Meet the Maker is a series of interviews with local designers and makers featured in the Frye Art Museum Store.
Julia Kernerman is a multi-media artist living in Seattle. She focuses on illustration, bespoke apparel, printed t-shirts, and painted objects. Her work inspires levity, communicated through acerbic and playful illustration and writing. You might be familiar with her “I Thought We Had Plans” t-shirts, a hilarious and apt statement for contemporary life.
We recently commissioned Julia to create a series of hand-painted nesting dolls for the Store. Each of her one-of-a-kind sets were inspired by the color palettes in paintings from the Frye Art Museum's collection. We wanted to learn a bit more about Julia, so we posed a few questions about her process and inspiration—read on for her answers plus images of her work and living space!
Tell us about your background. How did you get started as an illustrator?
For as long as I can remember I’ve always been a chronic doodler. I remember my mom being shocked seeing my school notes packed with drawings in every margin and blank space. I probably picked up my creativity from being surrounded by a lot of art growing up—both my parents and grandparents on my dad’s side are/were collectors, which influenced me quite a bit. I inherited a lot of the art in my apartment from a lithograph print and poster shop my grandma owned in New Jersey in the 1970s.
I chose not to go to an arts college but doodling for concentration (and boredom) remained a regular practice. In hindsight I’m grateful I didn’t choose a formal arts education because I think it would’ve taken a lot of the fun and enjoyment I get out of my art. I began sharing my drawings on Instagram in 2014, which validated my need to draw more and eventually led me to find a style in sometimes light-hearted, sometimes snarky, but always relatable cartoons.
Describe your day to day life. Do you schedule in “studio time” and how have things changed since quarantine?
I’m pretty gentle on myself to not push any production of art if I’m not inspired or not feeling it. I really thrive on a project or deadline and will get hyper-focused and bust out a ton of work in one weekend until it’s done. I live in a one bedroom apartment so I always need to be a bit creative in where I store all my stuff—you can normally find me at my kitchen table since it doubles as my studio and office.
In quarantine I find it easier to work on art since I’m not going to an office for my day job, so there’s more energy and time to work on various projects. Last spring, when I was furloughed from my job due to Covid, I passed the time sewing my Loopy Dresses, which was a great way to center myself and feel purposeful through uncertain times. I also used the extra time to make my little t-shirt company more professional and busted out some very impressive (to me) spreadsheets to keep track of all my sales and expenses.
We love the sense of humor you infuse into your illustrations and painted objects! What inspires your work?
I’m a big tchotchke collector, I have a whole cabinet dedicated to a bunch of bric-a-brac that I've hoarded over my lifetime. I tend to be most connected to the objects that have little faces, an endearing color palette, or are just so odd that I’m left wondering why such a thing would exist. This attraction inspires me to create objects that I hope people will cherish and hold precious; I would love to see some of my nesting dolls hidden amongst someone’s beloved curiosities.
The content for my comics and illustrations are inspired by a whole myriad of nonsense—my friends, Instagram, ex-boyfriends, the psychology of millennials (to sound fancy!) and my own anxieties. I lost my mind when I stumbled upon the book The Passport by Saul Steinberg in the downtown library—his minimal and delicately hilarious drawings felt like a kindred spirit to my doodling style. When I dug into researching his biography I only fell more in love with his illustrations and approach to art. I grew up obsessed with newspaper comics like The Far Side, Baby Blues, Calvin and Hobbes, Zits, and Luann, and I always combed through The New Yorker looking for comics by Roz Chast, who I absolutely love. These artists informed my succinct and quickly digestible writing style for my comics.
What’s next for you? What projects are you working on and what are you looking forward to in general?
I’ve been really lucky to have found my creative partners in Sarah Chu and Shaana Hatamian—together we founded POOPU (a Properly Organized and Orderly Pop Up). We are currently planning our next event for late this summer, so I am beginning to work on the concept and advertising as well as what I plan to sell at the market—stay tuned!
I’m looking forward to being around friends and strangers again. Human encounters inform so many of my drawings and I really miss hearing the conundrums of everyday life from my friends over drinks and a dinner. It will be nice to be inspired by the low-key mediocrity of “normal” life.