We had the good fortune of connecting with Julia Patterson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Julia, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
With the pandemic, my year, like that of many others, has looked much different than I expected. I started the year working for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and was shocked to find out in May that I was part of the layoffs resulting from the seismic shift that is COVID-19. I found myself with quite a lot of time on my hands and a very heavy amount of stress on my shoulders. So, I turned to my reliable escape: Art. Nothing makes me happier or allows me to get lost and forget the troubles of the world like painting, so it seemed the timing was perfect to focus on just creating work again. For years, I have hand painted cards to celebrate my family’s birthdays, anniversaries, and babies, so it seemed natural to start a company doing just that, but for everyone else. I set out writing lists of cards I wanted to create, reviewing favorite cards I had painted in the past and things took off from there. I started painting for days and days on end, creating the artwork that would grace the cover of the cards. I’m not sure it was the most organized strategy to start a business; it was more about just moving forward and spending time doing something that brought me joy rather than sinking into the news of this dismal year. All the other essential components were born of necessity. I created the art, but now I needed a website, so I figured out how to do that. Then I learned I needed a tax license, so that came next. Pikwik Press for me has been an exercise in escapist art from the weight of 2020. It was less an organized plan of action, and more a jumble of movements that eventually churned out Pikwik Press, but I love the product, so I forgive the chaos of the process.
What’s one thing about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of? Art is a saturated and fickle market. I remember in my first year in college being informed at the beginning of numerous art classes that in 10 years only a fraction of us would still be creating work. It’s a hard field to make a living in; the tastes of critics and art consumers are ever changing and easily swayed. It’s easy to look at successful artists and the work they are creating and start to question your own aesthetic, your point of view. I think that is really the secret of the industry—that art is hard to create, there is a lot of doubt and uncertainty in putting your work into the world. You spend so much time creating it that invariably it becomes very important and personal, so the courage to push past the statistics and try and make a successful business out of it is a huge and ever present challenge.
Risk taking: how do you think about risk, what role has taking risks played in your life/career? There is this fantastic comic strip from Calvin and Hobbes, (a true favorite of mine as a philosopher,) picturing Calvin holding a ballon standing atop a ladder and remarking that “nothing’s happening”, next to him Hobbes says “try jumping”. To me, that sums up risk; standing still is safer, but you have to take risks to see progress. Sometimes they go wrong, but you are never going to get anywhere teetering at the top of a ladder. To me, risk is the most essential piece to a life and career with which you are happy. I think you can survive without them, but you will be plagued by what-ifs. That isn’t to say I am a pro-risk taker by any stretch. I have been scared and I have hesitated, but I also have my fair share of what-ifs that keep me up at night. As I get older, I try harder and harder to convince myself to jump when nothing is happening.
Other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision that contributed to your success? I think my choice everyday to ignore the nagging, self-doubt ridden voice inside my mind and create work that I love is the most important decision I make to be successful. At the end of the day, if Pikwik Press sinks or swims, I will only be able to enjoy the triumph or move on from the failure knowing that the art I created for it is something I truly, whole-heartedly love. There are always a lot of voices, well-meaning voices, suggesting what you should create. There is a lot of benefit that can come from that collaboration, but at a point, when I finish painting, if something isn’t right for me or Pikwik, I have to be able to let it go.
What is the most important factor behind your success/the success of your brand? Honestly, it was all the experiences and education that preceded Pikwik Press. I am so lucky to have a family that really supports me and my art. I was able to enjoy camps focused on art as a child and continue art classes my entire academic career and they were always encouraging of my work. The benefit of studying under so many talented artists helped push my work in many ways. Often, I’d have a very different aesthetic from my professors, but the challenges they put forth in course assignments, pushing me to approach work and subjects in different ways made me a far better artist. In college, we used to have ‘critique’ days where everyone in the class would share their pieces for the current assignment and discuss the work. They were never comfortable days; your work is so personal, so tied to your idea of yourself, that to have people critique it and pick it apart is painful, but its also an invaluable exercise in making it stronger. I despised critique days in college, but now as an adult I find myself seeking out an audience who will provide honest, if critical, feedback. Working and learning from all the artists I have had in my life has been essential to finding success with Pikwik Press.
