Julie Solvstrom has always been a bit of a wanderer, and enjoyed talking to strangers — two things that would worry any mother. But those two traits inadvertently led to 40K followers on her Instagram channel, and a career as a designer and illustrator. Turns out that founding outdoor groups and community has a lot in common with finding illustration mentors and community.
It started with a trip to New Zealand and Australia, then Julie went back to Denmark, and graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art. After that, she moved to Vancouver in Canada. “I’ll get a working visa, and stay for a year. What could go wrong?” she thought.
In Vancouver, she got a job at a coffee shop named Cafe Lokal. While there, she chatted with the many regulars, two of whom happened to be my parents, who introduced me to Julie. I shared her portfolio with the design team, and almost immediately afterwards, we hired Julie as a junior designer (just to be clear: this is not how the process typically goes).
Later that year, when a friend bought a paddle board, Julie wanted to try it, but didn’t want to buy one. So she joined her first outdoors club (yes, full of strangers) named Club Locarno in order to learn paddle boarding. And there, she met two friends who became “like family.”
“It’s fun meeting new people even if you have all the friends in the world.”
About a year later, she joined the B.C. Mountaineering Club. “It’s organized by these amazing volunteers who want to take people out, and who are just passionate about community. Which is really sweet,” she says.
Then COVID hit, and she went traveling. Over that year, she realized she could boil down what makes her happy into three things: community, creativity, and nature. By that point, she missed having friends who stuck around, and a place that felt like home. So she decided to stay in the UK for a while.
She was going hiking anyway, so she thought she might as well see if anyone wanted to join her. She set up an Instagram channel for Take a Hike Collective, and crossed her fingers. For the first walk, one girl came. And on the second walk, four people came. It grew so much that she had to cap the group at 15 so people could still chat with everyone. “We all became such good friends. A lot of people came by themselves, and when someone new came, people just looked after them in the loveliest way.”
When she moved back to Vancouver, she wanted to replicate that. She joined up with her friend, Clair, whom she’d met at B.C. Mountaineering Club, and founded The Outsiders Collective. And they now meet with a growing group every Friday morning for an ocean swim, hold film nights, and go on retreats.
What follows are excerpts from our conversation about how that led to an illustration community:
“If you only knew how many DMs I’d sent in my life!”
On how we all need new friends
“I wouldn’t have joined groups at home in Denmark. I think I thought it was a lack of friends. But it’s a bit funny, because now I realize I’m always just looking for new friends. It’s fun meeting new people even if you have all the friends in the world. I think it’s good for us to form new friendships, especially with people you wouldn’t necessarily have talked to.
Something like a hiking group is good because sometimes you just need to see people more than once. Like at school or work or an activity where you’re there for a reason. Just meeting up for the sake of meeting up is nice too, but sometimes it’s easier if you have a purpose together.”
On how it started with drawing
“Drawing has always been a love, but it’s new for it to be a big love. When I went traveling for a year, I was so creatively starved. All I wanted to do was sit and draw. It was like I was addicted. And then I kept doing it, and I found what I wanted to draw a bit more, and found my own style.
“Then last year, I did a typography challenge called 36 Days of Type — each day, for 36 days, you draw a letter. So everyone would be submitting their Bs and Gs at the same time, and looking at each other’s work and encouraging each other. And that’s when Instagram became a bit more of a social place for me; rather than me just posting something and leaving. I felt there were other people out there who were into the same thing I was.
“I found that the more I drew, the more I liked to draw. And the more I posted, the more encouragement I felt. So it all felt kind of organic. And I just stopped caring, and made what I wanted to make.”
“I’ve done it before where I reach out to people I admire just to see if they would talk to me.”
On how groups taught her to talk to strangers
“I’ve done it before where I reach out to people I admire just to see if they would talk to me. If you only knew how many DMs I’d sent in my life!
“There was a guest on Tim Ferriss’ podcast — Derek Sivers. He and Tim talked about these small snippets of advice Derek had been thinking about — he called them How to Live — that really resonated with me. And I thought, ‘I want to illustrate them!’ So I emailed him and asked if he would let me use some of his words and phrases. I would be flattered if someone did that to me, so I wasn’t worried that I’d feel rejected. And he wrote back and said, ‘yes.’ We wrote back and forth, which turned into phone calls, and during that time, he had a big impact on how I looked at life.
“I had also followed another illustrator for many years, named Mark Conlan. I loved what he did, and he was doing a lot of what I wanted to do. So originally, I reached out and asked if he’d mentor me, and he suggested maybe I could help him with some design work, which I did originally, but now we just talk. He has so many ideas; he’s amazing. And he’s been a huge help in my growth.”
On how she gets ‘past the uncomfortableness’
“I think if you go into it with a genuine interest to learn, and just excited about what people do, they will receive it in a good way. But in the beginning, I had to get past that uncomfortableness: I felt worried I was taking a lot of people’s time.
“I think we should all reach out to other people more. I understand the fear of vulnerability and rejection, but strangers don’t know who I am, so it’s hard to think it’s something personal. If I had shot 20 shots that completely missed the target, but one works out… oh my god this relationship I have with this one illustrator has been worth one million emails with no reply. No one had ever reached out to him before, which is so hard to believe — this successful illustrator with massive clients — so who knows if there’s someone out there you admire, that no one has ever reached out to.”
“This relationship I have with this one illustrator is worth one million emails with no reply.”