, which I loved learning about, but worried about getting a job in the industry.  I transferred to Parsons The New School For Design and finished out my schooling there.  I got a job right after school at Bill Blass.  I interviewed a few days before I graduated school, and I think I accepted a job offer over the phone without negotiating my salary at all.  I basically screamed, “THAT SOUNDS AMAZING THANK YOU FOR THE OPPORTUNITY!”

I worked there for only eight months or so, and was completely miserable.  I was working crazy hours for very, very little money and dealing with a lot of crazy egos. It wasn’t exactly what I thought working in the industry was going to be like, and I was sort of just disillusioned.

I had a friend at J.Crew who was really happy there.  She suggested I pass my resume, which I did.  I was hired soon after, and worked there for almost seven years before quitting in May to pursue illustration full-time.

I started my account casually when Instagram was first starting.  I barely posted drawings.  I slowly started posting more of them to a very small following of friends.  Over time I gained a slightly larger following.  After a few regrams and articles were written, I had a much bigger following and started posting mostly exclusively drawings.  I began to get work as an illustrator as a result of that, and then got a book deal.

Your illustrations discuss the nonsensical way in which social media has affected our age by depicting the daily exploits of—as Refinery29 described them—slightly antisocial heroines. You hold up a mirror at modern society, specifically in the fashion world, and reveal what it means to be a woman today with dark absurdist and detailed humor.  What was the trigger which inspired you to satirize and comment on society in this way?  

It was what I was thinking about, and so it very naturally came out in the drawings I was making.  I think it’s a way for me to process information as well.  I’ll read something, or have a series of conversations and notice a pattern, and as a way to make sense of it all, I tend to break ideas into their most simplest form.  I think satire often stems from that.  Simplifying something to its most basic components and seeing it for what it is.

With all the struggles modern twenty-something women are faced with in our day-to-day life—which do you think is the most stressful, and what is your advice to overcome it? 

For me, I feel bombarded and overwhelmed much of the time.  I think between demanding careers and a demanding political climate, it’s easy to feel intellectually drained.  Beyond that, the amount of imagery and “content” we’re asked to process everyday can be emotionally draining.  I feel kind of bankrupt at times.  It’s not necessarily exhausted for me, it’s just often just sort of empty or disassociated.

I don’t have great advice.  What helps me is actively listening to those around me.  Feeling empathy and connecting with someone I love helps me feel like a person and not just some shell vessel for content input and work output.  “Have a genuine conversation in a relatively quiet room” I guess is my advice.

I read somewhere that some of your pieces not only represent women on a daily basis, but also their general struggles in 2016/2017 dealing with what it means to be feminist. Can you tell me more about this?

I think the constant conversation around defining and redefining of what it means to be a feminist is something I’m interested in.  It’s a very charged word for some people, especially now, and I think there can be a bit of policing that goes on between women about who is “doing it right” or what the most “correct” version of feminism is.

Are any of the women in your illustrations meant to be versions of friends of yours or reflective of yourself?

Sometimes the drawings are supposed to be me.  Most often, though, they are just composites of women in my life or that I see.

It’s crazy how relatable it is. Do you ever look through the commenters on your Instagram and wonder how so many women from different backgrounds somehow recognize themselves in the same piece? Why do you think your illustrations resonate so much with so many people?

Yes, it’s crazy to me.  Especially because it was never my intention to make, (excuse me) #relatablecontent.  I just make work that feels personal to me.  I think that because it is personal, it resonates with people more strongly.

On some level I think that’s what’s sort of profound and beautiful about meme-culutre. It creates a bond between people when they see themselves in the same thing.

I love it when I see women sharing things I post between them. It makes me feel like posting drawings on the internet for strangers is not an insane and semi-worthless thing to do.

I absolutely ADORE your book. It literally had me laughing out loud into my coffee in parts. I was aware of your illustrations having followed you on Instagram, but I didn’t know what to expect with your essays that are in the book, which are equally as hilarious. Is this your first experience of writing? How did that come about? 

Thank you!  When I first got started on the book, I thought it would be entirely illustrations.  I figured maybe a few could include longer bits of writing, but I never set out to really write anything.  Lauren, my editor, really had to push me to write the essays.  I’m so glad she did.  I really enjoy writing, I just didn’t consider myself a Writer.  I still struggle to call myself that, but I do know now that I enjoy it and want to do more of it.

The story about Fiddle the poor ficus tree has to be my favorite essay from the book, with the Kylie Jenner “steps out” coming at a close second (LOL). Which is your favorite from Literally Me, and which one has so far received the most response? 

I have such a soft spot for Fiddle.  Fiddle forever!  I wrote that all in one sitting one afternoon, and this is really absurd and probably the height of narcissism in some way, but I actually get a little misty at the end!

I have gotten a lot of feedback about Fiddle and the Four Hoursewomen of the Apocalypse, which was actually the last thing I wrote, and semi-torturous to write.

What was the writing process like? Did the illustrations come first or the essays?

I was working at J.Crew still full-time during most of the process.  I would work on drawings on the weekend or at night for a couple hours here and there.  It was all a bit rushed.  Then, after I quit working at J.Crew in May, I had a lot more mental space to think about the writing, which I had been putting off for months.  I did all of that in a month or two, I think.  I went back into the drawings and cleaned up the ones I felt weren’t strong enough technically, or just weren’t working.

For some, like The Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse, I had drawn a spread that more or less illustrated the concept, but it just wasn’t particularly funny.  Lauren kept asking if maybe I could write something to accompany it.  I kept saying no.  Then I began reading the book of Revelation one morning and I wrote the whole thing that afternoon while (inexplicably) listening to Tibetan flute music and Buddhist chanting.  It was a really strange day.

I have to ask—what’s the significance behind the cute mouse which is usually lurking in some way in most of your work? 

Everyone asks this! I don’t have a good answer or a canned answer and definitely not a good canned answer!

 I lived in an apartment while I was at Parsons that was mouse and rat infested (completely of my own doing—I was living like a hoarder) and I do remember at some point just making peace with the fact that there were, at all times, mice scurrying around me.  I began to see them like harmless messy roommates.  I think they naturally made their way into the drawings.

I used to draw a huge pig, whom I loved.  But she was too big.  She took up too much real estate in the frame.

So—what’s next? Are there plans for a second book? 

There aren’t immediate plans for a second book, no. I’m happy to not have a book to think about for a little bit.  I’m just taking on client work at the moment, which I’m enjoying.  I haven’t worked in this way before—project to project.  There is no end to it all.

  I’m also in the very, very early stages of potentially developing some part of Literally Me into an animated television show!  We’ll see!

Order a copy of Literally Me here and give Julie a follow over on Instagram.