What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make? To know when to walk away from something, a job or person, is always difficult, but my decision to leave Colorado Ballet was the most challenging of my life. I worked with the company for four years as the Academy Business Manager and boasted a number of talented and inspiring colleagues. I was so fortunate to have a job in the arts that I adored, but more than that, I was extremely blessed to have a boss that became a dear mentor and friend. I was privileged to work under Valerie Madonia while with the ballet. She is an incredible artist herself, a former dancer with American Ballet Theater and The Joffrey Ballet, she is now a teacher and an inspiration. I had that nagging feeling in my bones for almost a year that we had done what we were hired to do, made the Academy strong and successful again, and the job had given me everything it could. It was the choice to leave working with Val that was ultimately so painful because I knew that she was a once-in-a-blue-moon colleague and I would be unlikely to ever have the privilege again to work with someone I admired so much. We pursue different types of arts, but I cannot begin to enumerate the things I learned from her. I still question the choice to leave sometimes and hope someday to collaborate with her again.
Work life balance: how has your balance changed over time? How do you think about the balance? I think like many people, as I put in more years into my career the focus on work life balance has shifted more heavily on the life side. I love putting hard work into my business and seeing it flourish, but no matter what, I always want to have time for family, friends, and myself. I certainly put in some late nights when needed, but for me that’s never going to be the norm again. As an artist, putting too much emphasis on work and not enough on life ultimately just detracts from my art, so really it’s in my business’s best interest to pursue a more balanced life. It’s all too common a story, but after being diagnosed with cancer in 2017, I am acutely aware of the limited time we have and I want to make sure I don’t regret the way I spend it. In the United States, I worry we have developed a wholly unhealthy slavish devotion to work where contributing countless hours and having unparalleled devotion to one’s job are praised more than setting boundaries and living with balance. However, I know I am not alone in wishing for a shift to healthier work life balance soon.
Do you have a favorite quote or affirmation? What does it mean to you/what do you like about it? There is a fantastic quote from Maya Angelou, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style”. It’s a daily inspiration and permission to pursue what makes me feel passionate and engaged, and who wouldn’t want the incredible Miss Angelou to bless their life choices?
Why did you pursue an artistic or creative career? I have always loved art; it has always been a respite from the ‘real’ world for me. I pursued speech and debate in high school but always took art classes as my other electives. I entered my bachelor’s knowing I wanted to pursue Philosophy for my major, but I also knew I wanted to minor in painting as an escape from everything else. Art has always been there on the side keeping me sane, enabling me to keep going through the rest of life. So to pursue a career in art was really to change that sanctuary of art into the focus of my life rather than just an escape.
What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want people to remember about you? Above all else, I hope it’s my art they remember and treasure. There is no feeling so sweet as someone else loving the work I put out into the world because after all, I think the work artists create are little pieces of us. For others to admire and treasure those pieces is the ultimate expression of love, and there could be no better legacy than that.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My art career really started as a child. I have always loved art and enjoyed everything from camps to courses throughout my academic career. After graduating college I mostly painted gifts for my family. Thanks to the encouragement and support of friends I applied to show work with a local coffee shop in Denver, The Molecule Effect, who were so gracious as to share their space with me and my work for three months. From there I really found the encouragement to keep pursuing art and from that Pikwik Press emerged. My work is in acrylic and watercolor and focuses on portraiture and the natural world. The illustrations I have created for Pikwik Press are whimsical and joyful, meant to spread some cheer via the post.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Colorado has so much to offer its difficult to choose but in Denver, I love to eat at the Kitchen or Linger, amazing food at booth and such a lovely atmosphere. For drinks I have have a warm place in my heart at the office, being across from the Ellie Caulkins Opera House I spent a number of evenings before or after performance enjoying appetizers and drinks with friends while I worked at Colorado Ballet. But perhaps the thing I would always share with a best friend is Estes Park, my grandparents used to live there and we have been luck enough to have a cabin in the Rocky Mountains for decades. Its hard to beat the beauty of the mountain views. So a week long itinerary, in say post COVID times? Coffee at The Molecule Effect with a pastry to start the day! Start the week in Denver, stay at the Brown Palace a few days and take in a ballet or symphony at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Go for drinks at the Office or the Green Russel (or one of the other wonderful speak-easys around town) Enjoy the Denver Art Museum which always has beautiful rotating exhibits, I have especially loved their fashion exhibits! Head up to Estes Park to enjoy the mountains and some hiking in the Rocky Mountains…. classic Colorado!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The people who really deserve the credit in this story are my family and friends. They encouraged and supported me to pursue art and start my business. They were my first customers, my most ardent cheerleaders, my much needed voices of reason, and shoulders to cry on when the inevitable frustrations came up. I am been lucky to have such a loving and supportive village around me.
none needed, all photos were taken by myself.